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Air Traffic, aviation, Continued Operational Safety, EASA, FAA, NextGen, Policy, Safety Management Systems, Strategic Planning

FAA Charts a New Course, Promoting Professionalism

The FAA announced a new focus on professionalism as an element supporting the NextGen system.

The FAA EASA International Safety Meeting opened in New Orleans today (June 8, 2010).  The FAA EASA International Safety Meeting is an opportunity for the government of the world to coordinate their aviation safety regulatory and implementation efforts.  Industry is invited to support those efforts.

David Grizzle keynoted the meeting.  Grizzle is currently acting as the Deputy Administrator, but his normal role is FAA Chief Counsel.

He noted that the FAA does not want to be perceived as presumptuous.  As an example, he noted that the US FAA was asked to get involved in responding to the Icelandic volcano.  In responding to those requests, he explained that the FAA wanted to provide support where it was needed, but the FAA did not want to be seen as claiming special knowledge.

This became an issue because the United States would have approached the volcano issue differently, but did not want to interfere with European decisions.  Grizzle explained that air carriers have excellent systems, and they have the resources that can help them make flight decisions.  Thus, the FAA would have trusted existing air carrier systems to prevent unsafe flight operations.  So in Europe when the governments closed down broad swaths of airspace, this was a different approach than what the US would have done.

The US is working with its counterparts in other nations to coordinate international development of NextGen.  Nextgen represents a significant culture change.  So the FAA is trying to ake the underlying principles of NextGen and trying to let them become pervasive principles that pervade the operations of the agency and the industry.  Grizzle explained that Nextgen is not just about technology – it is about standards and operating principles.  One of these is the principle of partnership.  There is an element of collaboration in air traffic management that is elemental to Nextgen and that simply does not yet exist in today’s air traffic management paradigms.  Another element is performance based safety standards.  Instead of telling operators how to achieve safety, they will give them standards that must be met and permit the operators to choose their own strategies for meeting those safety standards.  This gives rise to a new emphasis on professionalism.  Some of the recent problems in aviation have been attributable to a deficiency of professionalism – violations of norms and standards that no one finds acceptable.

Discussions of professionalism can be uncomfortable because, like ethics, professionalism can be somewhat difficult to quantify, and it can be somewhat difficult to define in a way that is uniformly accepted.

Professionalism means that the individuals are principle-based actors, and not just followers of rules.  This involves a mindset and attitude about the conduct of one’s life that is more pervasive than the norm.  This poses a challenge for the FAA and other aviation authorities about how do we teach professionalism.

The FAA is trying to focus on a “just culture” paradigm.  Part of the “just culture” paradigm is the idea is that we do not punish people for good faith mistakes (assuming the accidental actor reports and proactively works with the FAA to seek preventative paradigms), but rather we try to learn from those mistakes and we use the information learned from those incidents to prevent future problems.  This “just culture” paradigm is about focusing on behavior rather than outcome.  But there will be a challenge in trying to convince people that identifying remedies and preventative paradigms is more important to long-term safety than allocating blame.

An important element of this “just culture” paradigm is rewarding energetic good faith reporting.  If we encourage reporting, then we encourage data collection that supports a risk-based reporting environment.

Grizzle made a call for leadership from the entire international aviation community in order to make our professionals, the leaders that we all need them to be.


About Jason Dickstein

Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.



  1. Pingback: Notice and Comment | FAA Lawyer Whistleblower - September 9, 2010

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