Advisory Circular AC 00-58 Self-Disclosure
Legal quagmire or is confession good for the soul?
By Stephen P. Prentice
On March 27, 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a major change in its enforcement policy towards air carrier certificate holders. The new policy is designed to improve safety compliance by forgoing a civil penalty when an air carrier promptly discloses to the FAA an apparent violation and takes prompt action to correct the apparent violation and, as appropriate, preclude its recurrence."
- Internal Evaluation Model Program Guide
In early 1990, the FAA anticipated the workload they saw coming down the pike and in a flash of good thinking, said "Let's start a program where technicians and operators will confess their sins to us before we uncover them via inspection."
The idea was to promote safety, of course, and perhaps reduce the field inspector's workload a bit. Think about the reduced workload. No reports, no LOIs, no hearings, etc. It's a great idea that was originally described in Advisory Circular AC120-56 published in 1992. The public interest is certainly served by offering incentives to promote safety by encouraging technicians to find violations, report them, take steps to correct them, and prevent them from reoccurring. The incentive was simply that FAA would forgo any civil penalty actions (fines) for the apparent violations. Sounded like a great program, but it does have limitations.
In 1998, the program was revised slightly with the issuance of another Advisory Circular (AC 00-58), but in essence, it remained the same.
How it works
Most technicians who work in the air carrier arena probably are aware of Self-Disclosure. Management is aware of it and may well have made use of the procedure. Very simply put, it allows a certificated entity (135, 121, 145, 147) to confess violations of the FARs and avoid potential monetary penalties. (Civil Penalties).
Where, for example, an air carrier fails to properly inventory parts and accessories' historical data so that it can't prove operating time on various parts, they can confess this fact and outline the problem to the FAA. By "fessing up" to their inspector, they may avoid a civil penalty. By following the instruction of the Advisory Circular, you can be reasonably assured you won't get hammered for the apparent violation.
The confession rule extends to outsiders also. The procedure applies to individual airmen and other "agents" of the certificate holder. So, any shop, technician or individual, certificated or not, that does work for an air carrier can also be protected under the terms of AC 00-58. The airman or agency doing the work must be acting on behalf of the air carrier, however. There can be no protection under the program unless you can show a relationship to the principal. This can open the door to a lot of argument and leaves lots of room for the lawyers.
Where, for example, a repair station violates an FAR with respect to a repair on an air carrier aircraft or part and therefore the air carrier violates the FAR, then all is forgiven if confession is made. However, as some have found out, you have to be very careful about what you confess to!
Certificate actions excluded
The self-disclosure program protects against civil penalties (fines) only! It does not protect against certificate actions. What's the difference you say? Well when you or your company's "qualification" to do what it is that you do is put into question in any way, then all bets are off and you will most likely be shut down — at least until the qualification issue is addressed. Even when you confess and follow the instruction contained in AC 00-58, the FAA need not accept the deal. If they feel a qualification issue is involved they can simply say that the program does not apply to you and shut you down.