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The Air Up There Podcast

How to Become an Aviation Safety Inspector

Season 3, Episode 5
Published: Friday, October 1, 2021

If you're interested in a career in aviation but not quite sure where you want to land, your future as an Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI) (PDF) might take flight after this episode!

Today, we're learning all about ASIs and their critical role in maintaining safe skies. ASIs administer, investigate and enforce safety regulations and standards for the production, operation, maintenance and modification of all aircraft.

You'll hear from: Patricia Mathes, the new national FAA Safety Team manager in the General Aviation and Commercial Division, and Shawn Toth, an ASI working in Anchorage, Alaska. Listen as they welcome you to the world of Aviation Safety Inspectors.

For more information about aviation careers, visit our careers page. Or, if you're curious about other types of careers at FAA, visit our jobs page.

How to Become an Aviation Safety Inspector

How to Become an Aviation Safety Inspector

Transcript

Kenya Williams: Welcome to The Air Up There, a podcast about the wide world of aviation and aerospace. I'm Kenya Williams.

Vishal Ramudamu: And I'm Vishal Ramudamu. Today's episode is the fourth in our career series, and we hope you've been enjoying it so far.

This week, we're talking to Aviation Safety Inspectors or ASIs for short.

Kenya: ASIs are super important to maintaining safe skies. They administer, investigate, and enforce safety regulations and standards for all aircraft. Their critical position interprets and evaluates the quality of training programs, operations and maintenance manuals, airmen and crewmember performance in overall safety activities.

Vishal: The role of an ASI is crucial to keeping us safe. Let's take a look at what it's like to be a female Safety Inspector for over 30 years. Our reporter Elizabeth Cory interviewed Patricia Mathes, the new national FAA safety team, or FAASTeam, manager in the General Aviation and Commercial Division.

Liz Cory: You know, Patricia, I love working with aviation safety inspectors because you all are into everything and you seem to know a little bit about everything, but there's not a lot of women in your field. Can you tell us how you became an inspector?

Patricia Mathes: Oh, Liz, it's actually kind of funny how it all started. I was teaching a pilot ground school and one of my students said something about the FAA. I turned and looked at him and said, Hey, don't say anything bad about the FAA, I'm going to be working for them one of these days. Now, I have no idea where that came from. And here we are almost 40 years later.

I was working at that time as a chief flight instructor and a large 141 flight school. And as I was also doing some part time charter flying. And so, I started researching what it took to be an ASI, an aviation safety inspector. I spent time talking to the pilots and to ASIs at the local FAA office and most of the time, I was met with looks of surprise and even questions like, why would you want to do that? I kept looking and talking and I talked with the manager of the local FAA office, and he encouraged me to apply.

You know, I'd like to say my first few years as ASI side were easy, but they really weren't. Historically, all ASIs were men with military backgrounds. And I was neither of those. So, I had to prove myself all the time that I was just as qualified as the men. One of the many tasks that I enjoyed along the way was getting to talk with classes of new hire ASIs and especially talking with the women. I would tell them, just do your jobs. Don't get hung up on whether you are male or female. And I can just say I told them we're fortunate enough to have one of the best jobs out there and to know that we can make a difference.

We're basically aviation safety. I always joked about. That's our middle name, Safety, and as aviation safety inspectors, we're responsible for administering, investigating, enforcing aviation safety regulations. And oh, my goodness, so much more in my current position as manager of the national FAA Safety Team. The FAASTeam we help reduce the nation's accident rate and we do this through aviation safety training, through outreach and education, and we support a positive safety culture.

Like I said, we are aviation safety and that's how we make a difference.

Liz: What would the ideal candidate. What kind of person would you be looking for?

Patricia: Well, let me say first, we generally hire one of five different types of ASIs operations, which requires a pilot background, air worthiness and avionics, which requires a maintenance background, also, dispatchers and cabin safety, which require backgrounds as dispatchers with an airline or a flight attendant background. And all of this and more is on FAA.gov under Jobs. There's also an alternative hiring process ongoing with hiring incentives.

And you can find more information there also at FAA.gov. I was previously on an interview panel on the group who interviews all the new hire GA Ops ASIs. And we looked for all the basic qualifications for an ASI plus we looked for those who really showed us they wanted to work for the FAA. We wanted to see folks who had a desire to make a difference, not just folks who thought we would fly because it's not a flying job.

Being a team player is an absolute must that we look for. Also being able to think critically or thinking outside the box, because there's as I mentioned earlier, there's no such thing as a typical day. And you have to be flexible.

Kenya: What an amazing career. Did you know that women only make up about 11 percent of all ASIs in the workforce? A number that we are working so hard to increase.

Vishal: Wow, 11 percent. I did not know, definitely hoping to get that number up. I had the chance to interview Shawn Toth, an ASI working in Anchorage, Alaska. Shawn gives us the big picture on what it's like to be a safety inspector and their importance for aviation safety.

Vishal: So, Shawn, how did you become in the ASI?

Shawn Toth: Back in 1997 I elected to go back to college, and I was looking for what I was going to use my GI Bill for. And when I saw the course description for becoming an aircraft mechanic, it seemed to be something along the lines of a jack of all trades and master of none. And that was very intriguing to me. So, I went ahead and enrolled and completed my college credits there and tested and got my airframe and power plant mechanic's certificate. And that allowed me to enter industry as a mechanic.

I worked through various levels of leadership all the way through being a supervisor and project manager. And I had an opportunity to apply for a local open position with the FSDO here in Anchorage and my previous experience and skills qualified me to be eligible for such.

And I was able to be picked up and on boarded in mid 2015. Nice.

Vishal: The stars just aligned perfectly. If your neighbor's kid was interested in the job and a brief description, how would you describe your position?

Shawn: I work with individuals to find out what their experience levels are, and there's a number of ways that you can become qualified and eligible to become an airframe and power plant mechanic. One is going through an approved technical course, such as is offered by a college, or you can also do it based off of industry experience. And we truly have a lot of that kind of applicant here within the state of Alaska that have worked in a shop, worked for friends and neighbors on their aircraft, and encourage those individuals to share their training documentation so that I, or another safety inspector, can analyze what their training is to make sure they've met the minimum requirements to be able to be endorsed to test.

Vishal: So, what is your favorite part about being an ASI?

Shawn: Through day-to-day activities as an ASI? It's about helping the public and making sure to promote aviation safety in every regard. No two days are really alike. You're able to network and we have something called GA Contacts that we go out and just talk about general safety concerns with the public. And there's a great deal of face-to-face time with the public. And up here in the state of Alaska, we don't have very much for road systems. And the majority of how mail, medicines, and transport occurs is all by air. And that affords us to be able to get out and talk with the communities about safety concerns that they may have in order to try and keep all the flying operations as safe as possible. Ensuring that maintenance personnel have the appropriate credentials and training to perform the work that they're doing on aircraft from pilots having the training they need to safely operate the aircraft. And when we do have mishaps, we find out what happened and certainly get down to the root cause to try to prevent that occurrence doesn't happen again. Probably one of the most important aspects is being able to build a rapport with the flying public to ensure them that we aren't the evil FAA and that we're truly here to help in any capacity that we can to ensure the safety of the NAS and the flying public. No, two days are hardly ever the same. Some days are sitting here in front of a computer screen and taking care of the things that are needed in all the automated databases that we have. And we try and mix it up with a getting out and visiting the flying public and looking at our assigned certificate holders and operators to ensure that they're complying with the regulations, that they're doing things safe and perhaps bringing an educational element to them that they may not know that there's a safer, more efficient, more productive way to go about business.

Vishal: And with that in mind, Alaska, the state, are you originally from there or did the job bring you there?

Shawn: Both, I actually was born and raised here and moved outside when I was approximately 10 years old and I finished my schooling outside, became an aircraft, a certificate, an aircraft mechanic while I lived outside. And that afforded me an opportunity to have a good career, to move back up to the state of Alaska, which I've been here back in the state since 1999.

Vishal: Oh, wow. OK, and with that, what would you say your favorite part about living in Alaska?

Shawn: You know, that's a tough question to answer. I've been able to travel and see quite a bit of the world throughout my life. And in all honesty, you can't imagine calling anywhere else home. But here you're able to do just about anything and everything that you'd like to do if you enjoy the outdoors.

We enjoy hunting and fishing, hiking, gardening, harvesting berries when the weather isn't good. I go out to the shop and enjoy woodworking and things like that. We are able to go ATVing and we take our ATV with us when we go out camping and do a lot of things just exploring outdoors.

Well, Shawn, you're convincing me to move out there.

Kenya: Honestly, I really feel like it's time for me to just move to Alaska.

Vishal: You know, I feel the same way. Do Juneau know how much fishing I can do there? … Kenya, I was hoping for a reply. It's like a play on words like Juneau.

Kenya: I did laugh.

Vishal: We can scratch that out. And so, all you pilots out there, if you're interested in a life in Alaska, the southeast or central areas by becoming ASI, the FAA is hiring. Visit FAA.gov/go/asi to learn more.

Kenya: And that's our show for today. Be sure to tune into our next episode, duh. The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you like the episode, remember to subscribe and share it with someone else. You can find the FAA on social media @FAA on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and @FAANews on Twitter and YouTube.

Vishal: Thank you, guys, for listening.