The Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) is the Federal Aviation Administration’s primary tool for overseeing the nation’s airlines. The fundamental principle of ATOS is that air carriers must have properly designed systems to eliminate or lessen risks before they result in accidents or incidents.
ATOS Air Carriers
Air carriers are responsible for operating at the highest level of safety, and FAA inspectors use their skills and knowledge to monitor and enforce compliance with federal regulations. ATOS strives to ensure that air carriers have safety built into their operating systems. It takes a proactive approach that goes beyond just ensuring compliance with regulations. The FAA continues to take enforcement action when air carriers do not comply with regulations
FAA inspectors began using ATOS in October 1998, focusing on the 10 largest passenger airlines. Today, 118 carriers are under ATOS
How ATOS Works
ATOS asks inspectors to look at the air carrier as a whole and how systems interact to assure safety, rather than just inspecting for compliance with rules. This includes looking at an air carrier’s management, corporate safety culture and its experience as well as its systems.
Certificate Management Team (CMT)
A Certificate Management Team (CMT) is assigned to each air carrier. Remotely located inspectors receive training on their assigned carrier’s policies and procedures to make higher quality inspections possible.
Under ATOS, a more flexible,; focused program developed by the CMT using new risk assessment tools replaces the previous conventional surveillance work program inspections, which were less rigorous. The emphasis is on the airline’s ability to maintain a safe process or to correct deficiencies, if they exist.
- Design assessments determine that an airline’s operating systems comply with regulations and safety standards, including the requirement to provide service at the highest level of safety in the public interest.
- Design assessment is the most important function of ATOS because safety is the outcome of a properly designed system.
- Performance assessments determine that an airline’s operating systems produce intended results, including mitigation or control of risks. ATOS uses time based performance assessments to detect systemic failures that may occur due to subtle changes. Performance assessment schedules can be adjusted based on risks or other safety priorities.
- Risk management processes identify and controls hazards and manage FAA resources according to risk-based priorities.
The Human Element
There is no substitute for a human inspection. The FAA’s safety oversight system, including ATOS, continues to rely on individual inspector’s skills and knowledge.
Aviation safety inspectors
Aviation safety inspectors must have current technical knowledge to perform the myriad tasks required by ATOS to gather data and make judgments about the design and performance of an air carrier’s systems. Their inspection tasks include direct observations of air carrier flight crews and mechanics and direct inspection of aircraft by technically qualified FAA inspectors.
ATOS and Voluntary Programs
ATOS prioritizes inspector work assignments using the Air Carrier Assessment tool to assess the risks associated with each component of an air carrier’s operation. The tool has 28 risk indicators, two of which are “Self Disclosures” and “Voluntary Programs Data.”
Risk indicators let principal inspectors document concerns derived from information obtained through the Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program, Aviation Safety Action Program and Flight Operational Quality Assurance program. These concerns are converted to a numerical score that is used to prioritize work assignments and re-target inspections.
Voluntary programs also can help identify problems in an air carrier’s safety systems. FAA inspectors track corrections to systemic problems using a risk management process that is part of the ATOS software, and principal inspectors validate corrective actions using ATOS tools and processes.