The FAA has a reputation for being punitive and unequal in its enforcement, more interested in paperwork and police work than in promoting real safety. If you believe some recent announcements, though, that attitude may be changing. Administrator Michael Huerta has spent the last few months promoting a new “Compliance Philosophy Order,” which promises to change the way his agency deals with pilots.
As Director of Flight Standards John Duncan explains in a recent issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine, “Compliance means following the rules, but it also means going beyond the rules by taking proactive measures to find problems and fix them to manage or mitigate the risk they create in the system.”
He divides pilots into two main categories: those who want to be safe, and those who knowingly violate the rules:
We know that pilots don’t walk out to the airplane trying to think of ways to break the rules; they intend to comply and they make efforts to do just that… It’s not okay to do nothing when these errors occur, because they can have serious safety consequence in our highly complex airspace. But the correct response to inadvertent errors is not blame, which looks backward and focuses on punishment for what’s already happened. Rather, we seek accountability, which takes responsibility and looks forward.
Enforcement actions aren’t going away, and the FAA doesn’t want pilots to think they’re going soft, but different mistakes call for different reactions:
Compliance Philosophy means that in the case of pilots who are willing and able to comply, and who are cooperative in taking the steps necessary to get back to compliance, the best way to meet our safety goal is to use tools like training, education, or better procedures. The enforcement tool is for cases involving someone who is unwilling or unable to comply.
On the surface, this sounds like a positive change, with federal regulators focusing on the goal (improved safety) instead of the process. It also suggests a slightly less adversarial approach, one that recognizes the good intentions of most pilots. This could lead to fewer suspended licenses for minor, innocent mistakes. It might even improve safety – especially if it creates an atmosphere where pilots and mechanics feel comfortable self-reporting mistakes.
Not all pilots will be put at ease by such talk, though. To many, this new approach is just a new coat of paint for the policies and procedures the FAA has always used. Anyone who thinks they’re going to be less punitive is naive.
What do you think? Is the new FAA focus on compliance a step in the right direction? Or is it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Add your comment below.