Quixotical Questions at the Atlanta FSDO

Todd H. Huvard is the president of AircraftMerchants, a North Carolina-based aircraft brokerage. Todd is an active commercial pilot with multi-engine, instrument and seaplane ratings and is typed in Cessna 500 and Falcon 20 jets. He founding editor and publisher of The Southern Aviator.

It has been a while since I have lifted the poison pen to joust at the windmill of the FAA bureaucracy. But, Sancho, the work of the weary pilot is never done.

When an airplane needs to be moved and it is broken or suspect, or it is simply out of annual inspection, a process exists for having a Special Flight Permit authorized by the local FSDO. This is a routine exercise for maintenance shops and hundreds of ferry permits are issued every week around the country. In the interests of safety, the process calls for an aircraft mechanic to inspect the airplane and certify that is it airworthy for the intended flight. Simple enough.

No where in the regulations for issuing the permit does it call for the local FAA maintenance inspector to become belligerent or obstructionist in the process. But the rules seem to be interpreted differently at the Atlanta FSDO, where the pawns have become the kings.

When I called the ATL FSDO recently to secure a ferry permit I found a Airworthiness Inspector on a mission – which was simply to cover his own ass. Never mind that other people are actually trying to make a living, conduct business and create tax base. This guy goes by the book – but edits the book at the same time.

And he had the temerity to hang up on me when I asked why he felt so empowered. Now, I admit that I am the type of guy you might want to hang up on sometimes. But this time, I was all peaches and cream when I called for the permit. And he reasoned that if he did not want to talk to a customer, hell, he could just hang up.

At issue was the AD on the Beech electrical switches – AD 2008-17 – which was foisted on an entire fleet because one switch failed. All Bonanza owners can testify that the very expensive solution of installing a dozen or so new switches was further made a pain by not having a supply of them available, resulting in long waits for parts. The local FSDO could authorize airplanes to keep flying while they waited for parts by issuing an AMOC, or letter of Alternative Method of Compliance.

OK. We all know about that. Except this one guy at the Atlanta FSDO. In order to issue the permit, he wanted the A&P/IA to certify the airplane had the AD compliance before issuing the permit. In spite of the fact that such ferry flights were anticipated by the guy that actually wrote the AD.

First, a permit is issued and then, as a condition of the permit, the inspection is made and a log book entry completed. Then flight can occur. That’s how it works.

Except in Atlanta, where the guy you call turns out to be an avionics inspector, has never issued a ferry permit and is too self-important to acknowledge he just may not know what he is doing.

We eventually got the ferry permit from another inspector. And I finally got a call from the culprit’s team leader apologizing for his rude behavior. But at issue is that in 2010, the tail is still wagging the dog at the FAA. There is no system for standardizing how the rules are interpreted and each fiefdom makes its own policies and practices. If you have to do business across the boundaries, you never know what to expect.

At least the FAA website works OK. AND IT CAN’T HANG UP ON YOU.

Comments

  1. Rush says

    Todd nailed this one. Sounds like the guy Todd got was a dinosaur in need of evolution. I had a great, professional interaction with the BWI FSDO the otherday — exactly what one expects.

    From the FAA’s FSDO website, (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/consistency_standardization/media/csi_brochure.pdf), “Consistency and Standardization Initiative”, it sounds like every bullet point was violated by this inspectors behavior:

    As a member of the aviation community, you can expect from us:
    • Service that promotes a safe, secure, and efficient aviation system
    • Considerate, respectful, and professional service
    • A clear explanation of the requirements, alternatives, and possible outcomes associated with your inquiry or request
    • A timely and complete response to your inquiry or request
    • A clear explanation of our decisions
    • An environment without fear of retribution if you challenge our decisions
    • Fair and careful consideration of your issue
    • Clear guidance on how you can elevate your concerns to the next higher level of authority

  2. Agreed. says

    Actually, in stark contrast to Mr. Lanman’s reply, I think Todd’s article was well written and very applicable. It points out not that we want only to ‘just’ get through the approval process (and hopefully somebody will have the good graces to apologize for somebody elses rudeness), but that we want to -and expect to- get through it well, without pride and chip’s on peoples shoulder impeding the progress of the layman’s business. Being in the same business, I MUCH TOO OFTEN see pride stand in the way of professionalism. The FAA Avionics inspector in question obviously did not want to take on the humble(ing?) task of seeing if a ferry flight was permit-able -sans the AD work being complied with- and launched out on his own crusade to back up his position with such noteworthy efforts like hanging up the phone; a usual immature tactic by people who don’t like their authority questioned. So KUDOS to Todd and his persistence in getting the final approval, and also for writing an article to show the rest of the world how we can learn from the bad examples of others, motivating us to be even better examples of character to those watching us.

    Great article Mr Huvard!

  3. Wildbilll says

    In the past I had a need for a special flight permit that would be obyained form the Louisville, KY FSDO. The aircraft had been painted without removal of the contro surfaces, among other tings related to the bad paint job it had received. The inspector I was speaking with asked me why I wanted the permit. I explained about the impass reached with the shop that did the bad paint job and that we were going to take the plane somewhere to get it painted correctly.
    He told me that the only way he would issue was AFTER he witnessed an entry in the logbooks that the surfaces had been removed, balanced and re-installed.
    I asked to talk to his boss. I asked the boss if the FAA wanted to take the resonsibility of approval to fly away from the A&P. He said no. He then asked me for the fax number to send the permit to. When it came in, it stated the purpose for the flight was MAINTENANCE, thus leaving the entire decision process to the mechanic, as it should be.

    There are times when a FSDO inspector will try to apply more than what the FAR’s (or the FAA Inspector’s Handbook) calls for. Elevating the matter to the supervisor is the way to go.

  4. Rick Lanman, AAE says

    Man, talk about sour grapes. Really, a whole article about one FAA Avionics Inspector in one FSDO that made you mad? Is this really the power of the pen? Jeeze.

    You got the permit you knew was rightfully yours to obtain and an apology for the mistake. Your diatribe seems to be the same bravado headed the other way. Do you really need to publish this revenge article to make it all better? I say two wrongs don’t make a right.

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