Huerta: New FAA Enforcement Policy "A Big Big Change"

 - August 6, 2015, 2:03 PM
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta (left) and EAA boss Jack Pelton discuss the FAA's new compliance policy at EAA AirVenture 2015. Photo: Matt Thurber

One of the most significant recent policy changes by the FAA was mentioned only in passing on July 23 during FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s Meet the Administrator forum at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. Although the FAA published the new policy, effective June 26, before the show, Huerta highlighted it only in response to a question from an audience member who wanted to know why his mechanic had to spend so much time worrying about complying with complex regulations and not “doing the right thing” when maintaining his airplane.

The “FAA Compliance Philosophy” outlines a new approach to ensuring that airmen and regulated entities meet regulatory standards. “This is what we’re trying to lay out as the guiding framework for how we approach all of our regulatory activities,” Huerta told the audience. “This is a big cultural change, not just for us at the FAA, but across the entire industry.”

According to the new policy, the idea is to use safety management system (SMS) principles to improve the sharing of safety data between the FAA and aviation community. Huerta explained that the current legal framework “kind of creates a bit of a chilling effect. What we’re trying to do is get everyone to focus on 'how do I better assess risk?' and 'how I’m mitigating risk.'”

The policy explained, “To foster this open and transparent exchange of data, the FAA believes that its compliance philosophy, supported by an established safety culture, is instrumental in ensuring both compliance with regulations and the identification of hazards and management of risk.

“When deviations from regulatory standards occur, the FAA’s goal is to use the most effective means to return an individual or entity that holds an FAA certificate, approval, authorization, permit or license to full compliance and to prevent recurrence.

“The FAA recognizes that some deviations arise from factors such as flawed procedures, simple mistakes, lack of understanding or diminished skills. The agency believes that deviations of this nature can most effectively be corrected through root cause analysis and training, education or other appropriate improvements to procedures or training programs for regulated entities, which are documented and verified to ensure effectiveness. However, reluctance or failure to adopt these methods to remediate deviations or instances of repeated deviations might result in enforcement.”

Huerta went on to explain, “The message we’re sending to every one of our 47,000 employees is the objective is not to enforce; the objective is to ensure compliance with the standard. And enforcement is one tool in the toolbox, but there are a whole lot of other tools that we need to be able to be looking at. And a lot of that has to do with data. How can we use the information that we all have, have a willingness to share and you not be worried about us coming and initiating some sort of enforcement action? It is something that we’re very committed to but we need to recognize that it’s a big, big change.”