The FAA has alleged that FedEx failed to rebalance a horizontal stabilizer tab control surface on the Boeing 727 after repainting the part. For that failure a $417,500 civil penalty has been proposed. Does this SANCTION signal a deviation from the FAA Administrator’s new compliance program, intended to be consistent with the cooperation between the regulator and the regulated so necessary for SMS?
Mr. Huerta, Ms. Gilligan and Mr. Govan have established policies and devoted resources to assure that the new approach functions as the senior executives intend. For the first few months after COMPLIANCE became the de riguer the initial actions suggested that the field may be resisting the change. Early cases were carefully scrutinized (particularly by the field?) to see if this was another word from HDQ that could be ignored or if the resolve of Washington is real. The trend line showed that the New Philosophy was winning.
Curiously, the FAA Press Release [NOTE: the press contact’s telephone number is “718” indicating that the document was released by the FAA Eastern Region] about FedEx’s $417K penalty was devoid of information which would show that the old sanction was losing; only the dollar amount was mentioned.
The absence of such explanation of the full terms of the FAA letter to FedEx was very odd, given that the Director of Flight Standards, John Duncan, had contemporaneously issued an articulate article in FAA Safety Briefing, explaining the new Compliance Philosophy. In relevant parts, he said:
“Compliance is expected and required of everyone who operates in the National Airspace System, or NAS. Compliance means following the rules, but it also means going beyond the rules by taking proactive measures to find problems and fix them to manage or mitigate the risk they create in the system…
The first assumption is that most people want to operate in compliance with the rules…
The second assumption is that the greatest safety risk in the NAS does not arise from a specific event or its outcome. Instead, we have to evaluate risk based on the operator’s willingness and ability to comply with safety standards. The greatest risk comes from an operator who is unwilling or unable to comply with rules and best practices for safety.
Compliance Philosophy means that in the case of pilots who are willing and able to comply, and who are cooperative in taking the steps necessary to get back to compliance, the best way to meet our safety goal is to use tools like training, education, or better procedures.”
Those words from a very important FAA safety executive makes it clear that the compliance policy intends to place designing of well-designed solutions is more important than $$$.
The last line of the article indicates that FedEx intends to meet with the FAA. The company’s lawyers are likely to design a proposal which will convert the $417,000 into effective steps which would diminish the likelihood that future repetition of this problem. Assuring that rebalancing of a horizontal stabilizer tab control surface of all of its fleet, and other similar MX oversights, will always be maintained as required. A package might include added resources for QA/QC (enhanced computer checks), added training of the MX staff on such important checks and greater investment into SMS. In fact, the specific incident should be submitted to FedEx’s SMS process and a proper set of responses designed.
The FAA’s acceptance of such a collaborative solution would confirm that the Compliance Policy is working. If the executives from Memphis are told to get out their corporate checkbook and there are no preventative actions established, the field’s resistance may receive greater credence.