Where FAA Inspectors Go to Keep Current
By Allison Krumsiek and Beth Ann Senk, FAA Flight Program Operations
For most pilots, the first and most frequent point of contact with the FAA is air traffic control. The second may be an Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI) at the closest Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), most likely one assigned to the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam). But ASIs are hard at work all over the country, doing all kinds of work needed to assure safety in the National Airspace System (NAS).
As the backbone of the U.S. civil aviation regulatory system, ASIs are charged with assuring compliance with safety regulations and standards for the production, operation, maintenance, and modification of all aircraft flying today. Some ASIs are involved in the lengthy process of writing or revising rules or policy. Others work directly in safety assurance, whether with individual aviators, schools, charter operators, or airlines. These inspectors also investigate accidents and incidents, and some ASI jobs include conducting checkrides. It is truly a huge variety of work vested in a highly specialized workforce.
First Things First
With that kind of job description, it stands to reason that people hired as FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors come to the agency with a wealth of aviation experience. The formal qualifications for the job — including its specialty areas — are listed in the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) 1825 Occupational Series. (As an aside, FAA jargon often uses “1825” as shorthand for someone employed under this series.) The qualifications list includes things like minimum levels of certification and flight time for a pilot, or specific required qualifications and experience in aviation maintenance for airworthiness jobs. Meeting the job requirements can open the door to employment as an FAA ASI. But nobody walks through without first demonstrating actual ability.
Enter Flight Program Operations. During the interview process for potential ASIs in air carrier or general aviation operations, Flight Program Operations arranges pre-employment flight checks appropriate for the type of work the inspector is applying to do. For example, a GA Operations Inspector may receive a flight check in a PA-44 Piper Seminole, while a prospective Air Carrier Operations Inspector is more likely to have a flight check in an FAA-owned Boeing 737 simulator. The simulator is located at the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (colloquially known as “the Academy”) in Oklahoma City. Potential GA Ops Inspectors, on the other hand, head for the agency’s official flight training facility, more commonly called “the schoolhouse.”
ABCs of the FAA Schoolhouse
So, what and where is “the schoolhouse?” FAA’s Flight Program Operations is responsible for all FAA flight operations, not just things like flight inspection work. In partnership and agreement with the FAA Flight Standards Service, Flight Program Operations has a key role in two important areas: ensuring an applicant’s proficiency before they are hired as an ASI and maintaining ASIs’ flight currency and proficiency (not necessarily the same thing!) once they join the agency’s inspector corps. Accordingly, Flight Program Operations runs a training and checking facility for FAA employees whose jobs include flying.
Located at Fort Worth Alliance Airport (AFW), the FAA schoolhouse is a centralized and standardized facility designed to provide FAA employees with the same high standards of training that the agency expects from aviation industry training providers. When they come to the FAA schoolhouse, aspiring and actual ASIs find a lovingly maintained fleet of FAA-owned aircraft as well as contract aircraft that are representative of the birds a working ASI will encounter on the job.
Beechcraft King Air C-90GTis, which are used for turboprop training and checking, are the backbone of the schoolhouse fleet. To provide checking and recurrent training in more typical GA flying, Flight Program Operations contracts with a part 141 training school for Cessna 172 Skyhawks, Piper PA-44 Seminoles, and a Bell B-206 helicopter. If an ASI’s job functions require currency and proficiency in other types of aircraft, Flight Standards and Flight Program Operations work together to identify and schedule flights in aircraft not available in the AFW fleet. Those aircraft can range from tailwheel to seaplanes to gyroplanes and helicopters.
To provide instruction and evaluation at the schoolhouse, Flight Program Operations uses contract instructor pilots. The training and evaluation profile is what you might expect: takeoffs and landings, approaches, air work, ground reference maneuvers, and emergency procedures. For proficiency flying, Flight Program Operations also offers “events-based currency,” or EBC. Conducted under the structure of 14 CFR part 141, EBC is required on a quarterly basis for ASIs with job functions that involve flying. EBC provides consistency and standardization in training, while giving the FAA centralized oversight for inspector currency.
Another benefit is that the centralized delivery of EBC and checking enables ASIs to focus completely on flight proficiency during quarterly visits to the ATW schoolhouse. As Jackson, Mississippi FSDO ASI Joe Carson notes, “I have had nothing but pleasurable experiences during visits to AFW for events-based currency. Staff are very professional and punctual. All the aircraft I have used in training have been well-maintained and are well-equipped. The airport and ATC are very accommodating to the EBC program, even with Amazon and other very busy large operators on the field. The staff at the AFW EBC program runs a tight ship, and I am glad we go there for inspector currency.”
Allison Krumsiek is a technical and communications writer for the FAA’s Flight Program Operations policy and communications team. She carries a red pen in her purse and can often be found editing signs around the D.C. area to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines on serial commas.Beth Ann Senk (email@example.com) is the manager for the FAA’s Aviation Safety Training Group at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas.