The FAA - Are they there for you, or for themselves?

The FAA... The Good, The Bad, and The Really Ugly

The Good...

In the beginning of my flying career, I really believed that the FAA was a great organization, and I strongly defended them when people would talk bad, or make bad jokes about the agency. I believed that they were there for the benefit all of us involved in aviation, and that they always did the right thing. Boy did I have an education coming; Ignorance is bliss!! I have known and still do know a number of good inspectors who do the job with good conscience and are really great people; they make every attempt to do the right thing. But, they are the few and far between.

I have talked some of the customer service people in Oklahoma City, and they have been good so far, doing their jobs promptly and courteously.

The FAA issues a lot of extremely good publications beneficial to aviation especially where training is concerned. If you need to complain about aviation, they will be there for you. But, they are not going to defend aviation. I guess that just about sums up the good in the FAA; not very extensive is it? If you can think of something else, let me know and I'll add it here.

The Not So Good...

I am disappointed to say that the subject of the FAA has become increasingly harder for me over the years. Why? Because I have really tried to be supportive and give them the respect that they should be entitled to, but just like any other government entity, they have become less and less efficient, and more and more controlling and arrogant.

The best the FAA ever had to offer was it's Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists. At least we still have the ATC people, but they farmed out the Flight Service to Lockheed Martin when they couldn't manage it properly, and it hasn't been worth a crap since. Why did they farm it out? Because they couldn't do it efficiently themselves because they are government, and Lord knows government can't run efficiently. No, they have to squander their resources.

Have you seen the movie, Troy? What was it about? Making a name that will be remembered! Many of the inspectors within the FAA are just like that. The result is a large number of overzealous safety inspectors who are doing nothing except trying to make a name for themselves, even if it is just at their local office. They can get away with just about anything because they do it under the guise of safety, and they cover oneanother's tracks very thoroughly. One thing that you can be sure of is that it is much more about making names, and fattening budgets, than it is about safety.

The FAA showed up for an inspection at the base where I work; upon arrival they noticed a new fueling system which they had not seen at our other bases as we were the first to get it. We began to discuss the new system and problems I had found with our fuel systems overall. I mentioned that I had thought about sending some information up the chain to which the inspector asked if I had thought about sending it in the form of a safety enhancement report, something he was involved in creating within our company. Why would I do that? I'm talking about procedures, he's trying to make a safety issue of it. I guess he didn't listen very well to what I had said, but he did know how to do something that might make himself look good.

An interesting example here is a stink that certain inspectors have made regarding petty issues such as an airworthiness certificates where the signature is faded. First, a faded signature is petty in that the inspectors couldn't really find anything else to complain about, but when they get back to their office, at least they can report that they found something. Not only that, but it gets their signature on an airworthiness certificate instead of the retired inspector who had previously signed it. Another similar case is a stink made about faded compass cards. The point is that they must find something!

I was sitting in a meeting not long ago listening to the DO of a large aviation company giving a lecture. He was talking about issues the FAA has been involved in, and the unpleasant nature experienced. This DO stated, "What you need to remember is that FAA inspectors are not your friend!" Truer words were never spoken. No matter how friendly they appear at the time, always remember that what you say can and will be held against you, and everything you say will be dug into if they can find a way, and your name will be attached to it. It is sad, but true!

It really comes down to the fact that there are so many petty ways that an inspector can justify his/her existence that they really don't have to do something valuable. Here is an example: In the area where I fly, we have an 800 ft AGL tower just 1.5 miles from our helicopter base. The tower has been there a number of years, but over the course of the last three years I have flown in the area, the lights have been inoperative more than they have worked. What is worse, is that this tower is along our most frequent flight path. As required, we research NOTAM's and have them posted at the base, but that does not remove the danger of a tall unlit tower in our climb and descent flight path.

After becoming seriously aggravated about the constantly renewed NOTAM's as opposed to fixing the lighting issue, I began seeking the appropriate avenue to address the issue. I began by calling our local FSDO; they told me that it was not their problem as long as NOTAM's were being issued, and that I needed to call Lockheed Martin, or the FCC. I next called Lockheed Martin, but that was as much of a joke as the Flight Service system has been since they took it over from the FAA. Lockheed Martin said that as long as the tower owners kept their NOTAM's current (every 30-days), there was no problem and nothing could be done. Next, I called the FCC; they told me there was nothing they could do, but they were able to direct me to where find the law, which I did. In the end, per those fine agencies mentioned above and the Code of Federal Regulations, I found that although there is a requirement for a lighting system to be installed on a tower structure over 200-feet in height above ground, there is no requirement to repair that lighting system if it fails. The only requirement is that the tower owner report the outage (to Lockheed Martin) so that it can be listed on the NOTAM system every 30-days.

Now unlighted towers are a serious safety issue, but is the FAA doing anything about it? NO! You know why? It is just to hard; there are much easier ways to justify existence than address a real issue.

Here is yet another example of a serious safety issue that the FAA is ignoring: On 3/6/2009, the FAA issued SAFO (Safety Alert for Operators) 09007. This safety alert addresses an important safety issue that has arisen with the use of certain LED tower lighting systems in use today. The problem is that these tower lighting systems are nearly invisible to NVG (Night Vision Goggle) systems. Well guess who, besides the US Military, uses NVG's? Yeah, that is right, Air Medical Helicopters!!! The FAA has not objected to these lighting systems, of course before it was known that there was going to be an NVG problem with them. Does the FAA do anything to correct the problem? NO! They just issue a SAFO, it is much easier than fixing a problem that is a real safety concern. Part of the problem here is that the FAA didn't bother to learn anything about NVG's until they became prevalent in the Air Medical Industry. Most pilots know much more about NVG's than the FAA who regulates them.

How about just one more example of FAA negligence: EVERY hospital knows that they will be landing helicopters, yet planning a heli-pad is almost never a part of the overall hospital site plan. Rather, after the hospital is built, they try to squeeze a landing area into some little corner of the site where they couldn't put anything else. At some hospitals, this is even right in the parking lot where there is pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Sometimes a hospital actually pours a nice concrete pad fully equipped with a fine lighting system; then promptly decorates it with beautiful trees all planted to close to the pad so that when they start to grow good they become a serious hazard to helicopters landing.

There are many good inspectors in the FAA, but the problem is that there are a lot of bad ones. The bad ones are a bad reflection on the good inspectors who really deserve respect. What makes this worse is that rather than cull out the trash, they let the crap go on, and they cover it all up within the organization.

The FAA Administrator Arrested for DWI, news flash from CNN on Dec 5th, 2011! You talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Here you go, the administrator himself arrested for DWI. Randy Babbitt, the head of the FAA, and an experienced pilot does exactly what the FAA will eagerly hold your feet to the fire for! I'm betting that he gets out of it though, you know as well as I do, it's who you know that counts!

If you want the ultimate example of the ineptness of the FAA; the first recorded hijacking occurred in 1932; the first recorded US hijacking occurred in 1962; yet it took 39 more years with many more hijackings, and the attack on the World Trade Centers killing more than 5,000 people before it occurred to the FAA that maybe aircraft should have locking cockpit doors. How many times would someone have to break into your house or car before you decided that perhaps you should lock your doors?

You have to be very careful who you trust, and with what. I have known a number of people in recent years who have had very bad experiences with the FAA for little or no reason; I find this extremely disconcerting, but that is just the way it is becoming. Many FAA inspectors have an extremely arrogant police reject mentality. Think about it, they have a lot of power with very little training. To become an FAA inspector requires a very minimal number of flight hours and minimal overall aviation experience. The worst of all, is that it requires absolutely no common sense nor any basic sense of respect for others. More and more, many inspectors demonstrate that police reject mentality. Many are the sort of people who have always sought positions of power, but surely could never have made the grade as a police officer.

Hey don't believe everything you hear, overall the FAA isn't to bad, just ask any inspector. They provide a necessary service for those of us involved in aviation even if they are poor managers of their time. I used to say that I had some friends in the FAA, but that is like saying you have a friend in the police department; it is only skin deep, and only good so long as you aren't a potential feather in their cap. Anything you say is a matter of permanent record, and can and will be used against you.

I have heard instructors and some pilots talk badly about the FAA or its inspectors probably not always justified. They are like any other enforcement agency and as a result you may get penalized, if your papers are in order though, you will not likely have a problem.

If an FAA inspector approaches you on the ramp, the inspector will show his or her ID, and state the business at hand usually in a polite manner. If they don't show their ID, make sure you ask to see it before you show them anything, and ask for a business card at the same time; they always have them. I have had many inspections over the years, and I have never had a bad experience yet other than the occasional police mentality power trip. Maybe it is because my papers are in order and I try not to violate the regulations. This does not mean that an inspector or two was not rude, this has occurred; it is a part of that authority syndrome some officials get into.

The Bad, and there is plenty...

The FAA does not protect aviation anymore, if they ever did. They do not stand up for the right for airports to exist no matter how long they have been established. The FAA does not stand up for pilots who are abiding by the regulations, against nuisance complaints no matter how unjustified they may be from the non-flying public.

An example of just how rediculous the FAA has become - When Night Vision Goggles started to become common, they knew they couldn't have something out there that they weren't regulating somehow (big government), but their own inspectors had no goggle experience. What do they do? Institute regulations right away; show how powerful they are; retarded, but powerful. Just like with HEMS, they left their pants on the floor. They forgot to figure out how to make NVG instructors; why their own inspectors can't even fly them, but they are going to regulate those who actually have knowledge with retards that don't. But hey, they are regulating. See the article on stupid. I had a friend who was killed because an arogant FAA inspector conducting a part 135 checkride, who had no recent experience in the aircraft they were flying, decided to take control during an actual emergency. They are the FAA, and power they do have.

Recently a pilot I know was flying a helicopter and he had just accomplished a typical uneventful landing at one of your typical 700-ft class E airports. There was an active aerobatic box on the west side of the airport which had no effect on his landing, nor the approach to the airport. He landed the helicopter direct to the ramp from the southeast as any other helicopter pilot would have. This approach is well clear of the aerobatic box, and doesn't interference with any fixed wing aircraft operating at the airport. This helicopter pilot did not make a radio call as he might have, but he was unfamiliar with the airport and did not know the frequency. What is really important is that radios are not even required at these airports. While he was cooling down (the aircraft), a woman came up and started banging on the door and yelling at him. He opened the door, and this irate female declared that she was an FAA inspector and began yelling at him for not making radio calls. She further made a complaint to the company for which he worked, in an attempted to get him fired. I know, I work for the same company. The DO at that company was one of those nutless wonders and was going to bow to this bitch, but fortunately the Chief Pilot would not and the pilot did not lose his job. This is just one example of a worthless FAA inspector who should not have a job in any position of authority as she clearly can't handle it.

I had a student who was ready to take his private helicopter practical test. I called the DPE whom I knew through the company where we both worked. The DPE worked in north Georgia under the Atlanta FSDO. When I called this DPE to schedule the test, he informed me that the student would be required to take a 20 question written test on airport markings, and that if he failed the test he would fail the practical test in its entirety and would therefore forfeit his $500 fee. I informed him that this written test was not legal, and inquired as to under what authority it was being given. He told me that the Atlanta FSDO was where the test had originated. I then called the Atlanta FSDO, but they denied that any such test or requirement to take such a test existed. They also told me that they would look into it further and get back with me. Later that same day, another inspector called and stated that he had indeed found the test. This inspector informed me that this was going to appear to be a complaint against the DPE. He did not know that I personally knew the DPE, and that I had already told him that I was going to call the FAA to get to the bottom of the issue. The inspector was pressuring me to drop the issue, but it was mute as I had already talked to the DPE about it. That is just how wormy the FAA can and will be.

Keep in mind that in all segments of society there are bad examples of humankind; this is inevitable. If you have a bad experience (and it was no fault of yours) document it, and file a complaint at the FAA FSDO in your area. NEVER let such an experience go without a report/complaint. As with all government agencies, the FAA hates complaints because they have to deal with them. If you make a complaint, do it in writing, and get your document deliveries certified. You know, certified mail with a return receipt; then make sure you save copies of the documents and the receipts.

On the other hand, don't make nuisance complaints; don't be a cry-baby. If you do something wrong, standup with some back-bone and admit it, then take your blows; but do fight back!

Some FAA inspectors are on a power trip as the female in the above paragraph, and if they can find something to get you for they will go after you with a vengeance. They want that feather, not to mention their power trip. This is much more prominent when a female inspector is involved; if they get an attitude, it is much worse than a male counterpart.

The Ugly, and getting uglier every day...

After a number of years in aviation, the passing of 911, and numerous other events, even I must admit that the FAA is geting uglier everyday. The fact is, it just comes down to job justification. They need your license, and/or your airworthiness certificate so be careful. They are after it because they need to show their superiors that they are doing their job. If you do something wrong in aviation, the FAA will be out to take the most severe action they can against you. They call it emergency action, that way they don't have to grant you due process. If you make a violation, and it need not be a serious one, you will suffer the consequences. There are a lot of inspectors out there looking for their feather. The FAA is about job justification more than anything else because they are about as inefficient an organization as has ever existed. They really feel a need to find something wrong; helping pilots and the industry is not what today's FAA and its enforcers, referred to by themselves as "safety inspectors" are about.

Remember that piloting an aircraft is a privilege not a right. As a result the FAA has powers that they can exercise without proof that you actually did anything wrong. Innocent people have had their reputations badly scarred by the FAA. I can assure you that the FAA and its representatives don't care one bit. Be assured that there is nothing that occurs with the FAA and you that is not a matter of permanent record.

Keep your ducks in a row and do not violate the regulations. Chances are you will not have any problems with the FAA. END. Jump to Top