Survey Says FAA Inspectors Feel Pressure To Accommodate Business

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An independent survey of FAA safety division employees suggests they feel pressure to accommodate industry demands at the expense of safety. The Mitre Corporation survey was sent to 7,000 employees in the aviation safety group and 25 percent responded. Those who took the time painted a picture of a regulatory agency influenced by the financial concerns of the companies it regulates. The survey was sent to Congress on Friday and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said it revealed “a disturbing pattern of senior officials at a Federal agency rolling over for industry.” 

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who fared pretty well in the survey for his posture of standing up to Boeing, agreed with DeFazio and said the “problems” revealed by the survey will be addressed. “It is completely unacceptable that there are employees who lack confidence that their safety concerns are taken seriously.” The respondents said that if they dig their heels in on safety issues that cost industry money, the companies complain to their bosses and politicians, which results in directives to find “win-win” solutions to contentious issues. The report said the field inspectors believe FAA brass “are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions” and that takes a toll further down the food chain. “There is a fallout of us not being able to do our job,” one employee said. “Accidents happen and people get killed.”

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Isn’t that just a loud generic whine? What are the safety problems? It would be very interesting to see what a survey of the companies overseen by those particular individuals had to say about FAA oversight.Very likely, a two way street for those complaints. How about the FAA get off their lawyered up duff’s and fix some of the rules that affect business aviation? Part 91 and business are confusing mix at best. Part 125 is nearly useless. My company operates under 125. We have a great relationship with our POI, PMI, and PAI. Why you ask? Because while we are clearly Part 125, we operate using 121 guidance as a model. In other words, we hold ourselves to a higher standard wherever possible. That doesn’t take any more effort and our FAA folks are extremely happy with our work. They have all personally referred to our operation as “how it should be done”.
    As to my dig about cleaning up the regulations. We have to seek and get “deviance’s” to use various Part 121 Ops Specs where applicable. A current one that would help a lot for what we do is “reclearance in-flight” for international operations. That is a Part 121 only function and we are currently being stumped in trying to get it. The sticky part of that is the 10% extra fuel part because we are flying outside the US. I understand the origin of that rule for overwater ops prior to INS/GNS/GPS/etc. I flew with Navigators in the old days and they always got us there but not always in a straight line. That 10% was sometimes needed. Since I started using INS in the early 80’s, my fuel burns and enroute times have gone according to the CFP. Now, with the current system, not being able to re-clear in flight is costing us fuel and unnecessary landing fees. Why? We can’t get any reasonable answer beyond the response that “it is for 121 only”. At least so far. Preventing our 125 Op from doing this proven system adds no level of safety and certainly does add to our costs.

  2. My experience with the federation to abolish aviation has been that commerce doesn’t exist to them….only that the t’s are crossed, and the i’s are dotted correctly….typical of most government agencies…

  3. It’s tough to feel sorry for those inspectors when you consider some of the stupid changes the FAA has come up with lately ( slow flight changes, not allowing FO to help during maneuvers CRM). Add to that the foot dragging on other issues that sometimes get congress involved to get resolved (Basicmed). After 20 years of pt135 experience, I could come up with a lot more issues, including getting various FSDO’s all on same page on FAR interpretations and implementation.

  4. You cannot have it both ways. For years the FAA-Safety Division has been arguing both sides of this issue. If an operator has a chronic problem leads to a severe injury or death, because the FAA failed in safety oversight, the FAA will quickly remind us that the agencies number one job, according to Congress, is to encourage and support air commerce. The number one job in this duality is not safety. However, when the FAA feels pressure as noted in this article to act to protect air commerce alone, it whines about not protecting the safety function of the duality. The FAA is schizophrenic. Congress needs to end the dual mission controversy and make the clear purpose of the FAA mission flight and operational safety. Leave promotion and protection of the overall industry to the industry.

  5. For past ten to fifteen years the FRAA has pretty much disregarded Aviation Safety Inspectors qualifications and contributions to overall aviation safety. Certification is not a priority in FAA at this time. It will be very difficult to reverse this mindset.

  6. “The respondents said that if they dig their heels in on safety issues that cost industry money, the companies complain to their bosses and politicians, which results in directives to find “win-win” solutions to contentious issues.”

    What’s wrong with a review of FAA’s safety recommendations? There always should be a debate, further discussions, and evaluation of the FAA’s safety determinations to find potential “win-win” solutions. I am not a fan of getting politicians involved. However, it seems to take that kind of pressure to allow for a review of the FAA’s decision-making policies. The past history of FAA safety decision-making policies, whether involving certification decisions, or anything else, shows they don’t like to be questioned. To me, a review seeking best certification practices for both the manufacturer and the FAA should be an expected, anticipated part of joint collaboration not requiring political pressure during any part of the process, including a review of potential best practices for both sides. But that idea would shake the way the FAA has always done things.

    “The report said the field inspectors believe FAA brass “are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions” and that takes a toll further down the food chain. “There is a fallout of us not being able to do our job,” one employee said. “Accidents happen and people get killed.”

    Seeking a “win-win” solution does not prevent the field inspectors from doing their job. If they dig their heels in, they should expect to defend their position, to see if there is a better solution allowing for delivery of a better product. Maybe there is, maybe there is not.

    The FAA does not possess all the answers. Nor does the manufacturer. Federal bureaucracies have a difficult time being a part of the process of determining best practices that could potentially improve the product, cut costs, simplify regulations, providing the end user…us…with a better, safer product. Many aviation related manufacturers are in a similar position because of too big to fail, bureaucratic driven decision-making. All the more reasons to question, debate, and evaluate certification and safety policies.

    Seeking a “win-win ” solution with further debate does force those who “dig in their safety heels” to provide solid information defending their policy decision. That means a detailed investment of time and effort demonstrating knowledge of that particular part, task, or design of whatever they are certifying. It seems to me, up till the MAX fiasco, that level of commitment was not necessarily always there.

    As with any survey of opinions, the lower level of employees are always questioning the decision-making capabilities of their respective bosses. With the MAX mess, it is easy for the blame game to start with statements that the opinion of 25% of the field inspectors feel their FAA bosses are “overly concerned” about a manufacturer’s desire for profitability over safety. This survey was an excellent way of providing information what 25% of the FAA field inspectors currently think of their hierarchy. That always sets the table for reasons why some field inspectors feel they cannot do their jobs. Is this survey representative of the 75% who did not respond?

    In today’s world, many want their opinions to be heard. Many do not like their opinions to be questioned. True safety requires opinions to be questioned. True safety requires design and engineering to be questioned. True safety requires accurate data to be provided, shared, discussed, and evaluated. Nothing wrong with the debate that all of this requires. The FAA and our social media driven world have a lot in common. Both do not like being questioned.

  7. I’ve never worked for the government, is it common to survey employees?

    “Do you feel pressure to accommodate industry demands at the expense of safety?”

    If your Pilot or Mechanic answered that question “yes” would you have any confidence in them?
    Maybe these people are not in the best job for their skill level or whatever the “Feeling Culture” would say.

  8. Has the FAA safety division never heard of the phrase Alternative Means of Compliance (AMOC)? Isn’t finding an alternate solution to a problem that satisfies both parties the very definition of “win-win”? Considering the literal blizzard of often contradictory or vague regulations, industry has every right to question an FAA employee’s position and seek clarification at a higher level. I’m sure there are cases where inappropriate efforts are used to pressure an inspector to back down, but that is what the higher level supervisors are there to prevent. It is the responsibility of the FAA’s upper management to work to solve issues, not blindly support any decision or position. Even if they agree with the inspector, they still need to lay out a path to resolution.

    I spent over 30 years working as a consulting safety engineer that dealt with OSHA and EPA regulators and their field inspectors. Both agencies’ regulations and standards were highly complex and often vague, leaving them open to different interpretations. Both agencies regularly sent out letters of interpretation to clarify what the standards actually meant. In many cases I knew more about the regulations and the LOIs than the field inspectors did, so we would occsasionally “go over their heads” and ask their superiors to review the findings. They usually sided with the inspector, but sometimes would agree and allow an “AMOC”. I never met an OSHA inspector that was happy in his job or felt he was supported by the guys upstairs. I suspect the FAA is in a similar situation since their standards are likely far more complex.

  9. Even without seeing how the survey was phrased, I can tell that it is invalid because the respondents self selected. That means that the only ones who answered the survey are those who have a major concern about this issue. The other 75% are not concerned about that problem.

  10. A survey is what you do when you have absolutely no flipping clue. The FAA as in most all government agencies, does not hire the best and brightest. Quite the opposite and getting worse every day. What they have is an indoctrinated mindset that views GA as the enemy and the airlines as their master. The old USSR is rolling over seeing our example of how they should have done things. You’re seeing aviation in the USA destroyed by corrupt, overweight bureaucracy. Wait till they start using your ADS-B to send you a bill.