From The FAA: Both Sides Now

In 1968 Judy Collins recorded a song by Joni Mitchell called ‘Both Sides Now’ in which she opines about Clouds, Love, and Life; yeah, in that order and neither making sense. She first compares clouds to feathers, angels, and ice cream before going...

In the Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS), the FAA Inspector’s Handbook, the requirements of contract maintenance oversight are laid out for the inspector(s) to continually and proficiently keep a close eye on operator/contractor interaction and what kind of product they’re putting out. To make allegations that the FAA ignores recommendations in favor of political stalling or lip service is irresponsible.

Rewriting a regulation

So what goes into rewriting a regulation? I asked the late Bill O’Brien that question years ago when I sought to change a Part 135 reg. He said, “It takes three years and a bunch of money.”

Let’s see what that means. A quorum must meet to determine the feasibility of even changing the rule in question, e.g. how will it affect the industry financially, what will be the impact, how many will it impact, and will the industry be better off for it as proposed? In the quorum many people get involved: budget experts, legal counsel, subject matter experts, and industry analysts. The studies, meetings, and legal deliberations take many months before finally resulting in a new rule. So then it’s put on the books, right?

Nope, not quite. Now it goes out to industry for comment — your comment, specifically — which is handled through the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register. This is where industry, unions, manufacturers, and private owners get to read and comment on what regulations are being proposed or their changes. This is also where the politicians get involved when their constituents write for help fighting a proposed rule. A NPRM may undergo many revisions ranging from the grammatical to a complete rewrite of the proposed rule. Finally when all the T’s are dotted and everyone’s eyes are crossed, the three-year journey ends: the rule is placed in the books.

Policy change

By comparison, a policy change (as in answer to the second recommendation) may take a few weeks and some internal review before it becomes official and enters the FSIMS, which is updated daily on the website. Recommendation No. 2 was handled internally; the answer was made. Changes like these are open to the public and may require use of a search engine to verify.


Organizations that question the integrity of FAA action may not verify their information, but may base their findings without research. The FAA operates transparently; there should be more reliance on what the FAA makes available and their experienced voices.

The NTSB itself relies heavily on FAA experience when investigating accidents, not only for the knowledge of aircraft models and certification standards, but because the FAA acquires its talent from industry; these men and women know where to look for hidden answers and how to bring them to light. 

The political environment today often requires organizations to fingerpoint, but I don’t think the public benefits from being placed on the sidelines thinking no one cares or listens. No organization is perfect, but while a cloud may be dark and malignant on its underside, it’s brighter topside; it’s dependent on which side you look at. 

Stephen Carbone is an aviation industry veteran of 28 years. He works at the Boston regional office in the Flight Standards Airworthiness Technical Branch. He holds a master’s degree in aviation safety systems.


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