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Computer-Related Incidents with Commercial Aircraft

The US FAA, NTSB, ASRS at NASA Ames, and RTCA Inc

The Federal Aviation Administration is the US Government organisation responsible for the administration of all aspects of aviation in the United States. It is a part of the US Department of Transportation. The FAA develops, for example, certification standards for commercial transports on which other organisations such as the JAA (Joint Aviation Authority) in Europe base their regulations. The entire Federal Aviation Regulations are on-line. It is essential to understand these regulations in order to understand the environment for flight in the US or with US commercial carriers.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is responsible for analysing mishaps and accidents.

The NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California has run for many years a program called the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Users of the National Aerospace System are encouraged to report incidents and events which they feel may affect the safety of flight, or of which knowledge may contribute to flight safety. The reports are guaranteed to remain anonymous, and immunity from punitive administrative action is granted under most circumstances to those who can demonstate that they have reported the relevant safety-related incident to the ASRS. The result is an unparalleled accumulation of data on safety-related incidents. These are summarised in the ASRS monthly newsletter, Callback, and a journal, Directline. On-line copies of recent issues of Callback (since issue 187, December 1994) and Directline (since issue 5, March 1994) are available on the ASRS WWW site.

RTCA is a private, not-for-profit organization that addresses requirements and technical concepts for aviation. Products are recommended standards and guidance documents focusing on the application of electronics technology. RTCA was organized as the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics in 1935. Since then, it has provided a forum in which government and industry representatives gather to address aviation issues and to develop consensus-based recommendations. It was reorganized and incorporated in 1991. Members include approximately 145 United States government and business entities such as: the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Commerce, U.S. Coast Guard, NASA; aviation-related associations; aviation service and equipment suppliers; and approximately 35 International Associates such as Transport Canada, the Chinese Aeronautical Radio Electronics Research Institute (CARERI), EUROCONTROL, the UK CAA, Smiths Industries, Sextant and Racal. The Web site includes a broader statement of what they do.

Recommended Standards Documents such as DO-178B Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification, DO-197A (Active TCAS I for `commuter' aircraft), DO-185 (TCAS I and II, including algorithms in pseudocode), DO-184 (TCAS I Functional Guidelines), as well as the standards for navigation equipment, windshear detection and thundestorm avoidance equipment are all available for purchase via the RTCA Web site. A full list of applicable standards is also available.