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ARTICLE: Rules under one master


The FAA faces a very difficult challenge. It must apply, on a consistent basis, a statute with many undefined terms and over  1,000 pages of the Code Federal Regulations, which are amended periodically.

The FAA organization, charged with enforcing the statutes and rules, starts with a single Associate Administrator, follows a pyramidal organization down through a large headquarters organization through layers of regional offices down through FSDOs, ACOs, MIDOs, CHDOs and a host of other field offices and hits the geographically dispersed front line of principals, inspectors and a host of individuals “empowered” to interpret the rules. Add to that mix, hundreds of thousands of handbooks, orders, ADs, ACs and many, many formal/informal documents.

An added level of complexity derives from the diversity of the regulated-air carriers, airmen, repair stations, training institutions, etc.; fixed wing, rotorcraft, powerplants, airframes, and avionics; large/complex, small/simple; operating or located in incredibly diverse environment/locations; etc. The operational circumstances of these certificate holders and the associated regulations require exquisite judgment to assure equivalent compliance by a huge company like United Continental and a Mom-and-Pop air taxi operation in Alaska.

Finally, Congress has held several hearings in which the message is that the FAA’s field personnel’s view of the FARs may be superior to the supervisor’s direction. This is a major deterrent to consistency.

To try to deal with that challenge, as directed by Congress, the FAA constituted an aviation rulemaking committee named the Consistency of Regulatory Interpretation (CRI) to review the October 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office. That group has finished its work and has recommended centralizing the interpretative function. The details of the report can be found here.

The task of creating consistency should be consolidated specifically, somewhere in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service and Aircraft Certification Service. The organization would be chartered to review all guidance documents and interpretations, identify and cancel outdated material and cross-reference (electronically link) material to the applicable rule.

That is a massive challenge, but even more daunting is the effort required to get all the field personnel to accept the national interpretation and ignore their own predilections. The people charged with the direct application of these rules have resisted direction by the next level of their management. QUERY: will they adhere to the construction determined by the Washington experts? That human aspect of attaining national consistency may take time.
Sarah McLeod, Executive Director of ARSA (a member of the ARC and an expert in discerning the tension in the FAA regulatory interpretation chain of command) summed up the technical aspects of the recommendation:

“Consolidation of all guidance documents and interpretations, organized by rule and housed in one electronic database is the linchpin to success in resolving the lack of standardization with regulatory interpretations and making the FAA’s rules more accessible and easier for the public to understand.”

JDA, in the course of teaching its Regulatory Affairs class, has gathered a lot of informal feedback about the current lack of standardization within the FAA. Based on that experience, a significant segment of that course is devoted to imparting tools for air carrier personnel, Part 145 staff and other aviation professionals to research the statutes, FARs and all of the available materials. The course also suggests tactics on how to present that information in a way likely to maximize acceptance.

While this ARC recommendation goes through the approval and implementation stages, this course should be invaluable.

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