In 59 of the 89 nationwide FAA local Flight Standards District Offices, there are hard-working Aviation Safety Inspectors called Airworthiness Safety Program Managers (SPM). Working in concert with his or her Operations (Pilot) counterpart, it is the airworthiness SPM's job to sell "safety" to mechanics.
Arguably, it is at the same time, one of the most underrated and yet one of the hardest jobs in the FAA for two big reasons. First, it is underrated because the people who have never done stand-up marketing have this notion that selling safety is a piece of cake. After all, you pretty much set your own hours and, what is so hard about turning on a slide machine or a VCR and sitting back and closing your eyes for 45 minutes? When the program ends, all you have to ask is if there are any questions and then pack up and go home — right?
Speaking from personal experience, it's not easy to stand up there, so very much alone; feeling vulnerable as if I am wearing a loincloth before the crowd. When representing the U.S. Government, not only must you try to explain the Federal Aviation Regulations, but most of the time you must defend them as well. While most audiences will at least give you token respect, there are those rare occasions standing there looking out at the crowd, that it seems that every face in the audience looks like a clenched fist holding a hand grenade. Just when things could not get worse, your loincloth catches on fire.
The job is hard because the product — safety — is hard to sell. To prove my point, take a minute and answer this question: "How would you sell safety?" Well, first you have to define the product you are peddling: "What is safety?" Try answering that question without quoting an FAR or two.
After you wrap your mind around both definitions for awhile, next define just how safe is safe? No, that is not a stupid question. Toss it around for awhile. Better yet, get with a small group of mechanics and discuss safety in the lunchroom. I assure you, attempting to define safety, while it appears on the surface to be deceptively simple, getting to the truth can be endlessly complicated — much like trying to nail Jell-O® to a tree. Chances are, you and your peers will not agree on a satisfactory answer in less than an hour if you are lucky.
The second reason the SPM job is both underrated and hard is you have to sell safety to one of the toughest audiences around — aircraft mechanics. Unlike pilots who like to attend safety meetings, mechanics, for the most part, do not attend safety meetings.
The more vocal mechanics, in justification of their lack of attendance, will remind the SPM of the airworthiness facts of life, usually using less than understated rhetoric. "Mechanics," they claim, "don't have to be reminded about safety. Don't you understand FAA that all maintenance that we do is safety related? Safety is our job man, 40 plus hours a week! We mechanics use words like 'airworthy,' and 'safe to fly,' and 'I'll fly my work!' Why should I go to one of your boring safety meetings to learn about something that I do every working day?"
Here are seven reasons that might change your mind about attending a FAA safety training meeting or two and answer your question, "Why?"
First, we airworthiness SPMs are not a clone of the FAA Operations safety program. All the airworthiness SPM are A&P mechanics or Avionics repairmen. We worked on a hangar floor. If you don't believe me, check the SPM hands for scars and never-quite-healed-all-the-way safety wire holes before the start of the meeting. No A&P, no scars, safety wire holes, or MEK bleached skin, then you have my OK to hit the exit.
Second, we airworthiness types are a relatively new addition to the overall FAA Safety Program since our conception in 1995. We bring to the FAA safety program the energy, drive and purpose, to make a difference. We are working for you and with you to bring the maintenance related, fatal accident rate for all of aviation from the current five-year average of 7 percent, down to a number so small it can only be seen with a number 10 magnifying glass. We also believe that aviation maintenance is the only career in aviation that is boring when it is done right. But, that does not mean that the safety meetings have to be boring. I have been to quite a few that have been more than stimulating to both the speaker and the audience.
Third, as an incentive to come to airworthiness safety training meetings, we have a pretty darn good award program. Prior to 1991, mechanics could not be recognized for their training accomplishments and hard work, even if they fixed the Hubbell telescope without a space suit. Now, under the FAA Aviation Maintenance Technician Awards program, any mechanic can be recognized by the United States government for training received. To the best of my knowledge, aviation mechanics of all the maintenance professions, are the only ones so recognized. Here is another benefit, if you participate and you are issued any one of the five AMT awards before September 30th, you are qualified to enter this year's National Aviation Technician Award Contest. This year's contest has some outstanding prizes such as a 7-night Caribbean cruise, Reno Air Races, escorted tours, training courses, etc. Your overall odds on winning one of the 10 prizes sure beat your odds on winning the lottery by a country mile. Your local SPM can give you all the details.
Fourth, the Charles Taylor, "Master Mechanic" Award program. This award recognizes 50 years of service to the aviation maintenance profession. The Master Mechanic award is the highest honor the FAA can grant to a maintenance professional. It is presented to individuals who for a half a century, held our hand, and took us from dope and fabric aircraft and walked with us into the jet age. Even if this article does not change your mind about attending a FAA safety meeting, do yourself a favor, put on your go-to-church suit and attend one of these Master Mechanic Awards presentations. Show your support to a profession that has put bread on your table and share your personal thanks with one of our own for a job well done. Who knows, one day you might be receiving the "Master Mechanic" award for a lifetime of work, and how would you feel if none of your peers bothered to showed up?
Fifth, the airworthiness safety training programs are getting better! No longer are they ancient 16 mm reels grinding out grainy black and white pictures on bend allowance or the endless annual repeats of "How to fill out a 337," or the importance of M&D reports.
Today, there are technical classes given by factory-trained mechanics or manufacturer tech reps using state of the art computer generated programs. Regulatory classes are given by the FAA or active mechanics that are astute in the ways of the regs and give you current information on the regulations and policy that you can use on the hangar floor the next day.
Sixth, if the mountain won't come to us, then we are coming to the mountain. The airworthiness safety training program is moving into four lines of business. Our first line of business is the regulatory and technical training of A&P/IA mechanics. This is still the meat and potatoes of our safety training program. It will get even better!.
The second line of business is to provide technical and regulatory training to Part 145 Repair Stations. From the regulatory side of the program, we intend to concentrate on both big and small repair station issues. Everything from JAA certification requirements to 3rd party maintenance will be addressed. We already have several FSDOs working on training programs for Part 145, so give your local SPM a call if your repair station is interested in this kind of training.
The third line of business is Part 147 aviation maintenance technician schools. We have approximately 172 of these FAA Approved schools nation-wide and every one that I have visited teaches the FARS just a wee bit different than the one in the next state. So, we have a built-in standardization problem. As a fix, the airworthiness safety training program, within a two-year time frame, is going to develop "FAR Maintenance Regulations Training in a Box." Each school will have the option to use the new standardized training program or keep their own. The new course will not be mandatory. It is our hope that the schools will be initially attracted to the FAA approved state of the art training approach, testing, and instructor guide. If that doesn't work, maybe the fact that it is free might be convince them.
Our fourth line of business will be to provide regulatory and technical training opportunities to Part 121 and Part 135 air carriers. Several of our FAA regions have already started air carrier training within their geographic boundaries. But, our safety program's first formal venture into this new arena will be the Transport Category Aircraft Maintenance Symposium (TCAMS) held in Tucson, AZ on October 28-30, 1999. Pima County Community College District is the symposium sponsor. Tony Guglielmino, TCAMS director assures me that this event is for mechanics, not suits. They are a non-profit organization whose focus is on training. Major manufacturers from Boeing to Pratt are going to be there — to train, not to sell their product. There is a $90.00 fee for this 3-day event. If you are interested please contact Tony G. or John Svob at (520) 206-6186.
Seventh, for the most part, the local airworthiness safety training is free! OK, so you might have to throw a couple bucks in a hat to pay for the strong coffee and day-old donuts, but it is still cheaper than eating lunch in a fast-food joint. More importantly, aviation safety depends on the fact that all mechanics, both GA and Air Carrier, must learn all there is to know about our trade and that includes regulatory as well as technical matters.
Why? Because if a mechanic refuses to participate in his profession; refuses to learn new ideas and new concepts; refuses to make a contribution; or refuses to help a fellow mechanic; he loses, and our profession loses.
Now that I've talked you into attending the seminars, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about a small problem we're having. There is an active mechanic population nation-wide of over 125,000, a Part 147 student population of 8000, 4800 technicians working at Part 145 Repair Stations, and over 130 Air Carriers, yet I have only 59 FAA airworthiness SPMs that design, schedule, and provide the training. If we are successful in the next 24 months and raise the number of attendees at the safety training meetings, and in turn, because of increasing demand, increase the number of safety meetings, I will burn out these SPM folks in less than 30 months. I would hate to see the safety program die because it was a victim of its own success, so I need some help from the people we serve.
Please consider being appointed as a FAA Aviation Safety Counselor for airworthiness. There is no application required for the appointment. If you are interested in becoming a counselor contact the SPM in your local FSDO and discuss your qualifications and commitment to the program. Counselors are selected based on their knowledge, experience, and commitment to enhancing aviation as well as their standing within the aviation community.