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."
Working with other agencies
"In the event of an accident," says Mahurin, "if there are fatalities, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) will take over, but we all have specific tasks to accomplish in the investigation effort. Many times, if there were no fatalities, the NTSB will let the FSDO handle the details."
Peterson adds, "The NTSB is there to try and determine the cause of the accident, whereas the FAA is trying to figure out what went wrong with the systems and how, through a checklist of policies and procedures, to help prevent the same type of accident from happening in the future."
According to Peterson, interaction with Transport Canada is fairly frequent due to the importing and exporting of aircraft between the two countries.
Schools and IA renewals
FSDOs work with Part 147 schools to develop and revise curriculum, offer guest lectures, and help students review for examinations. Also, both Peterson and Mahurin are heavily involved with the planning and development of, as well as determining the compliance of content presented at the annual IA (Inspection Authorization) renewal seminars in their regions. This year’s seminar in Milwaukee hosted between 200 to 300 IA’s and Long Beach reported around 1,300 in attendance.
"Having your ’ducks in a row,’ so to speak, regarding documentation will help immensely," says Mahurin. "Keeping logbooks current and accurate makes life easier for everyone involved."
Peterson agrees. "We’ve all been out in the field and we’ve pretty much seen it all. When I pick up a logbook and the ink is still drying on the last three entries, it’s upsetting — it’s also time for a closer look."
Both men agree that honesty is the best policy.
"Play by the rules," advises Mahurin. "If you have nothing to hide, then we’ve got nothing to find."
One point Mahurin wants to make clear is that staying current on training is especially important.
"The ’I learned it all in school — I know it all already’ mindset is unwise." He was reminded of a bumper sticker he had seen that read, "If you think training is expensive, try ignorance."
A misconception that Peterson would like to clear up is that personnel at the FAA are inexperienced in "real-life" situations.
"The people working for the FAA are the best of the best," he explains. "We all have years and years of experience out in the field and we have to meet some pretty high standards to be employed with the FAA."
He concludes that those who have a negative perception about the FAA and its mission should reconsider their position and try again to work with the FSDO and not try to go it alone.
"Aviation safety is the main concern," Peterson emphasizes." I can’t think of any FSDO where this isn’t the case."
New Ideas from the FSDO
Rodger Holmstrom, Airworthiness Safety Program Manager for the Alabama and Northwest Florida FSDO, has developed a Powerpoint presentation called "Eye Opener." This presentation doesn’t talk about regulations, but about safety. It discusses how a perceived "minor" deviation from procedures can lead to devastating results. Many who have attended say that the presentation helps develop an increased sense of awareness of day-to-day procedures.
Holmstrom’s message to technicians is that initial and recurrent training is product knowledge. Without this knowledge, technicians inadvertently and unintentionally put themselves and others at risk. One of Holmstrom’s examples highlights how a lack of product knowledge can have disastrous results. The story involves a fuel line replacement, a seemingly innocent omission by a trusted IA, and a bee. The accident investigation revealed a bee in the new fuel line as the IA mechanic had left the new fuel line uncapped over the weekend.
The presentation also stresses the importance of always following a checklist before, during, and after the performing of tasks.