FAA Safety Compliance moves from penalties to collaborative fixes of Root Causes; No/Maybe/Yes?

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Old habits are hard to change and the communications between Headquarters and the field are attenuated, to say the least. The residents of 800 Independence Ave. have made the decision, for a variety of policy reasons and personnel realities, to move from its traditional ticket-writing enforcement practice to a compliance approach based on SMS/SASO principles.

Three years ago the Director of Flight Standards was “trying to change a culture within the Flight Standards Service.” He said that the FAA position must be changed from a “gotcha” approach to a practice encouraging the inspectors to first work out minor issues with operators when possible. That message was not “rogered” (military slang) by the 1,500 Aviation Safety Inspectors out in the field as witnessed by the continuous flow of large civil penalty demands.


Among a number of complicated factors, the above images demonstrate the distance from Headquarters to the world of an ASI. The message from the top executives passes down to the eight regions and then they transmit the new guidance down to 75 FSDOs and as evidenced by the slide on the right, the manager of individual has even more layers to cascade the 1,500 ASIs who actually “administer,” not enforce, the FARs. Through this stratified organization chart, the wisdom of Washington may be carefully repeated, slightly modified or completely ignored.


Thus the FAA most senior manager, the Administrator, took the unusual step of issuing Order 8000.373 to all employees directing them to follow the new kinder, gentler compliance approach. That pronouncement was summarized here.

The Flight Standards Office decided that it was necessary to amend Order 8900.1, Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS), Volume 14, Compliance and Enforcement, to align with the newly published FAA Order 8000.373, Federal Aviation Administration Compliance Philosophy, and related changes to FAA Order 2150.3B, FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program. [NOTE: be sure to copy this order, quote it when respond to an LOI and bring it with you when attend an informal conference.]. The paragraphs and words of new Order N8900.323 are absolutely clear and impossible for the 1,500 ASIs to “misunderstand.”  Here are a few memorable sections.

How many times has a certificate holder called the local CHDO and ask the ASI what do you think about FAR §121.__?  The response was all too frequently, it’s your duty to comply (with some clever repartee by you suppressed). In contrast, the new order commands the field toimg55

The next paragraph uses terms like “understanding,” “different operators can achieve compliance in different ways,” “collaborative problem-solving,” respect for due process” and “inspector interpersonal skills” [NOTE: the language suggests that this talent may require some “development”]. The acceptance of critical thinking will be a challenge in most of the 75 FSDOs.


The next paragraphs are labeled “Consistency,” “Safety Risk Management,” “Human Errors, Human Factors and Safety Culture” and “Tools to Prevent Reoccurrence.”  Every phrase and thought included in these sections is as well-crafted and revolutionary as the Jeffersonian text of Declaration of Independence. Well worth reading, rereading and memorizing; few FSDOs likely will include this new tome in their bookshelves.

The closing language of Notices is usually the least important verbiage of these “internal’ documents. Not so Notice 8900.323!

  • “AFS personnel will no longer use the Enforcement Decision Process (EDP) to determine what action to take for noncompliance with regulatory standards.”
    • The EDP has been one of the most abused “matrices” intended to mete out consistent justice. Some of the field application of fairly objective criteria. Now the ASI is directed to look for the root cause and figure out how to solve it.
  • The Pilots Bill of Rights is mentioned, but its applicability to limited to certain cases. This acknowledgement of the Inhofe PBoR may be the first FAA public, visible recitation of its provisions. Even if no concession of the PBoR relevance. It does not take a legal scholar to trace some of the reforms in that bill to some of the wording of this Notice.

The FARs are long and complex. To quote the aphorism of law school professors, the meaning of many of those regulations is something about which “reasonable persons may disagree”.  The Interdependence and Critical Thinking explanations formulate a future regulatory relationship into a more collaborative atmosphere. Exchanging opinions will be a far more productive basis for establishing a basis for compliance than calling in the dreaded attorneys to battle.

The opportunity to spend company dollars to remediate a safety matter is a far better way to enhance safety than writing a check to the US Treasury [NOTE: FAA civil penalty payment is deposited in the general account not to the agency funds.


 Update Notification: Notice 8900.323 – Flight Standards Service Compliance Policy

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