NATA finds FAA inconsistencies

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) commissioned a survey to “gather data on the significance and predominance of inconsistent FAA regulatory interpretations”. Not surprisingly, NATA found a large number of respondents experienced inconsistent application of the FARs from “Regional, Aircraft Certification (ACOs) and Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs)”.

I wonder how this balances with AOPAs drive to push FAA to look at thru-the-fence (TTF) operations on a case-by-case basis. To inconsistently apply a non-regulation, if you will. For example, from Heidi Williams (AOPAs Senior Director of Airports) July 1 letter to Catherine Lang (Acting Associate Administrator, Airports for the FAA), Ms. Williams writes, “It appears that the flexibility the agency once adopted in looking at though the fence operations on a case by case basis has been eliminated.”

So… the Airports division in the FAA is in the lead when it comes to removing flexibility. Wonderful! (Note heavy sarcasm!) While there is no FAR regulating TTF operations, we all know that FAA does have the funding lever, and is starting to use it. For example: no more federal money unless you get rid of (or provide a plan for getting rid of) existing TTF agreements.

No doubt we’d like the FAA to change its position on residential TTF at best (not likely), or to exhibit “inconsistent application” or flexibility across all FAA regions at least. I worry this NATA survey could make our desire to achieve FAA flexibility on residential TTF harder to achieve. Read the NATA press release below.


Alexandria, VA, October 1, 2009 — A survey conducted by the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) to gather data on the significance and predominance of inconsistent FAA regulatory interpretations has yielded troubling, yet expected, results.

“This survey clearly demonstrates the high, unnecessary costs, delays and obstacles aviation businesses suffer due to the FAA’s inconsistent interpretation of the federal aviation regulations,” said NATA President James K. Coyne. “The FAA absolutely must find a way to provide consistent regulatory guidance and interpretation.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been commissioned by Congress to conduct a report to review how inconsistent regulatory interpretations are costing the FAA and the aviation industry millions of dollars in resources and raising serious concerns about unified safety standards.

NATA conducted the survey in response to numerous members’ reports of having experienced varying interpretations of federal aviation regulations (FARs) by the agency’s Regional, Aircraft Certification (ACOs) and Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs) and to be able to provide specific information to the GAO as it conducts its study.

According to survey respondents, many affected companies continue to be challenged by regulatory interpretations that vary from one inspector within one FSDO or ACO, to another. These varying interpretations of how to achieve or demonstrate compliance with the FARs are estimated by the respondents to cost general aviation businesses hundreds of millions of dollars annually when previously approved actions are subjected to “re-interpretation.” The results of the survey showed:

  • 87% of respondents stated that their businesses have experienced problems due to inconsistent or incorrect interpretations by local FAA inspectors.
  • 57% believe that an inconsistent or incorrect local FAA position had safety consequences for their business. Members rated the safety significance as very serious (17%); serious (40%); somewhat serious (35%); not too serious (8%).
  • 85% stated they have experienced delays in response by the FAA that have interrupted their ability to do business.
  • 75% believe that the delay or denial for a new safety program was related to an incorrect or inconsistent interpretation. In resolving discrepancies, 23% said it took up to 90 days; 20% said up to 120 days; 19% said more than 121 days and 36% said their issue still is unresolved.

“Inconsistent compliance interpretations of the FARs are not only costly for the industry, they also demonstrate a shortcoming in the FAA’s ability to coordinate its workforce and ensure that the decision-making abilities vested in inspectors are respected across all divisions of the agency,” said Coyne.

A compilation of the survey results is available by clicking here and will also be available from the NATA home page at