A Level Playing Field

“A level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules. A metaphorical playing field is said to be level if no external interference affects the ability of theplayers to compete fairly. Government regulations tend to provide such fairness, since all participants must abide by the same rules.”   — Wikipedia.org    

Though there is no definitive origin of the phrase “a level playing field,”  Wikipedia’s definition seems to make as much sense as anything else I could find. It’s ironic that the Wikipedia definition mentions government regulations as being able to level the playing field, since you’re about to read how the FAA created an environment wherein one business owner was playing on an unlevel playing field because of his FAA inspector.

The following comes from an email  sent to me by a former Part 145 repair station owner in Oklahoma City. (Some of the information has been changed to protect the guilty and for clarity and/or brevity).

Dear Joe,

I had an FAA-approved Part 145 repair station since 1986. Over that time I have had 4-5 principal avionics inspectors (PAIs), and for the most part, have managed to work with them to resolve issues. The most recent inspector I had only seemed to be interested in picking fights, arguing about trivial points and being very obnoxious/overbearing in general. I call it the “Gestapo mentality.”

I asked his supervisor and the OKC FSDO manager for another inspector. They didn’t seem interested. I was tired of dealing with this unprofessional government employee who happens to have a TERRIBLE reputation in the Oklahoma City area, so I surrendered my Air Agency Certificate last January.

There seems to be an alarming trend of FAA inspectors who are going “rogue.” The days when the inspectors actually knew general aviation are over. They are being replaced with “computer geeks” and a lot of ex-military/ex-Air Carrier-type people who seem to know nothing about GA.

A friend of mine in another state owns a surplus military turbine-powered aircraft (SMTPA) jet and four inspectors showed up one day at his hangar. They brought along a rolling book case full of FAA regs. They had no interest at all in looking at his jet. They only wanted to find something to violate him on. This kind of behavior by FAA/government employees is deplorable!

I now work on SMTPA/experimental aircraft now 100 percent of the time, for which I don’t need the FAA permission and hassles. It used to be 95 percent SMPTA and five percent civil [FAR 91.170/177 checks]. This leaves about 100 civil customers I used to take care of, for IFR and VFR checks, out in the cold. Sad deal.

One association executive I talked to recommended that I operate as a satellite out of one of my friend’s avionics shops. That way I would be under their certificate. I would like to regain the capability to help my long-time customers out.

Ironically, I retired from the FAA in 2005 [last 16 years in flight inspection as senior avionics engineer] and have come to grief with a fool like this FSDO inspector [who is an ex-air carrier type]. Maybe the FAA doesn’t care. I have written to Senator Jim Inhofe about this situation.

I sent a detailed e-mail to John Allen, director of Flight Standards-Washington to let him know what is going on at one of his facilities.

I can’t prove this, but I heard the OKC FSDO leads the nation in the number of surrendered certificates turned in by individuals and repair stations. I know some of these people. Something has got to change with FAA’s attitude or GA is doomed. It may be too late already.

Sincerely, Nick K.


I have had the pleasure of working with some true FAA professionals during my years in aviation maintenance. I believe individuals like the one he describes are the exception rather than the norm in the FAA. I have not spoken with the FAA inspector in question and have only heard one side of the story.

Assuming that Nick’s account is accurate, it is sad to hear that he got stuck with one of those exceptions as a PAI and felt it was necessary to surrender his repair station certificate.

What do you think? Is there any semblance of a level playing field in our industry? Are inspectors like the one Nick describes the exception? Or do you feel they are the rule?

Your feedback is always appreciated.

Thanks for reading!
Joe Escobar

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Joe Escobar (jescobar@dommagazine.com)
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