FAA Safety Personnel Announcement splits functions

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FAA is Hiring for Safety-Related Aviation Positions

Transition = change in skills?

Announcement distinguishes  ASI from ORA skill set

FAA personnel description



The Aviation Safety Organization has taken some bold, but required ,changes that will focus the scrutiny of the limited (Congress’ budgets have consistently reduced staff) Aviation Safety Inspector cadre by shifting from on-site surveillance to a proactive, constant assessment of risks, based on data and sophisticated analytics. This challenging transition is summarized in these past posts:

reasons for function change

The Aviation Safety Inspectors under the old Compliance Philosophy honed their skills of pouring through mounds of records and marking them against a check list. The method was reasonably proficient at capturing PAST paperwork mistakes, but not at addressing future problems.

safety transition from past

The above FAA personnel notice is calling for the new breed of ASI with the necessary data interpretation competence, one would presume. Not so. The announcement calls for two candidates- one operational and the other quantitative.

The description of the ASI job task, “to administer, investigate, and enforce safety regulations and standards for the production, operation, maintenance, and modification of all flying aircraft”, does not emphasize the new set of skills required for the Compliance/SMS regulatory framework. [Curiously, the picture accompanying the announcement uses an image more reflective of the past practices; see the cover graphic.] The announcement, however, includes a link to the Compliance Philosophy.

The detailed qualifications specifications reveal that the ASI must have a strong background in aircraft operations:

Air carrier operations inspectors must have a minimum of 1,500 total flight hours in multi-engine aircraft with takeoff weight of more than 12,500 pounds. General aviation operations inspectors must meet the same flight hours and experience requirements. All operations inspectors must have pilot experience and required certificates and ratings, such as airline transport and commercial pilot certificates.

The third listed opening, Operations Research Analyst, seems more directed at the new data-centric function

future functions


to provide expert analytical support and to conduct significant analytical studies and projects related to aviation. Operation research analysts also use advanced techniques, data mining, statistical analysis, and mathematical modeling to develop solutions for business processes and to enhance oversight for all commercial operations.

It will be interesting to see how the practical experienced ASI will interface with the quantitative ORAs. Any risk assessment must assign likelihood and severity to each risk being evaluated; how these split perspectives are able to determine risks will have a great impact on the SMS/SRM/SASO program.



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4 Comments on "FAA Safety Personnel Announcement splits functions"

  1. Richard Abbott | May 30, 2018 at 7:10 am | Reply

    Focusing on risk and not violations is nothing new to Flight Standards. Shortly after the ValuJet 592 accident in 1996, the FAA began the development of what came to be known as the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS). This system was predicated on providing FAA Safety Inspectors with the processes and tools necessary to assess Part 121 airlines with regards to risk. Initially, in 1998, only 10 Part 121 airlines (these airlines accounted for 90% of the passengers transported in the U.S.) were managed by FAA Certificate Management offices using ATOS. During this time, the Certification Standardization Evaluation Team (CSET) was formed to work with FAA offices charged with the certification of new airlines. The Surveillance and Evaluation Program (SEP) was part of CSET and worked with FAA Certificate Management Offices (CMOs) to help them use the tools to identify risk and target their inspector resources.

    The System Approach for Safety Oversight (SASO) office, which I was part of for nearly 10 years before retiring in 2012, came into being in the 2001-2002 time frame. Their first project was to roll out ATOS (ATOS 2.0) as the oversight program for all Part 121 certificate holders. Assessing risk continued to be a critical key component of the program. Each of the FAA’s Part 121 certificate management offices was assigned an Operations Research Analyst to support the data analysis aspect of managing the certificate.

    The Safety Assurance System (SAS) development project began during these early years and was tasked to continue the evolution of the development of a risk-based oversight approach for not just Part 121 certificate holders, but Part 145 and Part 135 certificate holders as well. SAS implementation began in 2015 if I recall.The next phase of SAS is currently under development with a long term objective of using risk-based oversight for all types of certificate holders.

    Professional analysts (ORAs) have been part of the certificate management teams for almost 20 years so this is not new but a continuing improvement to provide the FAA teams with a critical analytical component to help ascertain any risk that the sometimes very subjective data might be suggesting. FAA Flight Standards certificate management teams are just that – teams! They are made up of professionals with varied skills – all of which are necessary to best assure that the flying public is traveling on the safest airlines in the world.

  2. Sandy Murdock | May 30, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Reply

    Excellent points and you are more knowledgeable about ASIs and ORAs. What do you think about hiring ASIs who also have quantitative skills? How did the ORAs’ number orientation and the ASIs’ practical expertise integrate when making a risk assessment? What do you think about the new Compliance Philosophy? Thanks for your corrections and your future input on our posts. Never let someone with HDQ view write about the real world.

  3. Richard Abbott | May 31, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Reply

    The ability to analyze and assess data is a core competency that all ASIs need. This has been the case for nearly 30 years. However, as far as I know, the criteria for selecting new ASIs is based primarily on their aviation experience, e.g. # of hours flying, time in supervisory roles in Repair Stations, types of certificates held, etc. The ASIs I worked with were some of the most knowledgeable individuals I have known when it came to understanding aircraft systems, piloting and maintenance processes, etc. But that alone does not necessary equate to how to best evaluate a system or an organization with regards to collecting and analyzing data.

    Another point to remember – the air carrier has the duty (by US code) to provide service with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest. The FAA’s role has been slowly evolving (especially with the advent of Safety Management Systems) to ensuring that the carrier performs that duty,i.e. has risk management systems in place to ensure they are identifying hazards, risks associated with those hazards, and developing risk mitigation strategies for those risks that are not acceptable. The FAA inspector in today’s world must ensure their SMS is working as intended. This is a difficult transition for many inspectors – especially those whose expertise lies in flying and maintaining aircraft. The FAA should (if they haven’t already) ensure new inspectors possess critical thinking and appropriate analytical skills along with the aviation-based skills.

    With regards to the “new” compliance philosophy, I’m not so sure it’s new. I recall an initiative around 1989 or so called “Compliance for the 90s.) This initiative emphasized a more cooperative relationship between FAA and certificate holders with the assumption being that operators didn’t intentionally make mistakes and working with them to navigate through the regulatory requirements and help them improve their systems and processes was much more beneficial (in terms of safety) than filing enforcement actions. Most of the inspectors I worked with over the years took this approach. Of course, there were (and will likely continue to be no matter what the “official” philosophy is) those who preferred to file violations whenever a non-compliance was found. Today’s aviation system is one of the most complex socio-technical systems in the world. And if you define safety as a lack of fatal accidents, it’s also incredibly safe.

  4. Sandy Murdock | May 31, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Reply

    Thanks for your further explanation. You have specified, much more accurately than I did– what the FAA should be looking for in the NEW ASI–critical thinking and appropriate analytical skills. The NEW Compliance Philosophy appears to be different than the past Enforcement Practice in that NOW writing up enforcement actions is not the primary goal, rather the ASIs are charged with collaborating with the certificate holder to identify a policy, procedure, practice, etc. to assure that the past inadvertent error is not repeated.
    AGAIN, thanks for your commentary. The Journal benefits from such insights.

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