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Is the FAA’s Compliance Philosophy Improving Safety?

FAA’s Compliance Philosophy Improving SafetyTwo years ago, the FAA’s former administrator, Michael Huerta, announced the FAA’s “Compliance Philosophy,” a fundamental framework to the FAA’s “safety assurance mission.” Let’s take a moment to review their “back to basics” approach, its key points, and recently developed FAA Oversight Philosophy.

Defining Compliance Philosophy

The FAA defines Compliance Philosophy as “a shift away from the traditional blame culture to one that uses non-enforcement methods to correct unintentional deviations or noncompliance that arises from factors such as flawed systems and procedures, simple mistakes, lack of understanding, or diminished skills.”

Its primary purpose is to find safety problems in the National Airspace System (NAS) and use the most appropriate and effective tools to fix them before they cause an accident or incident, and monitor to make sure they stay fixed, according to the Administration.

“The Compliance Philosophy was a sea change for the FAA in terms of how it addresses pilot deviations or other noncompliance with the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs),” says the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) Pilot Protection Services website. “This includes matters such as an airspace incursion, an airman failing to keep his pilot certificate with him while flying, or anything in between.”

Under the Compliance Philosophy, the FAA expects all certificate holders to follow the rules, but they also expect them to take proactive measures to identify hazards and fix them, so as to manage or mitigate the risk they create in the system.

That said, the FAA acknowledges that, “We are all human, and mistakes happen to the best of us. In most cases, failure to comply with the rules happens as the result of things like lack of training, lack of knowledge, diminished skills, or procedures that are not working as they should. So if the certificate holder is both willing and able to comply, we use a ‘Compliance Action’ to address the problem.”

The FAA believes that the Compliance Philosophy firmly puts the focus where it should be: to achieve rapid compliance, to eliminate the safety risk, and to ensure positive and permanent changes.

Is Compliance Philosophy Improving Safety?

According to AOPA’s Legal Services Plan website, the overall impression is that the FAA’s Compliance Philosophy is working as intended and has been a benefit to airmen. Situations that might have previously resulted in an Enforcement Action, such as a certificate action or civil penalty, are being resolved through a more productive Compliance Action consisting of education, training, or counseling. Additionally, once a Compliance Action is successfully resolved, it does not go on the airman’s accident/incident/enforcement database record.

2016 was the first full year of the Compliance Philosophy, and according to an AOPA chart, Legal Enforcement Actions have dropped by more than 50 percent, and Administrative Actions have dropped by 70 percent. This implies that many airmen have been deemed to be returned to full compliance through a Compliance Action, who in the past would have been subject to certificate action or imposition of a civil penalty.

Positive changes under the Compliance Philosophy notwithstanding, AOPA makes a point to note that, “It’s always good advice to consult with an aviation attorney before engaging with the FAA. Keep in mind that obtaining legal counsel after a possible pilot deviation does not preclude a Compliance Action.”

The New Oversight Philosophy

Earlier this year, the FAA announced a new Integrated Oversight Philosophy that complements the Compliance Philosophy. The FAA announced, “While this policy primarily impacts FAA employees, it’s important for stakeholders to be aware of its fundamental aspects. The Integrated Oversight Philosophy outlines a core set of attributes the FAA will use to unify and advance our eleven oversight systems.”

The Oversight Philosophy is another FAA “back-to-basics” approach to improve consistency, internal collaboration, coordination, and communication across FAA organizations. It’s fostering an environment that allows innovative ways to identify/disclose safety risks and implement systemic fixes, reduce duplicative activities, and improve oversight data collection and analysis.

Information courtesy of the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of FAA Safety Briefing and AOPA.org.

Read more on the Oversight Philosophy or visit the FAA.

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