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Friday, February 19, 2016

Dealing With Feds

Two years in the army, 5 years at various sales jobs and a failed marriage, 5 years at Butler Graham, one year at Flight International.  This was my adult life so far.

If you have been following me since the beginning, you know I have had to deal with FAA inspectors a few times or with people who out ranked me in the army.  Eventually, I had much more contact with the Feds at Flight International.

My experience in the army taught me to carry myself with what was called "military bearing".  We were taught how to stand straight and look like we were all business.  When I left the army, I had to tone my bearing down a little, but could crank it up when needed.  The important part of that is to know what you are doing and to look like you know what you are doing.  

Eventually, my boss, Rod, started assigning me to run the simulator for FAA check rides.  This came about because of some issues we were having with our pass/fail ratio.

In order to maintain our certificate to train flight engineers, we had to have 80% of our students pass on their first check ride.  We were falling dangerously close to that point.  The owner, Doug, called a meeting and announced some changes in policy.

One change was that each student would remain with the same instructor all the way through training.  This way, according to Doug, we would expose the "weak sisters" among our instructors.  You may remember me talking about my experience at the Allegheny County flight school way back in the early days of my flight instruction.  I had a different instructor each lesson and had to unlearn and relearn from one to the other.  It seemed like a wasteful process to me and it did at Flight International also, but hey, who was I to point that out to all the big captains I was dealing with.  So, you know I thought this change was a good idea.

Another change was that each instructor was going to start taking notes on everything that happened in the simulator with each different FAA inspector during a check ride.  We had a suspicion and wanted to document and confirm that.  Rod had checked pass/fail statistics among all the inspectors and although we were maintaining a slightly better than 80% average overall, one particular inspector was failing our students at a 50% rate.  Single handedly, he was bringing us down near the 80% mark.  All the others were near 90%.

It was becoming known that I did not get intimidated by the Feds.  When they were being unfair, or were getting the 727 mixed up with the DC-9 or something, I would stop them and correct them.  This is why Rod wanted me to run the panel for check rides.

The inspector in question was named Paul.  I got along OK with him, but when he saw me taking notes, he pointed out that he was taking notes too.  I just smiled and took a note on that.

Eventually, we had enough data that Rod went to the FAA office and made his case.  Paul was killing us and he was intimidating the students.  We tried to train them to follow procedures and he kept creating scenarios where procedures didn't work and the student had to improvise.

This revealed something I had learned about aviation.  People who have been involved in training for a long time, forget what it is like at the point where you have just completed training.  The training is very much like trying to sip water from a fire hose.  It is coming at you fast and furiously.  Your head is kind of spinning and when someone is messing with you from the gitgo, it can become very intimidating.  Paul would give students so many problems just getting electrical power on the plane with the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) or Ground Power Unit (GPU), that they were losing confidence in the procedures and all we had taught them.

Paul's thought was that once someone got an FE ticket, there was no guarantee that they would be working for a big airline with all the support.  They could be working for some little operator who only had one 727.  The problem with that thinking is that the students weren't in a position to get a job like that.  It would usually go to a Professional Flight Engineer (PFE), who was also a mechanic.  Besides, it was just too much for a rookie to deal with.

Rod told Paul's boss what was going on and he was probably informed about that and warned to back off.  The next time Paul was scheduled to give 2 check rides, back to back, I was running the instructor panel.  Paul failed the first guy and the second guy was doing so poorly, Paul started looking worried and was actually trying to help him, but it was hopeless.  

He asked me to stop the process at that point, as he was about to have a 100% failure rate that day.  He asked me to step outside the sim. with him.  When we were out there, he asked, "Why me?  Why do I always get these weak students?"  I said, "Since you asked, they are not all weak.  You scare the hell out of them.  You have a reputation and they all know about you.  You did not have to fail that first guy.  If you had worked as hard to help him, as you were doing with the second guy, he would have passed.  He was not the best, but he could have passed if you had given him a break.  Let these guys have some success with the procedures early on and then get tough when they are doing the important stuff that can kill someone.  When you give them so many problems outside the procedures just getting the power on the plane, you rattle their cages and kill their confidence.  Wait until the plane takes off, for Pete's sake.  However, the second guy really is messed up."  I was thinking, "Sucks to be you today."

Nice little speech, eh?  I don't know how it worked, because this was late in my time there, but I was learning how to talk to FAA inspectors.

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