Three real world examples of why Regulatory Affairs is valuable to your FAA certificate

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The FAA has issued some large enforcement civil penalties recently and there have been a number of articles which shed some light on how the certificate holder ought and ought not to relate to their regulator. The first ↓below article provides insights from the perspective of an investigator. The second ↓ article reflects the thoughts of an airline executive after the FAA attempted to revoke his certificate on an emergency basis. The last ↓piece, written by an employee’s counsel, reveals the actions/travails of a whistleblower.

The message of these links and the lessons of a Regulatory Affairs course is that your certificate is your most important asset and thus the same level of focus, which you devote, for example, to preventative maintenance, should be directed to your relations with the FAA, your Principals, the FSDO/CMO, the region and headquarters. A certificate is the essential predicate to the certificate holder’s daily authority to operate.

An FAA inspector wrote a very frank piece on what he sees that works in dealing with the regulator. He begins with noting the importance of your inspector’s experience. Understanding her/his background provides a base for your actions For example, if your PMI has extensive time dealing with B-767 aircraft maintenance issues, then he/she will be more comfortable dealing with adjusting overhaul cycles; conversely if the her/his past work is not familiar with the equipment type, your approach should be more educational.

Another salient point of the piece is the critical value of your word. Begin with basics; set deadlines that are achievable; resetting that date deteriorates your trust factor. Just like setting the time when an aircraft will leave the MX hangar and return to service is a hard point, if you commit to providing a list of ___ to your PMI by aa/bb/2014, meet or beat that date. If you maintain that schedule, you are reinforcing the PMI’s confidence in your word a/k/a credibility.

The second piece is based on the war between the FAA and a carrier in which the NTSB reversed an emergency revocation. His message is the value of your reputation. As is evidenced by his story, a whistleblower’s allegations are able to penetrate further in the FAA review than the underlying facts should support. Under those circumstances, collateral relationships within the FAA, your trade association, the industry and community are one way to deal with the whistleblowers’ current potency.

By participating in tasks forces, by trying to work with other airlines on issues, by building strong community ties, by keeping your Representatives and Senators (actually only their district office managers) informed about the company, you have created a safety net to deal with such crises. Yes, your senior staff is already overworked, but by providing them time to work on an FAA and/or association working group, they will develop relationships with credible professionals who can attest to the company’s technical knowledge and integrity. When a proposed certificate action moves past the local office for review, it is quite possible that one of the people tasked with approving the whistleblower’s draconian sanction will remember the hours spent hammering out a difficult rule with one of your knowledgeable people; that disjunction may cause something more than a rubber stamp.

The last perspective is from the lawyer of an airline employee and the point is made that airline ignored him. That frustration was the catalyst for the fellows taking his case to the FAA. Such “inside” information is highly valued by the regulator’s staff; a 3rd person’s bill of particulars is readily transformed into a formal complaint. The antidote to such internal dissatisfaction is a safety culture, a process in which the company’s staff is heard and their issues are not summarily dismissed. The result may not be to accept the perceived problem as gospel, but a serious, thoughtful forum to be heard should convey to the disgruntled that his/her perspective is valued, that our internal review has reinforced that a shortcut or mere appearance of compliance is not adequate. Done right the internal whistleblower leaves his moment with management with the real feeling that he was heard.

Regulatory Affairs is not a part time, reactive exercise; it involves a conscientious, comprehensive program with senior management attention. These three stories provide the lessons which should convince the executives that this preventative management of the company’s certificate is cost justified.

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