GET­TING TO YES

WHY THE FAA’S NEW “COM­PLI­ANCE PHI­LOS­O­PHY” REP­RE­SENTS A TECTONIC SHIFT IN AT­TI­TUDE FOR AN AGENCY DES­PER­ATELY IN NEED OF ONE

Flying - - On Course Editor’s Letter -

FAA MIS­SION STATE­MENT: We’re not happy un­til you’re not happy.

You can buy a T-shirt with this not-so-sub­tle jab printed on the front. It’s an old joke, but I’m start­ing to think it might be time to re­tire this one from the Sporty’s cat­a­log.

In 2015, in a mag­nan­i­mous ef­fort to fos­ter a “just cul­ture” at a fed­eral agency known among pi­lots for its heavy­hand­ed­ness, the FAA im­ple­mented its “com­pli­ance phi­los­o­phy.” The idea was that pi­lots who make hon­est mis­takes shouldn’t have the FAR/AIM thrown at them. In­stead, the FAA would try to learn from th­ese un­in­tended er­rors to cor­rect any un­der­ly­ing is­sues. While this new ap­proach means the FAA will no longer bring the ham­mer down for in­ad­ver­tent vi­o­la­tions, the agency re­mains com­mit­ted to “vig­or­ously en­forc­ing” those in­volv­ing in­ten­tion­ally reck­less be­hav­ior, fal­si­fi­ca­tion and re­peat fail­ures.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, it has taken a while for in­spec­tors in the field to fully grasp what their em­ployer is try­ing to ac­com­plish with the course re­ver­sal brought about by the com­pli­ance phi­los­o­phy. But we’re start­ing to hear of in­stances of the FAA brass in Wash­ing­ton over­rul­ing in­spec­tors and other of­fi­cials by chang­ing judg­ments, re­scind­ing cer­tifi­cate ac­tions and even re­fund­ing fines.

One of the most high-pro­file cases we know of in­volved well-known avi­a­tion ed­u­ca­tor and Fly­ing colum­nist John King. Af­ter an iso­lated seizure in 2014, John spent thou­sands of dol­lars on med­i­cal tests to con­vince the FAA aeromed­i­cal branch in Ok­la­homa City that he was fit to fly — to no avail. He was pre­pared to spend many more thou­sands on a le­gal fight, but be­fore his case reached a Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board law judge John sent a let­ter to the FAA’S as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor for safety re­mind­ing her about the agency’s new just cul­ture and phi­los­o­phy of “get­ting to yes” when reach­ing an ob­sta­cle. Lo and be­hold, less than a month af­ter John sent the email to the as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor he got his med­i­cal back.

When Har­ri­son Ford screwed up and landed his Aviat Husky on a taxi­way at John Wayne Air­port in Cal­i­for­nia, many pi­lots as­sumed the FAA would yank his ticket. In­stead, the agency de­ter­mined no en­force­ment ac­tion was nec­es­sary. Ford’s lawyer noted that the FAA ac­knowl­edged his client’s “long his­tory of com­pli­ance with the fed­eral avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions and his co­op­er­a­tive at­ti­tude dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Some took to so­cial me­dia to com­plain that Ford got off lightly only be­cause he’s rich and fa­mous. Be­lieve me, if the same thing hap­pened a few years ago the out­come would have been far dif­fer­ent.

What’s changed is the com­pli­ance phi­los­o­phy. It’s like a breath of fresh air for pi­lots. And while the FAA no doubt is still in­fected with its share of power-trip­ping in­spec­tors who want to pun­ish any pi­lot who so much as de­vi­ates one dot off course on an ILS, the ev­i­dence shows that th­ese wannabe sher­iffs wield far less power thanks to the sane and ra­tio­nal think­ing em­a­nat­ing from 800 In­de­pen­dence Ave.

I don’t know who at the FAA came up with the idea, but they de­serve a raise — or at least a heap­ing of praise from a grate­ful pi­lot pop­u­la­tion. Com­pli­ance phi­los­o­phy is won­der­ful. Let’s just hope it lasts. Stephen Pope / Editor-in-chief

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