AOPA Access

Get out of jail free?

December 1, 1998

As aviators, we learn the rules, practice emergency procedures, and promise ourselves on a stack of Federal Aviation Regulations that we will always do what is right. But we all make mistakes - possibly even within earshot of the FAA - and wish we had a Monopoly-like "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Good news: Not to trivialize any part of aviation, there does exist something along those lines. Formally titled the Aviation Safety Reporting System program, and typically known as a NASA form, it is a voluntary program used on a regular basis by airline pilots but vastly underused in general aviation. Its purpose is to promote the free exchange of information on safety issues and provide a "heads-up" on potential problem areas that need to be made more efficient and safe. In some cases, use of the ASRS can result in the waiver of FAA sanctions against you if the form is filed within 10 days of an incident. All members of the aviation community are eligible to participate in the NASA system: pilots, controllers, flight attendants, maintenance personnel, and anyone associated with the airspace system.

AOPA Pilot Information Center

Call the AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, at 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2572). Information is available on aircraft buying and selling, titles and liens, regulatory interpretations, FAA enforcement actions, medical issues, preventive maintenance, international flight operations, and flight training, among many other subjects.

When do you play this "card"? You've inadvertently "busted" Class B airspace. You didn't understand the controller's instructions and wound up on a runway instead of a taxiway at an unfamiliar airport. You flew through your assigned altitude on an IFR flight. You had a close encounter (of the scary kind). You landed on the wrong runway at a towered field. If you can relate to any of these situations, you see when this program can be utilized.

Some basic ground rules do apply:

  • The action must be inadvertent and not deliberate.
  • The FAA must not find that the incident reflects a lack of proficiency or qualification for the rating held.
  • No criminal activity can be involved.
  • It may not be used in the event of an accident.
  • The reporter must not have been found to have committed a violation of the FARs within the past five years.

If none of the above apply, then you can proceed to fill out the NASA form. It can be found on the AOPA Web site ( www.aopa.org/members/files/safety/asrs_plt.pdf) and on page 1-39 of the 1999 edition of AOPA's Airport Directory. The form must be postmarked within 10 days of the event being reported and we always suggest that you send it return receipt requested.

Upon review of the NASA form, you will note that all of the identifying information is listed on the top section of the report form. This strip will be removed by NASA and returned to the sender with a date stamp verifying when it was received. Bear in mind that reports dealing with criminal offenses will not be de-identified and will be forwarded to the FAA, Department of Justice, or the NTSB as appropriate.

AOPA Online

Connect to AOPA's Web site (www.aopa.org) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for news, weather, an aviation reference library, and a variety of other information products and services designed to enhance the value of your AOPA membership.

Should the incident that you report turn into an FAA enforcement action, you will be granted immunity from the disciplinary sanctions proposed against you, although the incident will still remain on your record for five years. A helpful guide on dealing with FAA enforcement issues is AOPA's Overview of Enforcement Actions booklet, available for $5 by calling AOPA (800/USA-AOPA) or for free on AOPA's Web site ( www.aopa.org/members/files/guides/enforce.html). Remember that you can file as many NASA forms as you wish, but you may benefit from the immunity it offers only once every five years.

An added valuable resource to assist you in dealing with proposed FAA certificate actions is membership in AOPA's Legal Service Plan. This plan offers legal assistance and representation for as little as $26 per year. You can learn more about the many benefits of this program by contacting AOPA through any of the information sources cited above.

So continue to review the FARs, do proper preflight planning, follow all of the safety rules your flight instructor taught you, and fly smart. And keep a supply of NASA forms in your flight bag. Just in case.


Kathy Minner, 51, has worked at AOPA for two years. She is a private pilot working on her multiengine and instrument ratings. She and her husband own a 1956 Beech G35 Bonanza.