(January 2012) Some time back, Congress decided that the FAA’s goals were just downright incompatible. How could a federally mandated regulatory agency “encourage and develop civil aeronautics” while enforcing the regulations and exercising its authority to levy fines and suspend or revoke certificates? So guess which functions were eliminated? Washington also reminded the agency that its customers are passengers ... period. It is “tasked” (as bureaucrats love to say) with protecting the flying public from people like us — pilots, mechanics, aviation companies and the airlines. Then, when things get too adversarial, a new administrator usually “comes on board” (another much-loved government phrase), proclaiming a new version of the old, a kinder and gentler FAA thing.
I remember a day in the FSDO, back in the early ’80s, when a newly appointed administrator, Adm. James Busey, held an agencywide teleconference. He seemed sincere about promoting a spirit of cooperation with industry (in government-speak, industry means anybody not behind government lines), and he said there were times when the complex, expensive and time-consuming task of processing a violation should be short-circuited. If a pilot did “something dumb” (my quote), the FAA should consider fixing the problem by hauling him into the office, reading him the riot act and putting his pilot certificate in a desk drawer for two weeks.
This pronouncement was met with glazed stares and a stunned silence. And immediately afterward the regional office assured everybody that “clearly, he didn’t mean ... obviously this wasn’t to be taken literally ... the administrator was simply suggesting some new initiatives. ... ”
Well, I thought he had made himself perfectly clear and meant exactly what he had said. But it didn’t happen and maybe that’s why the admiral’s FAA gig lasted only 2½ years.
Amazingly, something along those lines did happen in the ’90s with a simple and effective program that offered “remedial training” in lieu of some enforcement actions. It was an option in actions where there was no injury and the investigating inspector believed the training would assure future compliance from the offender. The “crime” couldn’t involve a lack of pilot qualifications or be deliberate, grossly negligent or a criminal offense, and it would generally be appropriate only for first-time offenders — but not always.
We’re talking about stuff like altitude busts, runway incursions, fuel mismanagement, gear-up landings, and airspace and TFR violations (except presidential) where the violation was inadvertent or the violator just had his head up and locked. The errant pilot (or mechanic) being considered for remedial training had to be cooperative, pay all costs involved and promise never, ever to do it again.