Industry trade groups are urging the FAA to put the brakes on a well-intended guidance-streamlining effort that would result in mass cancellation of official agency interpretations that are not housed in one of three online repositories. 

The FAA’s move, outlined in a Dec. 3 memorandum from Flight Standards Service (FSS) Director John Duncan to all FSS employees, would cancel any guidance not found in the Flight Standards Information System, the Regulatory and Guidance Library, “or elsewhere on,” effective January 14, 2014.

While FAA publishes most guidance via broad-audience communiques like advisory circulars and policy statements, many regulatory gray areas are clarified through direct responses to specific questions submitted by a single person or organization. Some of these responses end up in one of FAA’s designated online databases, but most do not.

The memorandum seemingly would render meaningless piles of these communications, which include issue-specific response letters and emails, unless a plea from an FSS employee to save a specific document is answered. FSS employees have until Dec. 31 to submit documents for preservation.

The memorandum is the FAA’s first major step in a broad review of its guidance. The review is part of FAA’s effort to develop consistent regulatory interpretations, in part by following a rulemaking advisory committee’s recommendations. The main one: link all guidance to specific regulations, and make the entire library available in an electronic database.

Five industry trade groups have asked FAA to reconsider its approach

“The document...can be interpreted to mean that any explanation or enhancement of current policy and procedures provided by a ‘policy division’ to a local office, association or certificate holder is invalid,” the trade groups wrote in a Dec. 18 letter. “It also appears to cover communications directly to certificate holders on specific situations that resolved issues of interpretation in a particular setting.”

The letter is signed by representatives from the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), Aerospace Industries Association, Airlines for America, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and National Air Transportation Association.

The trade groups, each represented on the rulemaking committee, say they envisioned that FAA would create a database for all guidance tied to specific regulations, then come up with a way to determine whether the guidance was still relevant. They did not anticipate the FAA voiding pages of potentially valid and relied-upon guidance without a systematic review.

“The industry letter pretty much points out that taking the approach of ‘get a hammer there is a fly on baby’s head’ was not the intent of the [committee’s] recommendation,” ARSA Executive Director Sarah MacLeod tells Aviation Week. “Good clarification letters, or even explaining how existing policy can be applied to a particular situation or certificate holder, should not be wiped out with the stroke of a pen.”