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.
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