In October of 2018, the FAA renamed the Compliance Philosophy to the “Compliance Program“ (PDF) to reflect the advanced integration of these concepts into the fabric of the Agency’s mission. The underlying principals and oversight processes that form the foundation of the FAA’s approach to compliance have not changed under this new title. The FAA’s updated approach to compliance has been in effect since 2015 and has become a stable and integral part of our risk management strategy.
Our objective is to identify safety issues that underlie deviations from standards and correct them as effectively, quickly, and efficiently as possible. Our view of compliance stresses a problem-solving approach (i.e., engagement, root-cause analysis, transparency, and information exchange) where the goal is to enhance the safety performance of individuals and organizations. An open and transparent exchange of information requires mutual cooperation and trust that can be challenging to achieve in a traditional, enforcement-focused regulatory model.
The FAA’s new approach to compliance furthered the evolution toward a "just culture." The concept of a "just culture" is one that has both an expectation of, and an appreciation for, self-disclosure of errors. A "just culture" allows for due consideration of honest mistakes, especially in a complex environment like the National Airspace System (NAS). But even unintentional errors can have a serious adverse impact on safety, and so we must ensure that the underlying safety concern is fixed in all cases.
Compliance and Enforcement
The FAA expects compliance to be the standard. Our evolved approach to oversight does not suggest that we are going easy on compliance. The FAA will continue to use enforcement (such as certificate suspensions and civil penalties) when needed, which remains an option for those who will not or cannot comply. Additionally, the FAA will maintain strict accountability for inappropriate risk-taking behaviors and will have zero tolerance for intentional or reckless behavior.
Under the Compliance Program, the goal is to achieve rapid compliance, to eliminate a safety risk or deviation, and to ensure positive and permanent changes. As such, enforcement in many cases will not be used as the first tool in the toolbox.
The Compliance Program represents a focus on using – where appropriate – non-enforcement methods, or "Compliance Actions." A Compliance Action can be described as the FAA's non-enforcement methods for correcting unintentional deviations or noncompliance that arise from factors such as flawed systems and procedures, simple mistakes, lack of understanding, or diminished skills. A Compliance Action is not a legal adjudication, nor does it constitute a finding of violation.
Examples of Compliance Actions include on-the-spot corrections, counseling, and additional training (including remedial training). The purpose of a Compliance Action is to restore compliance and to identify and correct the underlying causes that led to the deviation. It is intended to be used as an open and transparent safety information exchange between FAA personnel and you.
Generally, if you are qualified and both willing and able to cooperate, the FAA will resolve the issue with a Compliance Action. In contrast, discovery of behavior indicating an unwillingness or inability to comply may result in enforcement, Likewise, evidence that supports an intentional deviation, reckless or criminal behavior, or other significant safety risk, would preclude d an individual or organization as ineligible for a Compliance Action.
An overarching goal of the Compliance Program is to foster an open, problem-solving approach that allow safety problems to be understood through proactive exchange of information and effective compliance.
Note that compliance and the interface between FAA and certificate holders may take the form of managing sophisticated programs and formal sharing of structured data or it may be as simple as a conservation between individual airmen and FAA representatives.
The FAA recognizes that in many situations, enforcement can inhibit the open exchange of information with industry. However, through increased sharing of safety data among FAA organizations, industry, and international peers, we can better identify emerging hazards and predict associated aviation safety risks.
Established non-punitive information-sharing programs continue to provide feedback on how aviation systems are working, and allow system improvements to occur on an ongoing basis, rather than as a result of a major mishap or investigation. Through safety efforts such as Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), Aviation Safety Information and Sharing (ASIAS), Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), and Safety Management Systems (SMS), we've seen the benefits of a non-blaming, problem-solving, collaborative approach to solving safety problems.
Risk Based Decision Making
The Compliance Program is part of the FAA's Risk-Based Decision Making (RBDM) strategic initiative and uses consistent, data-informed approaches to enable the agency to make smarter, system-level, risk-based decisions. It is the overarching guidance for implementing an engaged, solution-oriented, outcome-based approach to reduce risk in a rapidly changing NAS.
The FAA Compliance Program is the first step in the agency's culture shift to use safety management principles to proactively address emerging safety risks. We don't want to wait for risks to emerge in commercial and general aviation. Risk-based decision making is about looking at data to learn where there might be risks and potential for problems and how to address them before an accident can happen.
We are shifting our culture because the aviation environment has reached a level of complexity where we cannot achieve further safety improvements by following a purely rule-based approach. Therefore, FAA will encourage a more proactive approach with airports, airmen, and organizations to disclose and develop measures that identify safety risks, prevent deviations, and ensure corrective actions are taken when deviations exist. At the same time, FAA is evolving its internal processes to a risk-based model that better targets our energy and resources.
We must focus on the most fundamental goal: find problems in the NAS before they result in an incident or accident. We will use the most appropriate tools to fix those problems and monitor the situation to ensure compliance now and for the future. The processes of the Compliance Program are enhanced when the FAA collaborates with you to correctly identify and fix the root causes of a deviation. By working together, we in the aviation community have achieved a safety record that is unsurpassed and we must continue to set the gold standard when it comes to safety.