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FAA Says Compliance Program Plays a ‘Large Role’ in Aviation Safety

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) supports the safety of the U.S. aviation system by ensuring air carriers, pilots, and other regulated entities comply with safety standards. In September 2015, FAA announced a new enforcement policy with a more collaborative and problem-solving approach called the Compliance Program. Under the program, FAA emphasizes using compliance actions, for example, counseling or training, to address many violations more efficiently, according to FAA. Enforcement actions such as civil penalties are reserved for more serious violations, such as when a violation is reckless or intentional.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review into the Compliance Program has now found that FAA has increasingly used compliance actions rather than enforcement actions to address violations of safety standards since starting the program. 

Compliance actions are to be used when a regulated entity is willing and able to comply and enforcement action is not required or warranted, e.g., for repeated violations, according to FAA guidance. 

GAO found that FAA directed its offices—for example, Flight Standards Service and Drug Abatement Division—to implement the Compliance Program as appropriate, given their different responsibilities and existing processes. The program data shows that selected FAA offices have made increasing use of compliance actions.

The watchdog’s August 18 report notes that no specific FAA office or entity oversees the Compliance Program. FAA tasked a working group to lead some initial implementation efforts but the group no longer regularly discusses the Compliance Program, and no office or entity was then assigned oversight authority. As a result, GAO says FAA is not positioned to identify and share best practices or other valuable information across offices. 

FAA established goals for the Compliance Program—to promote the highest level of safety and compliance with standards and to foster an open, transparent exchange of data. However it has not taken steps to evaluate if or determine how the program accomplishes these goals. The review found that three of eight FAA offices have started to evaluate the effects of the Compliance Program, but two offices have not yet started and three other offices do not plan to do so—in one case, because FAA has not requested the office to. 

To address the shortcomings, GAO recommends that FAA should assign authority to an office or other entity to oversee use of the Compliance Program across program offices; and collect and analyze data to monitor use of the Compliance Program across all program offices. The watchdog also calls for the FAA to conduct an evaluation of the Compliance Program to assess the effectiveness of the program in meeting its goals. 

FAA agreed with all three recommendations and stated that it will provide a detailed response on meeting these. According to FAA officials, the agency has a wider view into regulated entities since the Compliance Program encourages transparency and information sharing between FAA and regulated entities. As a result, they said FAA has an expanded ability to make aviation safer. FAA officials also pointed to a continued decrease in fatalities and fatal accidents in the aviation industry. Although FAA officials acknowledged that the Compliance Program is not solely responsible for this decrease, they believe it plays a large role. 

Read the full report at GAO

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Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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