The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Compliance Program, which was originally launched in 2015 as the Compliance Philosophy, is intended to serve as the “overarching guidance” for implementing FAA’s strategic safety oversight approach to meeting the challenges of the changing aerospace system, according to FAA documentation. The name was changed in October 2018 “to reflect the advanced integration of these concepts into the fabric of the agency’s mission.”
The Compliance Program is part of FAA’s risk-based decision-making strategic initiative, and uses consistent, data-informed approaches to enable FAA to make what it calls “smarter, system-level, risk-based decisions.” This approach to compliance also serves to further the agency’s evolution toward a “Just Culture,” which has both an expectation of, and an appreciation for, self-disclosure of error.
FAA is the regulatory body that establishes regulations to ensure safe operations in the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). In turn, the aviation and aerospace communities have a statutory obligation to comply with established regulatory standards and must develop and use processes and procedures that prevent deviation from those standards.
To promote the highest level of safety and compliance with regulatory standards, FAA is implementing safety management system constructs based on comprehensive safety data sharing between FAA and the aviation community. To foster this open and transparent exchange of data, FAA believes that its Compliance Program, supported by an established safety culture, is instrumental in ensuring both compliance with regulations and the identification of hazards and management of risk. (FAA Order 8000.373A)
FAA’s objective is to identify issues that underlie deviations from standards and correct them as effectively, quickly and efficiently as possible. The goal is to enhance the safety performance of individual and organizational certificate holders.
Traditionally, bringing individuals and organizations back into compliance with the regulations meant taking enforcement action (often fines or other penalties). The Compliance Program allows for less stringent means, referred to as compliance actions (such as oral or written counseling, on-the-spot correct of a deviation, and/or additional or remedial training), to gain compliance when the entity that is out of compliance is willing and able to take corrective actions. FAA describes compliance actions as “non-enforcement methods for correcting unintentional deviation or noncompliance that arise from factors such as flawed systems and procedures, simple mistakes, lack of understanding, or diminished skills." A compliance action does not constitute a finding of violation.
The program also:
- Identifies intentional or reckless behaviour as the highest risk to safe operation and acknowledges that it will require enforcement action;
- Clearly distinguishes between the goal of achieving compliance and enforcement, which is one of a number of available tools;
- Stresses the concept of voluntary compliance and the critical role of safety education and hazard identification;
- Recognizes that the high level of safety in the NAS is largely based on, and dependent upon, voluntary compliance with regulatory standards; and
- Is about using the best techniques to identify problems, correct the underlying causes and ensure that the problems remain fixed.
FAA believes that the Compliance Program approach will allow it to more effectively address inadvertent deviations, while saving FAA enforcement resources for intentional, reckless, criminal and uncooperative behaviour. Enforcement actions also may result from failure to complete corrective action and repeated noncompliance.
Another goal of the Compliance Program is to foster an open, problem-solving approach that allows safety problems to be understood through an exchange of information and effective compliance. 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 it will be easier to identify emerging hazards and predict associated aviation safety risks.
FAA is shifting its 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," the agency said. "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.” (FAA, Compliance Program)