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The FAA Approach To Regulatory Compliance – A Checklist

Home Articles The FAA Approach To Regulatory Compliance – A Checklist

The FAA Approach To Regulatory Compliance -A Checklist

By Bill Carey

“What might have once required the use of an enforcement action for a pilot deviation may now involve training, education, or counseling—a compliance action—to resolve,” the agency explains in the issue. “The FAA recognizes that some deviations are caused by a simple mistake or could stem from a lack of training, a lack of knowledge, diminished skills, or procedures that are not working as they should. A compliance action is a more effective way of correcting the issue and preventing reoccurrence.”

The “strategic safety oversight approach” enunciated by the Compliance Program originated in the agency’s Flight Standards Service but has since been adopted by other FAA offices, including the Aircraft Certification Service, the Office of Aerospace Medicine, the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service, the Office of Airports, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, and the Office of National Security Programs and Incident Response.

Since October 2015, the FAA says it has taken more than 44,000 compliance actions to identify the root cause of a safety issue and correct it in the most effective and efficient manner. “That doesn’t mean the FAA still doesn’t rely on enforcement actions (like certificate action) when warranted,” the agency advises. “However, it does show a trend toward a solution that relies more on cooperation and collaboration than punitive measures.”

Following is a summary of FAA Compliance Program elements.

A Just Culture For Safety

Safety inspectors must make a good-faith effort to understand the position of the pilot or organization while ensuring they also communicate the agency’s position on the issue being investigated. They must understand the difference between accountability, which accepts responsibility and looks forward, and blame, which focuses on punishment for what has already occurred. The key to a just safety culture is the ability to determine where the line should be drawn between unsafe acts that can be effectively addressed by using compliance tools (accountability) and unacceptable behavior that requires the use of enforcement action (blame).

The Definition of Compliance

A compliance action is an action taken by the Flight Standards Service, not the certificate holder, for both regulatory and nonregulatory issues.

  • For regulatory (noncompliance) issues, a compliance action is taken to correct a pilot’s, organization’s or noncertificated person’s noncompliance when they are willing to comply with regulatory standards, and when the noncompliance does not meet the criteria for an enforcement action.
  • For nonregulatory (nonconformance) issues, a compliance action is taken to communicate nonconformances, safety hazards, risks, concerns, or recommendations.

The FAA defines “noncompliance” as not complying with a statute, regulation, or an order issued pursuant to a statute or regulation. It uses the term noncompliance when a deviation to a regulatory standard has occurred.

The term “nonconformance” is defined as not complying with an organization’s requirements, policies, and procedures to include risk controls developed by the organization. These are considered by the FAA as nonregulatory deviations.

Types Of Compliance Actions

FAA compliance actions include counseling, education, on-the-spot correction, additional training, and remedial training.

  • Counseling: Can be written or oral. It may be used at any appropriate time to clarify a person’s understanding and convey regulatory information, best practices, or safety concerns/issues, including the recommendation of additional training or education where no noncompliance occurred.
  • Education: An action that provides or makes referrals for safety, training, or other aviation educational resources, such as those found at or other publicly available sources, to share best practices or recommend additional study in areas of identified risk.
  • On-The-Spot Correction: A quick fix of a simple mistake, or a quick fix of a condition that could have resulted in noncompliance had an operation occurred, and which does not require additional follow-up. The fix must be observed and verified by the FAA.
  • Additional Training: Any training for individuals through their organization’s approved training program, through another required training program for their job function, or the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) remedial training program.
  • Remedial Training: Safety inspectors recommend remedial training for certificated pilots when training is the appropriate action to take for noncompliance with statutory or regulatory standards.

The Compliance Action Decision Process (CADP)

The CADP begins when the FAA becomes aware of a potential problem and details how the safety inspector completes the notification requirement. The next step is where the safety inspector investigates, analyzes, and assesses the problem. They identify who was involved, what happened, what regulatory or statutory requirement, if any, was not complied with, and when and where the problem occurred.

With the data identified and verified, the safety inspector will conduct a root cause analysis of the problem to understand why it happened. When the analysis is complete, the safety inspector can determine whether or not noncompliance occurred and if a compliance action is appropriate

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