One of the most thankless jobs in aviation has to be that of an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI). This cadre of experienced aviation professionals has made the choice to work for the government bureaucracy that is the FAA and by doing so, are in many cases they are the front line for safety in the aviation community. But many pilots don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat when they see an FAA staff member show up at their local airport. It’s a tough job that doesn’t typically bring accolades from the aviation community.
While many of us in aviation specialize in one or two specific areas, the folks that do these jobs have to be masters of many areas. They have to be knowledgeable enough to conduct oversight for compliance and safety of the aviation community within each of their particular districts of every type of activity that takes place in their district. One day they may be overseeing the work of a Designated Pilot Examiner, the next day responding to an accident, followed by working to review and approve an RVSM manual for a corporate operator, and then doing a proficiency ride for a Part 135 charter operator. Oh, and they might have to work with a Part 141 training provider, do a few ramp checks, then try to stay on top of current internal policy changes the FAA makes that govern how they do their jobs. After that they may have do to an evening safety seminar. They are pulled in many directions and aren’t given much room to make mistakes. Safety and lives depend on their work.
Whew. Did I mention most of them do this job from tiny office cubicles around the country?
Add to this that many in the aviation community dread when the FAA staffer shows up at their airport, operation, or flight. They are sometimes viewed as the “evil empire” by operators, or at minimum, an inconvenience. Imagine how yourself in an inspector’s shoes and how hard their job would be to do. How would you feel if you showed up at an airport and everyone scattered to get away from you?
The folks that do the job of an ASI don’t get that position without experience in aviation and a great deal of training from the FAA. But this doesn’t mean they know everything. Clearly, it would be impossible for them to know everything, considering the breadth of subject matter that their job tasks cover.
So what does this mean for us in the industry? It means that ASIs have a job to do and if we really think about it, unless you are doing something wrong, you don’t have anything to fear when they show up at your airport. If they find something that you can improve upon, help them make sure you get it done in a timely manner. Compliance and a continued focus on improvement and safety in your operation goes a long way with an ASI. All they want to do is to make sure the operations in their district are complying with safety and regulatory requirements.
Sure, there will always be some stories of staff “taking their job a little too seriously,” “abusing their power,” or just being miserable human beings. This is no different than any other profession, and a few bad examples here or there do not representthe much larger cadre of ASIs who are out there on a daily basis working to keep our industry safe.
Many of these folkscame from GA flying and still actively fly GA at their home airports when they are “off duty.” Many of them show up at FAASTeam events and other aviation conferences or safety events in their off time, volunteering to put in time for which the FAA budget is unable to compensate them. Many of them could probably get jobs that pay better or remove their pariah status when the show up at an airport. But they don’t, they work hard for our system, and it is an important job.
Take a different approach than avoidance and confrontation with the ASIs with whom you work. Help them if you are working together on something that is not within their expertise and you have information that can assist them. Work with them to promote safety within your area of operations. And if nothing else, the next time you see one of them at your airport, at an aviation event attending or speaking, say hi, and say thanks. They don’t get to hear it enough.