Crossing Over: How to become an FAA aviation safety inspector

The FAA's response to the budget crunch is to mandate hiring freezes, set limits on travel, spending, training, and how far an inspector can drive in a G car

As I write this article the FAA is under a "continuing resolution" or the dreaded CR as it's known around Washington, D.C. The CR limits FAA's Flight Standard's Service to spending only three-quarters of the money budgeted for the previous fiscal year. This has the same impact on the agency's operations as it would on you, if tomorrow your boss cut your pay check by 25 percent. The FAA's response to the budget crunch is to mandate hiring freezes, set limits on travel, spending, training, and how far an inspector can drive in a G car. So one would be right to question the reasoning behind this article whose focus is how to become an FAA aviation safety inspector.

What appears to be a closed door for new hires at the local FSDO today, will not be the case in less than two years. Before 2006 rolls around the FAA will start an aggressive hiring program. Why so? Simply put, the answer is attrition through retirements. What I have not yet told you is that approximately 38 percent of the FAA inspector series 1825 work force will be eligible for retirement starting in fiscal year 2006 and each year afterwards the percentage gets a little bigger. So the FAA will need to start hiring good qualified people shortly to fill positions as operations, avionics, and maintenance inspectors.

So if any of you mechanics are thinking about crossing over to the other side and applying to become an FAA aviation safety inspector for airworthiness, here are a few questions and answers that might clear the air and get you thinking about preparing for another career in aviation.

What kind of FAA aviation safety inspectors (airworthiness) are there? There are two kinds: general aviation and air carrier. This separation between the two is based on the industry standard of assigning aircraft of less than 12,500 pounds to GA and aircraft 12,500 pounds and heavier to air carrier.

What does an FAA aviation safety inspector do? In very broad terms, we certify operators, issue certificates, perform surveillance to ensure compliance with the rules, perform accident investigations, and promote aviation safety.

What is the pay like? The new hire aviation safety inspector's pay scale depends on what grade he or she is hired at. For example, an aviation safety inspector hired this year can start at grade 9 at base pay of $36,052, or grade 11 at $43,621 or grade 12 at $52,281. Please note that I am quoting "base pay" for fiscal year 2004 that has a 1.5 percent pay increase over the 2003 scale. I am not including locality pay or any pay increases in the new budget. Locality pay is compensation for the high cost of living in certain geographic areas. Locality pay can range from 5 to 25 percent additional dollars to your base pay depending on the area you are assigned. For the purpose of doing the math add another 10 percent on to the salaries assigned to each of the grades above and you will be in the salary ball park for 90 percent of the Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO). The grade that you are assigned when you are hired depends on the scope and detail of experience earned, aviation training received, and kinds of certificates or authorizations held. After you complete your new hire training in about a year's time, it is not unusual if you do a good job that each year thereafter you'll be promoted to the next pay grade until you reach grade 13 or journeyman inspector status at a base pay of $62,170 a year.

Will the FAA pay for my move to another location when I get hired? No. The first move is on your tab. Future moves are on the government's tab.

Is there an age limit? There is no age limit to be an FAA inspector. When I was the course manager at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, I routinely had new hires in my classroom in the 50s and 60s age group. In an Operations Inspector's class next to mine, one new hire was 72. Sadly, many super qualified individuals never apply because they figure when you pass 50 you are on the downhill run to oblivion. What I say to that myth is: You are dead wrong! Age is just a number. The FAA is buying wisdom and talent not youth and inexperience! You are only too old when they snap the lid shut!

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