FAA's Duncan: Compliance Philosophy Improving Safety

 - November 16, 2018, 11:50 AM

Results from the FAA’s Compliance Philosophy approach toward enforcement have been “extremely positive,” said a senior agency official, but he warned that the aviation community must constantly educate critics on the benefits of the initiative. Since the initiative began in 2015, the FAA has worked with industry on more than 15,000 compliances actions, estimated John Duncan, FAA deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, during NATA’s recent 2018 Aviation Leadership Conference.

These are actions designed to correct unintentional non-compliance events or issues without using enforcement. “Those 15,000 compliance actions involved risks that were identified and mitigated,” he said. “There are 15,000 things that have made the NAS [National Airspace System] safer. That’s an extremely positive outcome.”

However, Duncan added that the non-punitive approach of the Compliance Philosophy initiative is “counter-intuitive,” and said he has spent hours discussing this with people outside of the aviation community. “There’s a disconnect there” in understanding the approach, he said, pointing to the negative publicity it drew during an April airing of the television news magazine 60 Minutes. This brought questioning from Congress.

As a new Congress arrives in January, Duncan added he expects that this education process must continue. “We need your support,” he told the audience at the NATA conference. “We need all of you to talk about the compliance program and how it works because it is not easily understood.”

Compliance Philosophy is among numerous efforts the agency is undertaking to collaborate more closely and iron out long-standing issues. The agency’s Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification Services recently reorganized in part to take a more consistent, centralized, yet flexible approach to oversight.

Duncan noted the fragmented approach that had been in place, leading to inconsistent interpretations of the regulations. In Flight Standards, the restructuring was designed to “facilitate a culture change,” he said.

The eight regions had operated more independently, which would result in different approaches and interpretations of regulations, he said. Now it is organized in four groups that are function oriented, providing a more centralized focus.

He acknowledged that in the past, a change in principal operations inspector (POI) could upend an organization if the new POI were to disallow something that a previous POI had approved. “I hope that’s all gone,” he said, encouraging operators who encounter such a situation to start conversations with their POIs to see if there are less disruptive ways to transition to a new interpretation. Operators could also ask the POI to bring in an additional agency official to further discuss such an issue or seek a second interpretation.

He also stressed that policy is not set in stone. There may be exemptions or instances that could spur the agency to re-evaluate a policy, he said, and encouraged operators to turn to the agency’s Regulatory Consistency Communication Board (RCCB), when policy questions arise. The RCCB also has had positive results, he said, but expressed a belief it could be used more.

He likened the situation to marriage counseling, adding, “This about people and about getting along.”