FAA’s new Compliance Policy will take time, but Safety will be better for the wait

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Administrator Huerta gave a speech entitled “Another First in Our Safety Evolution” to a Flight Safety Foundation breakfast at the National Press Club. His message basically reiterated a philosophy and policies previously announced. WHY?

In June, he issued his new FAA Compliance Philosophy and then the Flight Standards Organization issued N8900.323 to flow those principles down to its field offices.


The new approach differs from past practices and may be resisted by the field. An organizational change to the legal administration of enforcement cases may result in quick implementation. All of these transformational documents are in place and yet why does the message get repeated?

For years the FAA Flight Standards field organization had enforcement as its #1 priority. Many, many inspectors made their careers by scrutinizing airlines to find violations. Then they worked with their management and lawyers to prepare their case. Letters of Investigation, Notices of Civil Penalty, Informal Conferences and the occasional NTSB ALJ hearing were the life blood of these individuals’ promotion. At the end of the year, investigators and lawyers pointed to their numbers of cases and dollars of civil penalties assessed/collected.


Now for a variety of good reasons, the FAA has adopted SMS as a more effective tool to encourage compliance, rather than punish non-compliance. Using data the FAA and industry are defining issues before they become problems. Even better it is clear that the new focus is working and likely will get better.


Since its benefits are self-evident, why the Flight Safety Foundation speech?

The Administrator, the Deputy Administrator and the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety will individually speak, repeat, reiterate, be redundant and say the same thing over and over. They must because the field is not comfortable with the new Compliance Philosophy. The tools of the Old Enforcement Approach are not easily convertible into the New Compliance Philosophy. Scouring records involves a different mindset and skills than the techniques of SMS. The new discipline requires analyzing data, determining root causes, working with the regulated to design a proactive solution, consulting with the certificate holder about vague FARs and looking forward.

It is important to expound the new regulatory direction, but training is the more needed step towards bringing the field into this novel doctrine. N8900.323 recognizes that there will be some need to help the transition.

The Administrator’s speech emphasized these elements and the words bear repeating (they can be found 70% through a 1,700 word speech):

  • “We have started training for all FAA employees on the new Compliance Philosophy, with detailed ‘how-do-I-implement-it’ training for each Line of Business.
  • We are using data, not calendar dates, to determine when and where to conduct surveillance and inspections.
  • We are emphasizing that we expect our employees to use critical thinking, which is essential to successful implementation of the Compliance Philosophy. We want inspectors to use their judgment, experience, expertise and qualifications to identify risk, to work with the individual or operator, and to identify the most appropriate tools needed to permanently fix the problems.”

As a matter of necessity, this new rubric must be the foundation of the FAA’s future. The people who are called to make these judgments may take time to fully adopt the principles; at the end of that road, aviation safety will advance. Evolution is always slow.


ARTICLE: FAA Administrator Signals Safety Evolution

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