Yes, it’s true. Good customer service — resolving disputes with your customers — can keep the FAA from looking into your operation. And no one wants an FAA audit — any more than anyone wants an IRS audit. Even if you are an outstanding mechanic and keep meticulous records, an audit could well turn up: an i you didn’t dot or a t you forgot to cross.
It’s just the nature of running a business with so many complex and detailed regulations. Of course, if you run a sloppy operation (and some people out there do), then you run the risk of some pretty substantial findings of violations. And some pretty hefty fines.
But the cost of violations can be high, even if you’re ultimately exonerated. Chances are that an FAA audit would take you or your employees (or both) away from doing the maintenance work that keeps you and the company operating in the black. Worse, you might have to hire a lawyer and that means the expenses go up really quickly since you can’t just hire any lawyer.
In a dispute with the FAA, you really need to hire an expert in the Federal Aviation Regulations. And aviation attorneys do not come cheap. Three hundred dollars an hour or more is pretty standard in many parts of the country. Even a simple case can quickly wipe out a mechanic’s profits for a year, or at least the better part of one.
Satisfied customers don’t complain to the FAA
So how does good customer service help keep the FAA away? Well, in my experience at the National Transportation Safety Board reviewing FAA enforcement cases, I saw a number of cases against mechanics (and pilots, too, for that matter) that came to light after a disgruntled customer complained to the FAA. Invariably, the customer had attempted more than once to resolve the issues with the mechanic. For whatever reason, the mechanic in these cases had failed to do enough to satisfy the customer.
In some of these cases, I could not figure out why the mechanic had not tried harder to be responsive to the customers’ complaints. For example, some complaints involve problems that show up immediately or shortly after an annual. Often, these problems are a reflection of the inspection that was done by the mechanic and should be addressed immediately. If the problem does involve quality control at the shop, every consideration possible should be given to the customer, to keep him as a satisfied customer. And to keep him from filing a complaint with the FAA.
Sure, not every customer can be satisfied. But if you have an unhappy customer, know that they may well file a complaint against you. Make sure that the reasons you do not believe that the problems raised by the customer were a result of poor maintenance on your part are fully documented and recorded. If an FAA inspector ever knocks on your door, a week, a month, or a year later, you will have the records you need to show why your maintenance was properly done.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at email@example.com.