It's Easy, Just Change The Rule

The repercussions of changing rules can be like either a ripple or a tsunami, the effects felt throughout many industries and lives, not just aviation.

As the change goes into its adolescence, what follows is loaded with meetings; all members bringing to the group the fruits of their labors — the information needed to move forward. For the focus group, industry plays an important role in the process; manufacturers, operators, unions, and individuals are tapped to mold the rule in this new image. SME, both FAA and industry, tap their experience and guidelines to feed the analysis that takes input to continue the development of the rule. Months pass, debates subside, and the rule moves onto the next stage.

Comments from industry

Before the writing of the rule, the ex parte (without the presence of the other party) phase dictates that all outside entities, e.g. manufacturers, operators, etc., be removed from the process; the FAA composes the rule alone. When it drafts a final product and it’s submitted for review, the ‘product’ (new rule) needs streamlining. Publications takes this rough draft and polishes the language; the clarity of the product is honed before numerous FAA departments review it and clean it up even more, review, clean, and review again. On the surface it seems a futile process, but the broader view injects accuracy while assuring words like ‘and’ or ‘may’ don’t confuse the intent of the changed rule; some NTSB law judges have ruled on the strength of one word.

Now to communicate a change on a certificate can be a minor ordeal; it could be relayed with a shift meeting to inform everyone (ripple), while other changes can be as catastrophic to a certificate as changing the way they do business or where (tsunami). To debilitate a certificate, no matter how small, without their opinion cultivates insecurity and can move through industry like a flash fire. Many lobbying to force rule changes may say, ‘Too bad, the rules need changing! Let them deal with it for safety’s sake!’

This is a naive view; in the United States, certificate holders — both individual and corporate — deserve to be heard especially when their futures may be drastically altered; it doesn’t make sense to punish all for the sins of a few. To alleviate these fears or at least throttle them back a bit, the government encourages comments through Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

What is the NPRM? Created by the Administrative Procedure Act (1946), the NPRM enables the industry to view upcoming rules and directives brought to light by the FAA and other individual government agencies. Through this process all in the various industries get to see what’s coming down the pike that’s regulatory or required for an operator’s equipment. After review, the industry folks can comment, disagree vehemently (yet respectfully), or even offer up a better idea to meet the same end. It’s designed to forego surprises and allow the industry to prepare for changes that will result in safe commerce and sound practices.

But the NPRM is also a tool that can push information out-to-in; manufacturers, as do all, have access to feedback in the public domain. They can recognize opinions and concerns raised by individuals and organizations that make up their client base; those actually working with their equipment daily.

Conducting business is like working a machine; all operates on cause and effect. Likewise, rule changes are dependent on what’s input for proper output; longtime veterans of this industry can testify that the eventual output can be unexpected … or worse. We need to measure twice, cut once; make the rules work to make everybody safe. Rule changes aren’t impulsive; they are well thought out, analytically tailored to provide safety to everyone of us who rely on this industry. They can’t … just change. AMT


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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