FAA Enforcement vs. Compliance
When Media Fails to Properly Report Aviation Safety
Reporting on aviation safety is not an easy assignment. Writing objectively about a company which has a bad consumer reputation is not an easy task. Parsing a complicated jargon-filled bureaucratic document may not seem necessary when your publication has recently published ten (or more) articles highly critical of the targeted company. Starting the report with an incendiary headline and finding suitable quotes are consonant with all of the above.
The work was completed and the aircraft was returned to service. Subsequently the work performed by AAR caused a significant incident. An FAA field inspector found the fault and wrote a report indicating what the inspector thought should be the proper ENFORCEMENT response.
The initial report recommended enforcement action and the “maximum” civil penalty sanction. The reporter then included the following quote:
“It’s really disturbing from a safety perspective,” said Loretta Alkalay, an aviation attorney who spent 30 years as a regional counsel prosecuting enforcement cases for the FAA.
The inspector’s judgment was that this enforcement action was needed to prevent “potential tragedies” in the future. The article continues, “FAA managers reviewed the investigation and decided to handle the situation differently…They didn’t fine the company.”
The story as written strings together, but….
It failed to note that the FAA decided in 2013 to switch from an approach emphasizing enforcement & penalties to compliance through SMS. The new safety discipline received positive feedback from experts and the world’s leading safety foundation. The new regulatory regimen was formally announced in an order issued by the Administrator. The transition has tested the field personnel who have grown attached to the old enforcement prosecution philosophy.
The compliance philosophy has shown its improved effectiveness in promoting safety by resulting in certificate holder specific remediations more quickly than the old bureaucratic technique. There are multiple reasons for adopting this new approach.
It is a sea change which has even required a realignment of the lawyers’ organization. Some of the early cases after the Compliance/Cooperation announcement, there was a similar failure of the local staff to follow/comprehend it (perhaps a sign of resistance. This is not the first time that the press has mistaken the new compliance policy with a whitewash/coverup.
Thus, if the reporter could have discerned the applicability of the new compliance regimen, the notation of “letter of compliance” would not have been cited as “hiding.” The comments cited in the article would not have been the primary source; for their opinions reflected the old, not new approach.
The SMS process, not mentioned at all in the article, would have initiated a remedial process and relevant solutions would have been in place before the internal enforcement/compliance decision was finalized.
To precisely relate the facts required better, current information about the inner workings of the FAA; the reporter did not discover why the FAA management revision was appropriate.