The business of representing a sector of aviation in Washington is far more complicated than those who have real jobs and who work outside the Beltway can fully comprehend. The below ↓press release provides some real dimensions to such advocacy and it is issued by one of the best, if not the best, organization seeking to convince the FAA to change its positions.
In many ways the FAA is both omniscient and omnipotent, in that as a matter of law courts and the NTSB defers to the interpretation of the agency that wrote the rules. Further, its mission is to save lives; thus its normal analysis of the risk/reward ratio is skewed. For finding an easier method, the fraction has a low denominator and a very high numerator. Granting even a well-designed request for greater options almost never results in much reward for an average FAA bureaucrat and you do not want to be the person’s whose name is anyway linked to a bad risk. At such a pinnacle of power, the FAA looks and feels insurmountable.
At the same time, the FAA is not infallible and sometimes its decisions, interpretations, field implementations, etc. really require reconsideration. Some of the people who have the authority to make such corrections are strongly wed to the position for which correction is sought.
Any fair recounting of what the FAA staff endures to move a nascent thought into a final rule provides great insight. Such cases are great explanations of how strongly the people, who were involved in the NPRM project, are convinced that they know what was said or intended in that rule. The same “ownership” results in the development of other statements of policy, handbook, order or whatever.
Thus, when an outsider has the temerity to question what the FAA has established as an impactful decision or interpretation, it is not unexpected that the civil servant will be defensive about his/her position. That is a very possible reaction to even a well-crafted request (written without vituperation) presented professionally; the recipient feels as though her/his professional judgment has been questioned.
Such inquiries, as to the FAA’s correct interpretation should be, are what ARSA does on a quotidian basis. For example, its members frequently encounter inspectors applying national directions in a way which is contrary to an FAR or other objective standard. That problem is brought to the Alexandria offices of their association and there the delicate surgical procedure is devised. The staff there may not have written the relevant FAA standard, but it is most likely that these private practitioners participated in the NPRM process, read the preamble carefully, participated in a relevant ARC or were involved with its application on the floor of a Part 145 institution.
ARSA then writes and/or orally communicates its well-researched view to the relevant person(s) in the Regional or Headquarters Office. The impact of this carefully written piece of advocacy is better described in the letter quoted in the attached link:
“It’s funny that I used to think that you just…took pleasure in slamming the FAA. That opinion changed. Now I that you take pride in slamming the FAA, but only when [it] need[s] slamming or need[s] to be challenged, which of course is quite often. But as a result of your work the giant bureaucratic organization is forced to do the right thing, and this always yields support to repair stations as well as maintenance airmen. I applaud you and the staff of ARSA for the great work you do.”
How does ARSA attain the lauded position?
First, it’s persistent; the staff does not relent; they keep trying to find someone who will listen. Second, though they are aggressive, their words and demeanors are always positive. Though they may think that the bureaucrat with whom they are dealing is completely wrong, they treat him/her with dignity and care. Last and foremost, they know the history, preambles, any written document better. With rare exceptions, what they have propounded as the right position is ultimately correct. The smiling face in the above picture knows her stuff and so does her team.
Over the past 15-20 years ARSA has established that it knows Part 145 et al. The omniscient and omnipotent agency has learned to listen and do “the right thing” in response to the association’s well chosen efforts.
PRESS RELEASE: ARSA Works: How We Stand
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