Article about FAA fine on the CLE airport misses test of new Compliance Policy

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A great deal of negative publicity befell the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport after the FAA announced a six figure fine of $735,000. The public impact of that munificent civil penalty on the municipal government was so great that a clever investigative reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request. Anyone who has invoked that “discovery” procedure knows that it takes patience, persistence and a dash of pain acceptance to force any agency to divulge its public records. The author got what she requested (see the below headline), but failed to realize that the Cleveland’s Interim Director of Port Control Fred Szabo gave a somewhat obtuse hint in his answer to her question. The real lead of this story is buried in the 4th paragraph of the exposition.

cleveland airport faa compliance fine

First to the good news, as measured by how successful was her FOIA request is revealed in the FAA rap sheet against other bad airports. Compared to the heavy proposed sanction, the next airport on the miscreant citation file was cited for a six figure penalty; thus CLE is twice as bad as the closest airport “felon.” One of the other bad airports was able to convince the FAA to negotiate the size of the check down. From this dirt dig, the journalist is able to insinuate that the bad acts of CLE were worse than past precedents. An investigator’s delight—a tale of how malicious the municipality was. Maybe a Pulitzer?

However, a seemingly insignificant line in her review might have caused her to rethink her conclusion. The Interim Director’s quote contains some key words; here is what he said:

“Cleveland’s Interim Director of Port Control Fred Szabo said last week that the negotiations have been more collaborative than adversarial, and that he expects to meet once more with FAA officials in the coming weeks before the agency determines exactly how much the city will pay.”

One cannot be too critical of a reporter on a city beat to be aware of the FAA’s new enforcement policy which was instituted back on June 26, 2015. A google search might have discovered the applicability of the newly minted compliance program (diminishing the importance of sanctions) to CLE. That resource might have led the research to the FAA’s new emphasis on collaboration, the key word used by Mr. Szabo. That tidbit might have drawn her to an explanation of what the Administrator and his senior executives mean by collaboration. Then the following review of what process/policy/procedures should be followed:

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 to:


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.

critical thinking faa term

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 headline of this article should not have been the $735,000 figure, but that CLE will be a test case for the new FAA compliance policy. The speculation, a journalist’s favorite word play, would have been a better theme for the report:

  • Would the root cause analysis by the FAA and CLE agree that misfeasance by management (i.e. that the union claims would be verified) was the problem; that inadequate staffing created the bad situation?
  • Did the City get any credit for “encouraging” the old manager to leave?
  • Could CLE convince the FAA that a better use of the money by
    • instituting new educational programs,
    • scheduling bad WX drills,
    • buying better equipment,
    • designing new snow removal procedures or
    • hiring a new snow/weather supervisor

than writing a check to the US Government?

Those suggested questions might have moved this from a Cleveland article to one worthy of national attention. By figuring out what the “jargon” really signaled, the focus would have shifted to deeper and more substantive. Expecting that such word use might have triggered further inquiry, but forgive the omission as not being the first mistake by the lake.


ARTICLE: About that $735K fine … How will FAA citations shake out for Cleveland Hopkins Airport?

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