FAA division manager Wayne Fry said the agency’s flight standards district offices (FSDOs) remain open despite the Covid-19 pandemic but that more activities are being conducted virtually. During the opening day of the FAA’s rotorcraft safety virtual conference this week, Fry divulged the massive extent to which the agency is using online tools to keep up with the demand for inspections and meetings at the FSDO level. He urged attendees to leverage electronic tools to interact with the FAA and to avoid “letting this national emergency impact our safety profile.”
Fry said the agency engages in more than 5,000 web-based Zoom meetings daily and has done more than 148 international videoconferences across 30 countries since the pandemic began. “The FAA is open for business,” he said. “Our offices may not look open. Most of our staff inspectors and managers support telework from home. We’re doing this to keep our people safe just like you do. If you drop by the local FSDO, there may not be anyone there, but you will see a sign on the door telling you how to get in touch with us. We still stop in occasionally and we will support you if we need to meet in person, but the best way to contact us now really is probably through phone or email.”
Doing more business virtually has made the FAA realize that “open and consistent communication is more important than ever, so to stay connected we need to talk more,” Fry said, adding that operators, maintenance providers, and schools could help the FAA during the pandemic by “giving us digital copies of most work.” He said organizations could digitally connect with FAA personnel using technology no more complicated than Apple FaceTime or iPads, iPhones, and laptops to verify aircraft condition, equipage, and installations, provided it is done with the consent of all parties involved.
“We won't ever do this type of work without both of us agreeing to it,” Fry said. “We won’t ever do it without your approval or consent. If it’s not working, we will stop. We will both agree on how to do it and what happens, so that’s a very safe space. But just think of the possibilities.” Going virtual does not preclude physical site visits and face-to-face appointments at the local FSDO, but Fry conceded that arranging those meetings might take a little more time during the pandemic.
“This is pretty new to us, and probably to you also, and we are still figuring it out,” Fry conceded. “We're doing some experimentation. We're not only trying to figure out how to best work in this [Covid-19] environment, but also how to continue to support the general aviation community.”