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


What is the worst job an FAA inspector performs? In my opinion the worst job will always be investigating an accident, especially fatal ones. While finding the cause of the accident is a reward unto itself, one will be forever imprinted with the stench of blood mixed with melted aluminum, the waste of lives, and the overall sadness of it all. Such sights, smells, and sounds stay with you and haunt your daily activities at the FSDO. Such experiences also temper your judgment as an inspector because you learn that most of the accidents that you investigated could have been prevented. The second worst job is doing an en route inspection sitting on the jump seat in the cockpit of a regional jet. I have a working theory and a bad back that advances the proposition that all jump seats were designed by aeronautical engineers who should have studied harder in school.

What is the best part about being an FAA inspector? The best part about being an inspector is that it can make a difference in aviation in both big and small ways. For example, one month you might certificate a repair station which employs 10 mechanics but in 10 years it might be a Fortune 500 company. The next month you may issue an Inspection Authorization that will give an individual a better opportunity to provide for his or her family. Two days later, you might just stop an accident from happening just by showing up at an FBO or an air carrier unexpectedly and asking a few uncomfortable questions. You also get to play many roles besides being an inspector. Roles such as an arbitrator, judge, jury, father confessor, expert, student, investigator, author, manager, and data entry operator.

What do you need in order to be hired? The FAA is looking for someone to "manage" certification and safety programs and fill a leadership position. This requires that the individual has a solid base of experience in aviation maintenance and supervision. It is my opinion that the mechanic applicant should have at least the following minimum level of experience before applying:

  1. At least five years experience in either air carrier or general aviation maintenance.
  2. A&P mechanic's certificate with IA for GA applicant.
  3. At least one year experience as a supervisor in a Part 145, 121, or 135 operation for air carrier applicant.

While this level of experience might get you in the pool of applicants, it is no guarantee that you will be hired. The FAA is just like the real world. It gives extra credit for an applicant who is a:

  1. Designated Airworthiness Representative or;
  2. Designated Mechanic Examiner or;
  3. Holder of an STC, PMA, or a TSO or;
  4. Has performed an alternate means of compliance for an AD or;
  5. Two-year college degree or higher or;
  6. Additional certifications such as welding, or NDI, or composites repair specialist or;
  7. Accident investigator for a manufacturer or insurance company or;
  8. Management or supervision experience in 121, 135, or 145 companies or;
  9. Working as a volunteer FAA safety counselor; and
  10. Total years in the maintenance profession

What else should I do to have the added edge on the other applicants?
Again based on my own experience, the two skills that I lacked when I was hired was the ability to write well, and speak with confidence in public. To fix my problems with the written word, I went back to college. Since every college course you take is 80 percent writing, I learned to write clearly and concisely the hard way. To add a little luster to my less than exciting public speaking skills, I joined Toastmaster's International. This organization has only one mission: to train its members on the do's and don'ts of public speaking. It costs less than $50 a year to join and you get a chance to practice your articulating skills in front of a room full of supporters rather than going out there cold and falling on your face in front of your peers.

How does one apply for an inspector's position? Get on the Internet and type in http://www1.faa.gov/jobs/index.cfm. Read all the information on the page and associated links. Then click on the link titled: FAA Job Openings. A screen menu will come up and the first thing you are asked is to identify yourself. If you are not a current FAA or government employee, select nonfederal employee. Then drop down the menu to "series" and type in 1825 and hit the search button. As of Jan. 19, 2004 there was one announcement: FAA-ASI-99-001-27152M for non federal employees for the FAA aviation safety inspector's position for grades 9, 11, and 12. If it is still there when this article is published, please click on the announcement number and it will be pulled up on your screen. Next, read the announcement and decide which of the inspector's positions you are best qualified for. When you have decided on the position you want, click on "apply now." Next, you will have to contend with 34 screens that will ask you a billion questions about yourself, where you want to work, qualifications, etc. The first screen will allow you to set up your own user ID and assign you a password. If you do nothing else, write both the user ID and your password down on a sticky note and paste it to your computer. You will need them again.

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