How is FAA’s New Compliance Philosophy Related to Safety?

Many of you know that the FAA published a new compliance philosophy last summer.  The new policy, found in FAA Order 8000.373, focused on cooperative efforts to achieve compliance, rather than blind enforcement.  

Peggy Gilligan is the FAA Associate Administrator for Regulation and Safety.  She is also a lawyer.  She was part of the force behind this new policy and she explained it at the FAA/EASA Internatinal Safety Conference this week.

The aviation industry has enjoyed an impressive safety record in recent years.   But the regulators are not content to rest on their laurels.  They want to continue working on safety to make aviation ever-safer.  Most of the salient risks have already been addressed so it is harder now to identify risks to address.  In order to identify the risks, the authorities are analyzing trends that could lead to risk.  This allows them to proactively address risk before it can pose a real threat.

The regulatory authorities have been talking about the importance  of data for many years.  They attribute the industry’s recent stellar safety record to safety data collection, and effective use of that data.  Gilligan explained:

“We debuted our new philosophy on compliance. … We want to shift focus so that we and industry are working together on compliance. … We want to look for the trends that lead to systemwide risk …”

She highlighted data sharing as a key element for identifying the next generation of safety risks.  The FAA reasoning is that a cooperative environment is the best environment for encouraging voluntary data sharing.

EASA Executive Dirctor Patrick Ky agreed.  He explained:

Accidents and incidents are frequently a result of many different causal factors, so sharing data is the key to future safety.  

The new compliance program is meant to create an environment in which industry safety data can be shared freely, without fear of repercussion.  As Gilligan said on Tuesday:

“We want everyone in the system to feel free to raise their hand and say that there is something wrong”

While the FAA has decreed that safety is a cooperative effort, this does not mean that enforcement is dead.  Gilligan said “If someone is unwilling or unable to comply with safety standards then that is the highest risk in the system” and such conduct will be met with strong sanctions. 

ASA members should be particularly aware of the new compliance philosophy and what it means for the industy.  Most regulated companies have an opportunity to build a strong relationship with the the FAA, which helps to facilitate cooperation and data sharing in an effort to achieve compliance.  Unregulated distributors, on the other hand, typically do not have the same sort of strong relationships with the FAA.  

Accredited distributors rightfully feel that they are committed to safety, but FAA employees who are not familiar with the the FAA’s AC 00-56 accreditation program may not recognize that commitment.  Thus, when accredited distributors find themselves in possession of shareable safety data, then they should make sure that they take the time to educate the local FAA office about the context of their AC 00-56 quality assurance system.  This may help show that the distributor is a committed part of the aviation system-based safety process.

About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

One Response to How is FAA’s New Compliance Philosophy Related to Safety?

  1. bear65 says:

    Jason–it might be good to ask Peggy if the new Compliance policy applies to a segment of the industry for which SMS is not yet official. The premise of compliance is cooperation and collaboration. The FAA sitting in the SMS meetings would make it hard for the enforcement process to kick in. Here’s how the connectivity maps out to me–

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