FAA Regulation Interpretation

We are experts in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations (Title 14, Chapter 1). These are the regulations that pertain to those operating in accordance with FAA certification. We are not only experts in what these regulations say but also know the rulemaking process and the intricacies of regulation interpretation. If you have an issue with the FAA, especially as it may pertain to the FAA regulations. Or their interpretation, we can help.

 

Traditional safety philosophies believe that the implementation of regulations fix the problems. That was the thinking more than 30 years ago. But, with deregulation came the quickly changing landscape of the airlines and regulations couldn’t keep up. Besides, the whole notion of keeping aviation safe through regulations is usually a reaction to an accident or incident and is usually not proactive. 

 

Why is it that regulations, on average, take 10 years to develop and implement? Many wonder why it takes such a long time to make a rule and immediately chalk it up, pejoratively, to government bureaucracy. In some rare cases, regulations have been known to get done in much shorter time, even days but that is the exception (usually because there is a national clamor for something that has unanimous political support (e.g., major accident with many lives lost and the culprit fairly evident). However, I argue you wouldn’t want a system where regulations are generated in days or weeks. In my experience, any regulatory idea someone poses that they feel should be a “no brainer” regulation, will have someone out there in our great land who disagrees. We are a democracy, and every rule must go through an elaborate process to get wide public visibility and opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard. The FAA is required to answer every comment. 

 

The FAA is also required to calculate the cost to the public of enacting the rule versus the safety benefit. This is called a Reg. Eval. (for Regulatory Evaluation). I have seen reg evals that seem to incorporate “fuzzy math”. They often incorporate broad assumptions because there just isn’t any available data available to quantify the argument. So, the analysts do the best they can do without suffering “analysis paralysis.” Then there is all the coordination of a rule, within the FAA (especially legal counsel’s office), the Department of Transportation, briefings to congressional staff, and within the Executive Branch (i.e., Office of Manpower and Budget – OMB). This whole process takes time, lots of time and then multiplies this effort 10, 20 or even 30 times over because that is how many rulemaking projects are going on simultaneously. Emotionally, we want a faster process but if we got what we asked for, we would have haphazard rules put out that would have negative unintended consequences and be an affront to our democratic principles. Because the regulatory process is slow, it is also reactive and usually addresses the last accident, incident, or political issue. 

 

To have safety wedded to regulatory compliance means it too is reactive and behind the times. Now don’t get me wrong, airline safety must have regulations to maintain a level playing field of rules for the airline industry to safely operate. If there were no FAA regulations, I guarantee you the Wall Street pressure to maximize profit margins would be too great for the airline CEOs to resist and there would be a race to the bottom to minimize costs, and safety would suffer. But, to operate strictly in compliance with the regulations is not enough either. It is specified in law that “the duty of an air carrier (is) to provide service with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest”. If there wasn’t a regulation requiring SMS, I doubt the airlines would have gone to the expense and trouble to implement all the safety requirements required under SMS. Therefore, they would not be operating at the “highest level of safety” and not keeping the sophistication and complexity of their safety programs up commensurate to the complexity and sophistication of their airline operations.