FAA is working with its inspector base to ward off minor compliance issues that could be addressed directly with companies before enforcement actions are taken, says FAA Flight Standards Service Director John Allen.

Speaking Feb. 29 before the Aircraft Charter Safety Foundation’s annual Air Charter Safety Symposium, Allen says he is “trying to change a culture within the Flight Standards Service.” This includes changing the enforcement policy to encourage inspectors to first work out minor issues with operators when possible rather than immediately jumping to an enforcement action, he says, adding this can instead become a “nurturing” exercise.

The change comes as the number of enforcements has been mounting. “We got so many enforcements out there,” Allen says, that it becomes more difficult to focus on the serious issues. By reducing the number of minor enforcements, it will free up FAA resources to concentrate on areas of higher risk.

Allen stresses that this change is not an attempt by the agency to befriend the industry. “We are not friends,” he concedes. But he also says that the Flight Standards mission has changed to “assure the safety, while enabling the adventure, commerce and service of aviation.”

He believes that the mission of enabling aviation is critical, he says, because if the agency doesn’t foster growth of the industry, then it could whither. “Then what do we got? Nothing,” he says.

The change in approach to enforcement is one of a number of actions the agency is undertaking to better target its resources. The agency is continuing to increase its reliance upon and improve its management of the designee program. Allen notes this effort has raised some concerns among inspectors who are worried that this keeps them from “going out and touching metal.” But he says more oversight of designees will leverage their capabilities – and they will still be able to perform hands-on inspections where most needed.

FAA is also eyeing the growth of safety management systems (SMS) as another means to balance resources. Companies with SMS can demonstrate that they are doing the best they can to implement best safety practices. Agency officials can then focus on operations that have higher risk, he says.

“We just can’t be everywhere all of the time. We recognize that,” Allen says. Staffing already is tight, and FAA has to prepare for more possible cuts in 2013. “There are cracks showing already,” he notes.