Working With Your FSDO
They’re on your side...really!
By Michelle Garetson
Many technicians would rather visit the dentist than to make their way into a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) as pulling teeth seems less painful than pulling logbooks.
Is it that we fear authority? Is it that we feel those at the FSDO are in some way "out to get us"? Or, is it just a nagging feeling that maybe we don’t have all of the procedures and records as accurate and as compliant as they could and should be?
A running joke about the FAA claims that its motto is, "We’re not happy ’til you’re not happy." Truth be told, the FSDO personnel’s feelings are quite the opposite.
Put your fears in the tool drawer and talk with your FAA representative either on your turf or theirs to really find out how you can work together towards the common goal of aviation safety.
At your service
Guidance with respect to the regulations and compliance with those regulations, as well as safety advice are some of the services offered at the FSDO.
"Give us a call first before you get into trouble," advises Ray Peterson, Airworthiness Safety Program Manager for the FSDO in Milwaukee, WI. "We don't enjoy writing people up after the fact if we could have helped them avoid the problem at the start."
Critical issues facing FSDOs
Just like the technician shortage, pilot shortage, and air traffic controller shortage, there are also personnel shortages in the FAA. Budget constraints and an incredible workload are causes for delays in returning phone calls, emails, letters with decisions on policies and procedures.
A request from Peterson, "Be patient with us. Quick answers aren’t always available and we’ve got to give the right response."
Is there recurrency training for FSDO personnel?
"We try to get to between three and five classes a year," explains Peterson, "and those are conducted at FAA headquarter offices such as Oklahoma City."
George Mahurin, Safety Program Manager of Airworthiness at the Long Beach, CA FSDO adds that courses can range in topics such as Composite technology or Human Factors in Aircraft Accidents.
Both Peterson and Mahurin report that the leading most frequently asked questions are:
1. What do I need to do to become an A&P?
2. Where do I go to get a replacement aircraft certificate or airman certificate?
3. What can I do with my military experience?
4. How do I get a Ferry Permit?
Special Flight Permits (Ferry Permits) are the "get out of town legally" certificates as Bill O’Brien described in his article Two Pieces of Paper (AMT June 1999). Usually ferry permits are for one flight only, but depending on circumstances, could have a half a dozen or more and can be used for flying an aircraft to a base where maintenance can be performed, to a place of storage, delivering or exporting the aircraft, production flight testing of new production aircraft, evacuating aircraft from areas of impending danger, or conducting customer demonstration flights.
A frequently asked question of AMT from readers is, "Do I have to work with the FSDO closest to my location?" Usually, the real reason for this question is that they have had a bad experience with their local FSDO or they have a personality conflict with someone at the FSDO. Putting this question to Peterson and Mahurin, they both replied, "Yes," but added that there are exceptions as in cases where people are away from their local FSDO and need questions answered, or they require other services before they can continue back to their home base.
Peterson explains further, "FSDOs get skeptical when someone from, let’s say, Miami calls and wants to work through the Milwaukee office. Everyone at the FSDO has been out in the field before coming to work for the FAA. We understand that the person on the other end of the phone may have had a bad experience with their local representative or may have a conflict of opinion with that representative. It goes both ways — sometimes people have a negative attitude or a pre-conceived perception about the FAA before they come to see us — it’s a difficult way to start a relationship."
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