Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.
– Abraham Lincoln
Even in the midst of my tenth year working for the FAA, I am still surprised and, I admit, sometimes frustrated by some of the jabs and jibes directed at my employer, at my colleagues, and sometimes at me personally. Even if cloaked in jest, some of the taunts I hear often have a sharp edge.
Notwithstanding my status as a happy and enthusiastic FAA employee, I understand that regulatory agencies are rarely (if ever) popular with those they regulate. I would never attempt to argue that this particular regulatory agency gets it right every time. We are not alone in that regard. On the contrary, no organization staffed by imperfect human beings has any hope of operating in a perfect or even near-perfect way.
Some of the most important work that FAA employees perform is often taken for granted. It is largely invisible to the public because accidents and incidents that might otherwise occur never happen in the first place. A former FAA Administrator frequently used a mirror metaphor to illustrate the “heads I win, tails you lose” frustration he sometimes felt about the constant barrage of criticism over what the FAA does or, in some cases, does not do:
“A mirror can be 99.9999 percent clean, but nobody sees anything except the one small thumbprint smudge in the corner.”
Aviation safety in the United States is much like the 99.9999 percent perfectly clean mirror. Even when there are accidents, most people don’t realize how the FAA’s work has minimized loss of life and property. Not long ago, for example, there was another “miracle on the Hudson” when an air tour helicopter lost power over the river. The pilot deployed inflatable pontoons – a safety device that the Flight Standards Service fought to include in the air tour rule. The pilot and the family of four aboard his aircraft all walked away unharmed.
Or consider the San Francisco crash of a foreign airline’s B-777. The footage is terrifying, but many passengers escaped with minor injuries. That is partly due to FAA safety leadership in the international aviation community. Flight Standards Service employees work with their counterparts around the world to ensure that carriers flying to the U.S. operate in accordance with ICAO standards.
The FAA is staffed by a large number of people who truly care about aviation. That is true throughout the agency, but I can speak most knowledgeably about the folks in the Flight Standards Service. Lots of us fly for fun, just like you. We care about safety. And we care about doing our jobs in a correct and professional way. I believe the examples above, along with the Cactus 1549 contributions described in “Our Finest Hour” on page 6, illustrate a record that is worthy of pride. But we can always do better, and we owe it to the American public to ensure that we constantly strive to do so. (FAA Safety Briefing – NovDec 2013)