There has been a lot of noise surrounding the FAA’s “Future of Flight Standards,” a phrase that is often followed by buzz words like “critical thinking,” “interdependence” and “consistency.” The new initiative—aimed at creating a more responsive and agile overseer of aviation safety—was made official in August. After a few months of living in the future, users of the system have a better understanding of what will—or will not—change. At least initially.
First, let’s focus on what will. On its surface, seemingly the biggest change is the replacement of regional flight standards offices with “functional organizations.” These four offices (Air Carrier Safety Assurance, General Aviation Safety Assurance, Safety Standards and Foundational Business) are organized by expertise and responsibility rather than geography. According to Flight Standards Service Executive Director John Duncan, “this allows for a single point of accountability within each area, resulting in the removal of an additional level of coordination at the regional level and a more consistent and streamlined structure within [aviation flight safety].”
As for what will not change: Contrary to what some are calling the “end of FSDOs,” local offices are not going away. In fact, the only apparent modification is to nomenclature. What were previously known as Flight Standards District Offices are now referred to as Flight Standards Offices. According to a statement sent by Duncan to all external stakeholders, the agency “want[s] to stress that this realignment should be transparent. . . . No certificates are moving, and you will continue to interact with the FAA employees who currently manage your certificate.”
Agency publications have yet to make clear how field offices will interrelate with the new functional offices, how consistency in regulatory interpretation among and between them will be improved, or how a promised change in the agency’s mindset will come to fruition. That said, the pledge for more focused expertise and consequently more standardized regulatory interpretation—even if only at the “regional” level—would be a welcome change for users of the regulatory system.