The Perfect Storm

Rogue inspectors and cozy relationships

The number of voluntary disclosures made by a regulated entity is a composite measure, and should not be used either as a performance metric or as a risk factor, in any context. (I disagree … I believe the number of voluntary disclosures are a clear attempt to insulate people and carriers from FAA sanctions. Most of the users feel that it is a sort of get out of jail free route ... not true, never has been true … the language has always been clear and unequivocal. The rules of 58A are clear to the inspectors, but apparently not to FAA lawyers!)

It is clear to the IRT (the panel) that participation in all of the voluntary disclosure programs is dependent on the assurance of confidentiality for the information submitted. The IRT believes the FAA should resist any efforts to relax or eliminate any restrictions on disclosure. (The recent signing of the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) includes the exchange of “safety information” and what may be confidential safety data between the FAA and the European Safety Agency. Whether or not EASA or others will have access to confidential and or proprietary air carrier information remains to be seen. Like the whistleblower protective laws against retaliation by employers, this information should be rigorously protected from release to anybody.)

The FAA should explicitly focus on wide divergences in regulatory ideologies, where they exist, as a source for potentially serious error. (This deals with the differences between various FAA offices and different inspectors’ opinions on enforcement and gives rise to the rogue inspector expression.)

Training for managers and Principal Inspectors should explicitly cover the management of contrasting regulatory views within the workforce, methods for moderating extremes in regulatory style, and methods for optimizing the regulatory effectiveness and coherence across a diverse team of inspectors. (Extremes in style deal with the so-called “rogue inspector.” This area is an extremely sensitive one that will require whips and candy to reign in the diverse parties.)

The FAA should deploy the Internal Assistance Capability (IAC), recently established to review the composition and conduct of any offices or teams under recommendation one above (another FAA self-help program.).

The FAA also should deploy the IAC on a routine basis to review the culture and conduct of any airline certificate management office (CMO) where the managerial team has remained intact for more than three years. (This deals with the “cozy relationship” issue in general, and in particular at Southwest CMO.)

The IRT (panel) would urge the FAA to embrace its own operational role in risk identification and risk mitigation as formally and energetically as it has embraced its role in overseeing industry’s safety management system (SMS) implementation system before the end of 2010. (This statement is somewhat ambiguous.)

We recommend that without delay the FAA commission a time and motion study of its frontline inspection operation to empirically assess the time demands of air transportation oversight system (ATOS) and other IT implementations. (This seems to be just another finding that the field inspectors on the front lines are overworked and just cannot do all the things they are tasked to complete.)

It is clear that five of the items listed deal generally with voluntary disclosure programs and the system described in AC 58A, which was a key item in the Southwest debacle. One deals with ADs. The rest deal with the disparity in FAA enforcement philosophy and how it affects various offices. The “rogue inspector” fits into this category along with the so-called “cozy relationship” expression that is the other side of the coin.

ATOS (a brief comment)
ATOS stands for the Air Transportation Oversight System. It was designed to use system safety principles and systematic processes to assure that air carriers have safety “built into” their operating systems. Not all air carriers participate in this program. It was originally offered to a short list of carriers to see if it could be expanded. It has apparently languished somewhat since its inauguration in 1998 and now there is a big push to get it up to speed so that it will do what it was intended to do — namely to provide a significant safety trigger when the collected data shows something is out of line. I am told that more staff will be added to this program to provide more thorough analysis of the data. ATOS is only one of the voluntary reporting systems that air carriers can use. Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) are two additional data-gathering programs.

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