Customs, Culture, Community

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readJan 6
Magazine department.

By Larry Fields, FAA (Acting) Flight Standards Service Executive Director

Several FAA employees travelled to Montreal in September to represent the United States at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) triennial general assembly. This gathering provided multiple opportunities to interact with civil aviation authority counterparts from dozens of countries around the world. Throughout this meeting, members of our team were intensely aware that everything they said or did would reflect not just on them as individuals, but also on our country and on the agency they represented.

Photo of toy airplane over globe.

A Culture of Compliance

Like countries, communities of every kind have a culture that arises from customs and shared values. If you were to make a list of your own aviation customs and values, safety is surely at the top of your list. Here at the FAA, safety is the top priority. It’s the reason this agency exists in the first place.

Our tasks include establishing the foundation for aviation safety. Regulations are part of that foundation, but there’s much more. As stated in the FAA’s Compliance Program, our objective is to identify safety issues that underlie deviations from standards and correct them as effectively, quickly, and efficiently as possible. The FAA’s approach to compliance stresses collaborative problem-solving (e.g., engagement, root-cause analysis, transparency, and information exchange) wherever possible.

The FAA Compliance Program is also aimed at furthering evolution toward a “just culture.” That means a culture with both expectation of, and appreciation for, self-disclosure of errors. It gives due consideration for honest mistakes, especially in a complex environment like the National Airspace System (NAS). But since even unintentional errors can have a serious adverse impact on safety, we must ensure that the underlying safety concern is fixed every time.

Walk the Walk; Talk the Talk

In this issue of the FAA Safety Briefing magazine, we will explore some of the mindset, skillset, and toolset items that can help you do your part as a solid aviation citizen. But let me set the stage with a couple of fundamental ideas.

Magazine cover.

Although some see “etiquette” as a stuffy word, there’s nothing stuffy about what it means: treat your fellow human beings with courtesy and respect. If you visit a country whose citizens treat you rudely, would you be eager to go back? Of course not. There are enough pressures already to deter potential aviators without adding discourtesy. Treat everyone you meet — fellow pilots, potential pilots, and non-pilots — with the kind of respect and courtesy that makes them eager to be part of our group.

Language is another important part of good aviation citizenship. When you visit a country with a different language, it is courteous to make efforts to use that language, even if you can only manage a few words. The community of aviation certainly has a language of its own, one with a long history and a highly specialized vocabulary. As good aviation citizens, we should strive to use that language as precisely and as correctly as we can when we are operating in the system. Listen before you key the mike to transmit. Speak clearly and succinctly. Use proper phraseology. Whether on the radio or speaking to student pilots, potential aviators, or non-flyers, speak our language in a way that achieves the goal of communication.

As the saying goes, we never get a second chance to make a good first impression. In an environment where there are many financial and other challenges facing those who want to fly, each of us needs to cherish the precious privileges of aviation and strive to bring honor both to our community and to our fellow aviators.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. The magazine is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).