Opening Up a Can of Worms

“The great thing about live bait is that it’s alive, so it wriggles on the hook and tempts fish with its movement. The bad thing about live bait is also that it’s alive, and leaving the lid of the container loose or off is a great way to lose your bait. Given the opportunity to exit, worms will often either escape or just generally make it difficult to get them all back in the can and replace the lid. Once you’ve opened a can of them, you’ve got a problem on your hands.”  —

Iam writing this column just days before the deadline to upload this issue to our printer. As I think I have shared before, when I write about a subject in my editorial column, I try to write about something that piques my interest. I also try to write about subjects that get readers thinking and possibly sharing their feedback with us.

Based on the last two days that my Inbox has been filling up and my phone has been ringing off the hook, apparently it was “mission accomplished” with my editorial column in the June 2013 issue titled “A Level Playing Field?”

In that column, I shared an email from D.O.M. reader Nick who shared a story of surrendering his avionics repair station certificate because of what he called the “Gestapo mentality” of the FAA PAI assigned to him. I shared that I have had the pleasure of working with some true FAA professionals over the years, and felt the PAI in question, assuming that Nick’s account was accurate, was the exception rather than the rule.

Apparently, I opened up the proverbial can of worms. I received several emails commenting on the subject. I even received a call from the PAI Nick referred to, inviting me to call if I wanted to hear his side of the story. I called him, and had a pleasant conversation. I don’t want to get into detail of our conversation, but let’s just say his side of the story seems relevant, although polar opposite of Nick’s account of events.

I’m not here to judge what happened between the FAA and Nick. Like I shared, I truly believe most FAA inspectors are professionals, and the “rogue” inspectors are the exception.

Another reader called to share that he had surrendered his avionics repair station certificate last year because of his PAI. He says that he had three PAIs during the 11 years he had his repair station. He says that one of them was very helpful and knowledgeable, but the other two were “incompetent and unprofessional.” He says complaints filed to the FAA regional office fell on deaf ears. Fed up with the hassles, he surrendered his certificate and says he won’t return to aviation even though he spent 35 years in the industry. He is so upset, he says he will be filing criminal TORT claims against the FAA PAIs in question, and civil suits for defamation of character and the loss of revenue from surrendering his certificate.

You have probably dealt with some bad apples in the past — whether they were co-workers, supervisors or company executives. Conflicts usually arise when dealing with these individuals. There are three basic outcomes when this happens: you discuss the problem and resolve it; the problem remains, and you move on; or the problem remains, you find yourself in an unworkable situation, and you walk away to another job.

The problem is that when working with an FAA inspector, the choice to walk away is pretty severe. Here are a few of my tips for working with FAA inspectors.

Check your emotions at the door. Just because you might feel that the inspector is an incompetent idiot, there is no need to be condescending or aggressive. Relax and let them state their argument. Then defend your case.

Be knowledgeable. How can you defend against errant claims or allegations from your FAA inspector if you don’t know the regulations? You can’t! Know the regulations that affect your business and understand how your business complies with the regulations.

Pick your battles. There may be quite a few things your FAA inspector asks you to do that fall outside of the regulatory requirements. Know when to pick your fights. You can’t fight all the time.

My good friend Rodger Holmstrom, an FAA safety inspector who passed away a few years ago, once said at an IA seminar, “Arguing with an FAA inspector is like wrestling with a pig in the mud — sooner or later you realize they enjoy it.”

Don’t jump into that pit unprepared. Take advantage of learning opportunities to become a better-informed professional! Only then can you hope to win the wrestling match!

Thanks for reading!  Joe Escobar

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D.O.M. magazine is the premier magazine for aviation maintenance management professionals. Its management-focused editorial provides information maintenance managers need and want including business best practices, professional development, regulatory, quality management, legal issues and more. The digital version of D.O.M. magazine is available for free on all devices (iOS, Android, and Amazon Kindle).

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