The FAA continues to work on cultural change and is evaluating a larger-scale reorganization within the Flight Standards Service as the agency strives to become more consistent, said Flight Standards director John Duncan during the National Air Transportation Association 2016 Aviation Business Conference last month. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger also spoke at the event, and experts and executives discussed industry consolidation, legal issues and hypoxia.
Duncan acknowledged the long-standing concerns surrounding the FAA’s issues with regulatory consistency and said, “We’re aware of that. We are concerned about delivering a consistent product and making sure the work you get in one part of the country from one [Flight Standards District Office] or [Aircraft Certification Office] is consistent with the work you get in another part of the country.”
He emphasized that making the agency more consistent in its dealings requires cultural change, but said, “I think we’re making progress. We’re getting good feedback.”
The Flight Standards Service has been evaluating its structure for the past several years, but the culture change must come first, Duncan noted. “Changing the structure of the organization could be an important piece,” he said. “But changing the structure and applying the same culture might not have a successful outcome.”
Over the past three decades, the organization has changed dramatically as it adopted and adapted to new technology, Duncan asserted, yet the culture remained unchanged, reinforcing the “failed concept” that inspectors should “know everything about everything.” The agency is now looking at drawing on the expertise of specialists and assembling “focus teams” to provide guidance, said Duncan, citing a focus team on specialized cargo as an example.
He also noted that until a few years ago, the culture did not focus on varied outcomes. But now the agency has changed expectations to emphasize that “outcomes of decisions made by inspectors are consistent with the decisions made by another inspector in the same set of circumstances.”
As for the organization structure itself, Duncan said the agency has been contemplating new models, including one that consolidates activities under streamlined management teams. Under this proposal, all Part 121 activities would be conducted under a single management structure, and the same would be true for Part 135.
Duncan is also encouraged that the agency is making progress on its new “compliance philosophy,” which is designed first to look at ways to work through problems that lead to violations before turning to an enforcement. From October through April, the agency had recorded 2,200 “compliance actions,” events where risk was identified, the cause found and corrective action taken. These events represent “powerful” cases where risk can be mitigated without enforcement actions, he said. “Enforcement is not the most effective way,” he said, adding that a “compliance philosophy is the right way to do business.” The philosophy will create more open, transparent relationships that are critical for safety management systems, Duncan said. “Compliance philosophy is absolutely necessary to support that SMS relationship.”
Neffenger, who was sworn in last July as TSA Administrator after serving as vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, outlined his priorities for the agency. He discussed a desire to create a more open dialog and improve information sharing with aviation businesses. “It makes sense to me that if you are on a commercial airfield you should have access to information. Having information is a good thing,” Neffenger said.
He said he wants to hear from businesses: “I like the idea of regular phone calls” between the agency and industry. “You can be a regulator and still be connected with industry,” Neffenger said. “We are all in this problem together. No one entity can fix the security problem by itself.” Acknowledging the many entry points to airports of all sizes, the TSA also hopes to reach out to airports to “surface the best practices,” he said. “The idea is not to regulate but to say there is a lot of work we can do.”
Neffenger made brief reference to the long-standing large aircraft security program rulemaking effort, saying only that the program as proposed was too prescriptive. While his background is Coast Guard, Neffenger noted that he grew up around general aviation since his mother was a pilot.
He also described to the attendees at the NATA conference his experience while sitting on an aircraft at a gate at Brussels Airport during the bombing attack there on March 22. “We were pulling up to the gate when the bomb went off. We were about 20 feet off the gate,” he said. The passengers on his flight were kept on board for a couple of hours, and but when they were allowed to leave the aircraft, he said, “It was a pretty bad scene, really chaotic.” People were still evacuating and numerous people “were on the airfield running in all directions,” Neffenger said. The scene drove home the need to learn how to manage large crowds of people. “It really reinforced to me that we don’t want that to happen here,” he said.
Aviation business executives discussed the continuing trend of consolidation, noting that FBOs remain a desirable target for acquisition by private-equity firms knowledgeable about the business.
When asked about the Signature Flight Support acquisition of Landmark Aviation, Aviation Business Strategies Group founding principal John Enticknap observed that the acquisition did not change the number of independent FBOs. He suggested that nearly 1,300 FBOs meeting certain criteria (minimum fuel volume and runway length among them) could be potential targets for acquisition by any of the chains.