Life in the FAAST Lane A Community Effort Towards Safer Skies

--by Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing

Puppet shows, sing-alongs, and storytelling ... what more could a six-year old kid want on a hot day during summer break! Yes, it might seem a tad strange, but I have fond memories of my local public library when I was growing up in Queens. It was a hub of activity in my community: everything from arts and crafts with toddlers, to movie nights for teens, to the more contemplative book club discussions and poetry readings for grown-ups. During my childhood and into my adult years, the always-helpful staff, the seemingly limitless shelves of books on topics I never knew existed, and even the uniquely comforting “smell” of books always makes me feel at home in a library, no matter what city or state I happen to be in.

Libraries have worked hard to keep up with the times, especially as technology has revolutionized the playing field for literary arts. Today’s library patrons — thanks to advances in information sharing and networking — now have access to troves of e-books, movies, and digital archives, as well access to free or low-cost training. Despite its evolving ethos, libraries have continued, if not expanded their role in the community, providing civic and cultural engagement activities, like adult literacy programs and live music events, to hosting state-of-the-art research and collaboration facilities. And don’t worry. If Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby are calling your name, you’ll still be able to check out a hard copy of that classic novel you never got around to.

Making FAAST Work of Aviation Hazards

Not unlike the public library system, the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) plays a similar support role, but with a specific focus on serving the general aviation community as its clientele. With its vast network of FAA employees and private sector volunteers, the FAASTeam has maintained a critical role as purveyor-in-chief of GA safety information. Its mission statement sums it up well: Improve the nation’s aviation accident rate by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education while establishing partnerships and encouraging the continual growth of a positive safety culture within the aviation community.

As any good library book on running a business will tell you, an organization’s success depends greatly on good leadership. At the FAASTeam’s helm is a group of professional and highly experienced individuals who are committed to the success of the program. Part of that commitment is geared toward supporting the National Performance Plan (NPP), the national work program that drives tasking for the staff, as well as for the FAASTeam’s overall product development strategy. The NPP is developed based on directives from the FAA, the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, and other data-driven sources.

“The FAASTeam’s success relies on a highly coordinated and collaborative approach from all different segments of the GA community,” says National FAASTeam Manager Valerie Palazzolo. The team also depends heavily on data mining and analysis, as well as the use of safety management systems and risk management tools to achieve its goal. “It’s not an easy task to coordinate effective messaging on such a grand scale, but the safety dividends we realize are worth every bit of effort.”

Those dividends have been arriving in the form of lower GA fatal accident rates, which in recent years have steadily declined. The number of GA fatal accidents has crept down from 278 in fiscal year 2011, to 209 in 2017, with 2018 appearing to continue that positive trend. While several factors are at play in producing that outcome (technology, sound procedures, etc.,) aviation education and outreach is no doubt an important element to that equation and the FAASTeam is banking on that to shrink the accident rate even further.

The FAASTeam’s success relies on a highly coordinated and collaborative approach from all different segments of the GA community. The team also depends heavily on data mining and analysis, as well as the use of safety management systems and risk management tools to achieve its goal.

Good News Travels FAAST

When airmen hear the term FAASTeam, their initial thoughts may be of the safety seminar notices they see at their local airport or receive via email. These safety seminars are indeed an integral part of how the FAASTeam is able to spread the word on sound and safe GA practices. But their impact on the GA community includes so much more than that. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s worth a closer look at the full spectrum of activities and resources the FAASTeam provides, as well as some of the faces behind those operations.

FAASTeam Program Manager Heather Metzler interacts with Designated Pilot Examiners during a FAASTeam Rep training session in Little Rock, Ark.

As a bit of history, the FAASTeam was officially created through an FAA Order on July 15, 2004, but its roots can be traced back much earlier to the FAA’s Accident Prevention Program formed in the 1970s. Accident Prevention Specialists from the program were tasked with researching local accidents and conducting targeted outreach based on that research. They were also tasked with developing a corps of Aviation Safety Counselors, private sector volunteers who helped construct the foundation of an aviation safety community.

Fast forward to today and that concept has largely stayed intact. One change worth noting is the program’s (and FAA’s) evolution from a reactive (blame, shame, and retrain) culture, to a more proactive “just” culture, which aims to focus more on the “what” and “why” rather than the “who” when it comes to accidents.

FAAST and Curious

The FAASTeam has also worked hard to adapt to the rapidly changing aviation environment, including advances in technology, automation, and flight training. Despite these changes, the community aspect of the FAASTeam has remained a constant and core attribute of its success. The more than 100 FSDO-hosted FAASTeam Program Managers across the nation, supported by the 2,500-plus volunteer FAASTeam Representatives, comprise the very fabric of its grassroots approach to safety advocacy.

National FAASTeam Manager Valerie Palazzolo (5th from right) along with several members of the FAASTeam family assisting at AirVenture 2018 (l-r) George Mahurin, Jason Forshey, Gina Moretto, Scott Landorf, Jay Flowers, Gary Knaggs, Val, Ed Shields, Larry Cheek, Steve Hoogerhyde, and Jurg Grossenbacher

These dedicated individuals are the face of the FAASTeam, the men and women you see on a daily basis presenting both local and nationwide safety seminars and webinars, assisting airmen with questions about policies and procedures, or providing coaching and mentoring on safe practices. To give you a better sense of just how vast this community involvement is, consider this: In the last year, the FAASTeam conducted more than 4,200 approved safety seminars and more than 260 webinars that reached about 180,000 members of the aviation community.

FAASTeam Representatives R.L. “Bob” Connor (Lead Rep) and Linda Connor.

That also doesn’t take into account the immense outreach power of FAASafety.gov, the FAASTeam’s online hub for airman education and premier safety resource. The site provides important GA-related updates and notices, lists airman activities and seminars in your local area, and hosts hundreds of online aviation safety courses. “We typically see 1,500 successful logins per day on the site, and now have over 880,000 accounts in the system,” said Guy Minor, National FAASTeam Airworthiness Lead. “Online course completions also topped one million in the past year.” In addition, the site hosts an email system that can rapidly issue ad hoc nationwide updates as well as deliver localized seminar notices. Subscription settings for these messages can be adjusted by updating your online profile.

Another important facet of FAASafety.gov is that it is home to the WINGS Pilot Proficiency and the AMT Awards programs, both designed to inspire professionalism, proficiency, and continuing education for pilots and mechanics respectively. “Participating in the WINGS or AMT Awards program is the right thing to do for safety,” says Kevin Clover, National FAASTeam Operations Lead. “It makes pilots and mechanics more proficient, confident, and safe.”

If you haven’t already signed up for either of these programs, get started today! See the FAASafety.gov home page links for more information on these programs.

FAAST Foodie

Given today’s appetite for social media content, the FAASTeam also recognizes the importance of leveraging this medium in its overall communication strategy. As such, the FAASTeam regularly provides GA safety content for FAA’s Facebook (and GA Safety Facebook Group), Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube accounts, and manages its own Twitter account, @FAASafetyBrief. This has proved to be a great way to communicate up-to-the-minute news for the GA community, whether it is sharing information about an upcoming TFR or an important policy change, or just posting a video on best practices for stabilized approaches. You may also notice that the staff regularly uses hashtags relevant to GA (#FlySafe, #FAASTeam, etc.,) to highlight and to be part of a more global conversation on select issues.

Social media use also enhances our ability to be a more active member of the GA community and provides yet another channel for us to gather and process feedback from airmen like you. In fact, as this is being written, plans for a new FAASTeam Facebook group are being finalized. Details will be forthcoming this fall, but this should prove to be an excellent way for airmen to access information, collaborate and share ideas, and be more “plugged in” to their local GA community and fellow FAASTeam members.

Are You a FAAST Reader?

Of course, what conversation of FAASTeam outreach would be complete without mentioning yours truly, the FAA Safety Briefing magazine staff? In addition to producing the bi-monthly GA safety publication you’re currently reading, the FAA Safety Briefing staff also supports various projects and communication campaigns, authors regular FAAST Blast email messages, and is the driving force behind much of the FAA’s GA-focused social media content mentioned earlier. The magazine team also introduced a new FAA Safety Briefing Live! presentation that launched last March. The one-hour live broadcast reviews and discusses content from each new issue together with special guests from the FAA and the GA community. These WINGS-credit-eligible events are archived for anyone to watch. Here’s the link to our July/August issue broadcast: www.faasafetybriefing.com/July-August.html.

Pardon the cliché here, but wait, there’s more!

The FAASTeam is also actively involved with flight instructors, a true cornerstone of the pilot community. In addition to hosting quarterly flight instructor forums across the country where instructors are able to discuss flight training challenges and best practices, the FAASTeam is leading a new Flight Instructor Performance Assessment initiative that aims to yield better instructional performance and safer pilots. The FAASTeam is also essential to the FAA’s remedial training program, reviewing and developing curricula and remedial training agreements, and monitoring trainee progress.

As an integral member of the GA community, the FAASTeam maintains relationships with many federal and state aviation entities (e.g., NTSB, DHS), and partners with several private sector organizations who have a stake in aviation safety (e.g., AOPA, EAA). The FAASTeam also works with several different offices within the FAA to conduct targeted outreach. In recent years, they have worked very closely with the Office of Runway Safety, NextGen, the UAS Integration Office, and the rotorcraft community. The FAASTeam even provides a training course for first responders on the unique challenges of handling aircraft accidents.

”We support the GA community in more ways than people might realize,” says National FAASTeam Outreach Products Manager John Steuernagle, who, in addition to developing content for many of the nationwide FAASTeam seminars, courses, and videos, also oversees the team’s brochures, posters, and handout materials. Steuernagle was also instrumental in developing a flight risk assessment tool (FRAT) that helps pilots identify hazards before flight. The FAASTeam FRAT is available in a spreadsheet form on the FAASafety.gov library, or as an app in Apple’s App Store. The FAASTeam FRAT is currently the only FRAT available for Apple Watch.

The FAAST Family

For nearly 50 years, the FAASTeam, including its previous formats, has been building a multi-faceted safety community that is highly regarded worldwide. Its safety promotion accomplishments are extremely impressive as is its ability to bring together airmen, educators, and safety service providers all for the purpose of promoting an aviation safety culture. The only thing missing perhaps is you!

If you’re not already part of the FAASTeam family, consider it. Whether you’re a service provider, a volunteer FAASTeam Rep, a WINGS member, or just a consumer of content, your participation can and does make a difference. Contact your local FAASTeam program manager (FPM) or Rep today for more information.

Oh, and you might want to consider dusting off that library card too. As Dr. Seuss famously stated: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
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