Searching for Regulatory Clarity

One thing is certain when it comes to aviation regulations: They’re bound to keep coming.

With that said, the aviation industry must participate in the rulemaking process. Though the FAA’s rulemaking is designed to ensure and enhance aviation safety – which it does remarkably well – its efforts can carry unintended consequences and be downright confusing. Thus, it is critical for industry to share its experience with regulators.

While we all laugh at the statement, “I’m from the FAA, and I’m here to help,” it is important to remember that it is generally true. The FAA’s mission is to do all that it can to promote aviation safety. The regulations are not out to “get” you, but to ensure the success of all flights.

The joke in the statement comes from the frustration regulatory compliance generates. At one point in our careers, I’m sure all of us have done the face-palm and exclaimed, “What are they thinking!” (though maybe in a more colorful fashion). The simple fact is that when it comes to ensuring flight safety, it is industry that is the expert, not the regulator. Only by sharing this expertise can the industry expect the FAA to understand all that goes into the business of aviation.

Perhaps the most common way to participate in the process is by filing comments to proposed rules. Every regulation that a government agency issues must be published in the Federal Register and permit public comment. This is your opportunity to provide “your two cents” and share your knowledge. Agencies respond to well-reasoned comments and suggestions. The FAA, after all, does not want to pass a rule that is going to result in unnecessary litigation or be overturned by the courts or Congress. It has a stake in finalizing a rule that accomplishes its goal simply and directly. That does not mean that it will accept all comments or ideas, but generally, the rulemaking process is open to improvements.

Active participation

Another way to get involved in rulemaking is through active participation in aviation associations. Industry groups focus on the bigger picture and push the agency to adopt regulations and guidance to the benefit of all. Groups such as the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Air Transport Association, and AMTSociety all advocate on behalf of their members for regulations that are fair and consistent.

Active engagement in your industry’s trade group multiplies your impact. For example, ARSA was recently involved in an FAA/industry Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) on consistency in regulation. Composed of several members from the aviation community, the committee recommended that the FAA review all guidance documents and interpretations, identify and cancel outdated material, cross-reference (electronically link) material to the applicable rule, and consolidate service organization-level libraries into a single master electronic resource to improve access to all active and superseded guidance material and related documents.

Though not targeted at a specific item, the ARC’s recommendations would vastly improve regulatory compliance by making the rules and guidance easier to approach and simpler to understand. The committee is just one of many holistic efforts taken by industry groups to improve the regulatory landscape.

The next time you find yourself shaking your head over a regulation, stop and ask yourself if you did your part to shape the regulatory process. If not, take the time to participate by directly commenting on proposed rules or becoming engaged with your industry trade groups. You’ll likely find it’s easier to play an active role than you think. AMT

Jason Langford holds a master’s in Political Management from The George Washington University and a bachelor’s in Political Science from Missouri State University.

Jason Langford is communications director at the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA); Prior to working with ARSA he was involved with several political campaigns.