FAA’s past international profile and a look how to reinvigorate its reputation

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How did FAA get in the International Mess it’s in?

Congress NO “PROMOTE” and less $$$

IASA’s unintended backlash

The last 10 months have exposed some serious flaws in the FAA’s relationship with other Civil Aviation Authorities. Some commentators have pointed to the hostile international policies of the current Administration. Another workable hypothesis articulated was that the FAA has been harmed by trade tensions between the US and Europe as well as the emerging commercial aerospace competitors in Russia, China, Japan and several Eastern European countries plus India.

Here are a few rationales, which individually and/or cumulatively may account for the diminished stature of American Aviation. They trace to internal issues and may well point to solutions.


For years, faced with reduced budgets and tasks expanded by Congress, the Administrators have decided that the staff assigned to working with other countries were not as useful in dealing with the operational requirements. In contrast, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency[1] has announced a goal of aggressively expanding its global influence.[2]

So as the US has reduced its overseas assets, EASA is increasing its efforts to bring other CAAs into its sphere of influence.

NOT GOOD and surprise, 13 CAAs between March 11 and March 13 issued orders grounding the B-737 Max 8 aircraft. Few had the technical competence to question the MCAS and none articulated a specific reason why they took their action, even though their bilaterals required them to state a basis for their action.

Resolution of the B-737 Max 8 is not the endpoint in this conflict. The CAAs with the heaviest burden for certificating aircraft had developed an informal, yet workable (so far), network of BASAs that recognized the competence of the other authorities (primarily EASA, FAA, ANAC and TC).

That interrelated set of acceptances of other CAAs was critical to each of these prime “certificators” in their responsibility to regulate/surveil participants in the global aerospace market. Country A relies on Country B to inspect the manufacturing facility in B producing parts for aircraft being produced in A.

The March 2019 CAA declarations on the Max 8 cracked that network. Resurrecting that structure will require renewed confidence among these players. That intergovernmental exercise will be a multi-level chess game. The FAA needs to mend its relations with these players.

Aviation covers the Globe as the World’s CAAs grow closer

The multi-level Chess Board of Global Aircraft Certification




The January 1990 crash of an Avianca B-707 during its ATC routing to JFK (the plane crashed when its fuel tanks emptied)  created a public outcry based on reports that the Columbian crew was at fault, the media fomented a Congressional inquiry about the FAA surveillance of foreign air carriers flying into the United States.[3] In response to this pressure, the FAA established the International Aviation Safety Assessment  program in 1992.

The notion, that the FAA can/should assess the competence airlines flying to the US, has GREAT appeal to the American traveling public. “Sure, I want to know whether ______Airline is safe” resonates with anyone with a passport. However, IASA applies to a Civil Aviation Authority- does it have the staff, laws, criteria and inspection techniques EQUAL to the ICAO standards. At best the FAA “audit” is one level away from pilots, maintenance, planes, etc. that define the safety standards of the air carrier. Yes, the CAA may have the right books, people, manuals and audit checklists; the FAA while they are in Country A will observe all of those objective marks of a good regulator. But once the people from the US leave, does the CAA of B actually apply those tools.

There is another aspect of IASA more relevant to the regulator dysphasia being experienced between the FAA and the other CAAs around the world. The US is sending knowledgeable staff to the Headquarters of another CAA. In political science terms, this is a sovereign deigning to audit the competence of another sovereign. It may be true that the FAA’s regulatory sophistication is quite high, but in more diplomatic terms, a career servant from Washington is going to question a foreign organization led by a senior official in his/her offices.

The Director General frequently has the resume of:


      • A politically well-connected official whose resume may be short on aviation experience, but impressive in other dimensions—successful in business, highly educated, inherited wealth
      • A career civil servant who has worked her/his way up the government ladder and who has shown exceptional skills as an administrator on the way up. The career may not have included significant aviation experience, but on some occasions the new DG has worked through one of the CAA’s disciplines—AT, AF, OPS, security, policy, HR, etc.
      • A high-ranking military officer whose career likely includes significant flight time in fighters or bombers. [ NOTE: many basics of military aviation differ from civilian, i.e. Thrust Excursion Cycles is a military measure of engine life; Mean Time Between Overhaul has much longer segments in civilian MX.]


Just from a stature standpoint, it is not unusual for the sovereign DB to take exception to the IASA visit.

A typical assessment begins with a formal meeting presided over by the DG and then the FAA staff heads off for series of meeting. Their goal is to detect differences between the ICAO standards and the CAA situation. It may not be intended to be a fault-finding mission, but the CAA would be hard-pressed not to take exception.

Ninety countries have had an IASA review. Even assuming that the FAA assessment teams have had exceptional diplomatic skills, more than a few of the CAAs audited may not have great thoughts about the USA after their audit. Some of the 17 who grounded the Max 8 may have had less-than-perfect IASA experiences.







  1. Refresh the FAA International Staff and

Recruit from within and outside the FAA- people who both know aviation at a high technical level. The selection criteria should seek candidates who are exceptional communicators, especially active listening skills

  1. Restore overseas offices




Get Congressional funding to restore a network of FAA international offices. In 1996 Congress (the 1996 Public Law 104-264, § 401 at page 42, ) deleted the word “promote” from the FAA’s mission. As that word had been interpreted by the FAA, particularly in its actions, was to encourage other nations to adopt the US standards. As Administrator Blakey testified that word was never used to justify selling a US product to a foreign entity or government. The removal of the word made it hard for her successors to justify the charges associated with the people and office.




  1. Recognize that EASA includes International Relations as a Prime Element of its Strategy And RESPOND in like kind- do not concede the globe to Europe

EASA Announces Strategy To Promote Global Presence While FAA CAN’T is an official statement of EU policy.

Five Well-Established Points support Positive US international aviation assistance while the post focuses on Africa, the analysis is applicable to most countries with evolving aviation industries. US Trade and Development Agency can fund projects to help these CAAs improve their people and systems.




4. Change IASA from auditing to an SMS exercise As explained above IASA can be perceived as a negative experience. Leaving “To Do” lists with a DG who neither asked for it nor respected the process. Typically, the FAA’s deficiencies found require the CAA to rewrite rules, get the legislative branch to change their authority, to get money and have the expertise to hire “qualified” staff, etc.

A DGAC cannot spare staff from the daily demands of running a CAA to rewrite rules that are being enforced. The Executive at the head of the CAA may recognize that part of the reason for appointment is one or more legislators; telling that their current CAA law is deficient is not a good tactic for reappointment. More money for staff is not a popular topic with the powers to be.

The SMS model avoids finding fault AND instead looks for prioritized practical solutions. The US[4] team should be part of the problem-solving effort—helping revise the regulations or manuals; going to the legislature to explain why the CAA statute bears revision. This is a far more effective method to improve safety and infinitely less likely to offend another sovereign.

The US no longer dominates aviation; our aerospace market is selling to other countries. The US government no longer receives instant respect, nor does the FAA. It is time to reinvigorate our relations with other CAAs. Past methods should be replaced by new approaches. The above is a suggested strategy.




[1] Until recently this multinational safety administration was identified by 4 names (EASA), recently its parent organization the European Union appears to require that the “U” be added; so, should its acronym be EUSA?

[2] Here are other examples of EASA’s campaign statements: EASA announces Strategy to promote Global Presence while FAA CAN’T; EASA invades Central America- what happened to Administrator Huerta’s Strategic Initiative and the Monroe Doctrine?; Ky’s plan to consolidate Europe’s Aviation Safety Authority may result in platform for EASA to influence Global Standards; EASA & FAA agreements with Singapore maintain safety, reduce regulation; only EASA’s creates jobs; The FAA and the world’s fastest growing aerospace market- HELP?

[3] The NTSB’s report stated that the probable cause was crew error (not obtaining current weather forecast upon departure from Bogota, poor calculation of the need for fuel reserves,  poor landing by the Captain and other major factors. There was debate whether the FAA ATCers were partially attributable for the tragedy. The crew was exceptionally qualified.

[4] Two out of the box suggestions (1) have USTDA hire consultants to act as the foreign CAA SMS mentor (2) agree with EASA and ICAO  to consolidate their triplicating audits with one, perhaps under the aegis of IATA. How Many International Audits are Enough; Avior Airlines- IATA YES; EU NO on safety-CHANGE?;





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