FAA Aviation Safety
There is no borescope to assess the dynamics of organizational culture, design change and structural differences. The report by AinOnline’s Kerry Lynch about Flight Standards Director John Duncan’s speech to NATA provides some external evidence of such significant major Sea Change in how it regulates as defined by policy and structure.
What he revealed? Here are the critical quotes:
- “Duncan added that the Flight Standards Service has been evaluating its structure for the past several years, but the culture change must come first. ‘Changing the structure of the
organization could be an important piece,’ he said. ‘But changing the structure and applying the same culture might not have a successful outcome.’”
- “Over the past three decades, the organization has changed dramatically as it adopted and adapted to new technology, Duncan said. Yet the culture stayed the same. That culture reinforced the thinking that inspectors should “know everything about everything,” he said, but added, “That’s a failed concept.”
- “The agency is now looking at leveraging expertise of specialists and assembling ‘focus teams’ that could provide guidance. He pointed to a focus team on specialized cargo as an example.”
- He also noted that before the past several years, the culture did not focus on varied outcomes. But now the agency has changed expectations to emphasize that “outcomes of decisions made by inspectors are consistent with the decisions made of another inspector in the same set of circumstances.”
- “As for the organization structure itself, Duncan said the agency has been contemplating new models, including one that consolidates activities under streamlined management teams. Under this proposal, all Part 121 activities would be streamlined under a single management structure, and the same would be true for Part 135.”
- “Duncan also was encouraged that the agency is making progress on its new ‘compliance philosophy’ approach that is designed to first look at ways to work through problems that lead to violations before turning to an enforcement. From October through April, the agency had recorded 2,200 ‘compliance actions,’ events where risk was identified, the cause found and corrective action taken. These events represent ‘very powerful’ cases where risk can be mitigated without enforcement actions, he said. ‘Enforcement is not the most effective way,’ he said, and added, ‘Compliance philosophy is the right way to do business.’”
How did AVS get there?
- In 2008 the House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure Oversight and Investigations Hearing held hearing entitled “Critical Lapses in FAA Safety Oversight of Airlines: Abuses of Regulatory ‘Partnership Programs.” Most of the Members took the position that the first level FAA inspectors were right and their managers were wrong. Perhaps because the manager was removed, the field was empowered to ignore and occasionally contradict the guidance of their local supervisors and managers as well as the chain of command up to the Association Administrator for Flight Safety. The consequence of this highly visible reprimand by the Members was an institutional inability to issue national policies.
- Glacier-like process of the issuance of regulations – the cumulative impact of the basic requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act plus multiple collateral statutes (like a Small Business Impact Statement) require significant time to draft and review a proposal. Then reviews, both within the FAA (policy, economics, legal) and above it (DOT, OMB), cause additional major delays. The gestation period from initial conceptualization to final implementation can consume as much as five to ten years. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the FAA to keep up with industry changes, the identification of new technical problems and new technology.
- For twenty or more years, the budget and staffing of the FAA have been reduced. Whether it is true or not, the internal perception is that the FAA’s capacity to regulate, following the modus operandi of the past, is less than its existing safety agenda. The assignment of inspectors, for example, to the P&W powerplants of one airline is no longer possible. Congress has sent the message that the FAA must do more with less.
- Consistency – the pattern of independent, inconsistent application of policy in the field was found by the OIG, GAO, industry and even an FAA ARC. That equates to different interpretations being applied to an airline depending on what ASI explained her/his view of the FARs as well as among airlines, on a macro level. This lack of consistency has subjected the Flight Standards organization to substantial criticism, to which senior management agreed.
- The press and the NTSB frequently criticized the FAA that it reacted to accidents; that their revisions to rules made it a tombstone organization. Upon reflection, FAA senior management decided that it needed to be more proactive in its approach. An initiative began to find techniques in which the regulator could “get out in front” of safety risks.
- ICAO and SMS—this UN organization decided that all civil aviation authorities should implement this state-of-the-art safety approach. Its basis is the analysis of meta data bases from shared airline information , extrapolating significant trends, assessing solutions, cooperative/consensus processes and quick implementation of preventative solutions. The cooperation element of SMS, which includes unions, the FAA and management, requires an open, trusting environment.
- The experience with SMS caused the FAA to realize that a punitive/enforcement tactic and a cooperative compliance approach were antithetical; so the Administrator issued a new Compliance Policy.
- The field, some of the same folks empowered by the 2008 Oversight and Investigation Hearing (#1 above), did not appear to agree with this new compliance approach.
- The Office of Chief Counsel reorganized its enforcement structure to assure that the compliance philosophy was understood and followed.
- Duncan suggested that streamlined teams would manage this new comprehensive strategy.
→ Now instead of waiting until major changes to the FARs must be subjected to the languorous NPRM process, the SMS teams can design and implement IMMEDIATE solutions.
→ Finding fault will be replaced with defining consensus.
→ Proactive will reduce the need to be reactive.
→ FAA subject matter experts will be comfortable engaging in dialogue with the certificate holders about the intent of the FAR and then enter into a discussion of the best way to reduce risks. Confrontation and the ticket writing mentality will abate.
→ The need to promulgate an endless list of new requirements will be obviated by the fact that the problem has been solved already.
→ “One size fits all” will be supplanted by the correction which will address your airline’s particular problems.
→ Getting unnecessary advice from OST/OMB will become irrelevant and using statistical probabilities to anticipate the highest risk of your airline will be the rubric to higher safety,
Mr. Duncan’s vision, as shared by Ms. Gilligan and Administrator Huerta, will take time before it becomes a reality. New skill sets (ability to deal with heavy statistics, for example), refining of the procedures and reinforcing trust among the players (unions, FAA and airlines) will be needed, but with the realistic goal of a higher level of safety within range of achievement, the effort will be well worth the while.