The most recent step in the FAA’s dedicated Safety Management Systems, the new Compliance Philosophy focuses on the fundamental goals of the industry, to make air travel as safe as possible.
Launched early October 2015, the FAA Compliance Philosophy aims to:
- Identify problems in the National Airspace System before incidents or accidents happen
- Use the best possible tools to fix problems that are found
- Monitor every identifiable situation to make sure that things “stay fixed”
At a recent Flight Safety Foundation media function, FAA administrator, Michael Huerta acknowledged that the traditional approach to aviation safety was to analyze accidents after the event, and then try to stop the same thing from happening. But things at the FAA have changed.
The change in focus began with the formation of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) that aims to detect risk and in that way prevent serious incidents and accidents from happening. It does this by focusing on intense data analysis of information gathered from everyone in the industry, from mechanics to pilots, and identifying trends. According to Huerta, this has enabled the CAST to reduce the risk of fatalities in US commercial aviation by as much as 83 percent in a decade.
This is good, but the new Compliance Philosophy aims to improve safety even more.
The FAA Compliance Philosophy
Effective from 26 June 2015, the FAA Compliance Philosophy recognizes that an operator’s ability and willingness to operate in accordance with the Safety Management System’s core principles and safety standards is the greatest systemic safety risk the industry faces. To achieve compliance, they use tools including training and documented improvements, and share information about procedures that should be followed. When flagrant or willful violations are detected, or when there is any form of refusal to cooperate to correct deviant action, then enforcement tools come into play.
Says Huerta: “In all cases, the goal is to achieve rapid return to compliance, to mitigate the risk, and to ensure positive and permanent changes that benefits the aviation industry. “
In reality though, while the aviation community has a statutory obligation to comply with legal standards, the FAA’s safety system is based largely on, and depends on, voluntary compliance.
The ability of the new FAA Compliance Philosophy succeeding depends on “an open and transparent exchange of information and data” between the aviation (or airspace) industry and the FAA, says Huerta. Their biggest fear is that operators who make inadvertent mistakes might try and hide what they have done because they are afraid of being punished. Instead the FAA wants to do all it can to learn from any failings that might happen, whether they are mechanical or human, and change whatever they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Making The FAA Compliance Philosophy Work
The FAA has begun training all its employees to enable them to implement the new Philosophy. So instead of using preplanned calendar dates to determine when surveillance and inspections should be conducted, they are relying on relevant data. They are also asking employees to use critical thinking to successfully implement the Compliance Philosophy.
Above all, inspectors are being ask to use their qualifications, experience and expertise, and their own judgment to not only identify risks, but also to identify the best tools to fix problems permanently, and to work with operators and individuals to achieve these goals.
Of course this type of formal philosophy cannot be a one-sided operation, and so the FAA has called on the industry (particularly certificate holders) to both develop and implement any risk control necessary within the environment they operate in. They have specified that industry should:
- Think about outcomes and performance
- Identify hazards
- Mitigate associated risk
- Implement procedures and practices that will encourage those involve to report anything that will help the Compliance Philosophy work
The focus is on accountability, that accepts responsibility but looks ahead, and blame, that tends to focus on punishing those for things that have already happened. Ultimately, says Huerta, “the idea is to look at the operator’s compliance attitude.”
In the greater scheme of things, it is really a pursuit of safer skies that draws on a collective responsibility to find ways in which the industry as a whole can evolve and improve.