Regulatory Investigations and Enquiries: The Response

You received formal written notice from a security regulator over an alleged violation; what next? Mark Vorzimmer provides some ideas…a checklist perhaps…to make sure that, in your response, you’re not only covering the basics, but also including some additional points for gaining extra credit.

First, it’s not the end of the world. Regulators often resort to formal written enquiries into potential violations of their regulations. Ideally, key airline personnel should maintain close relations with both each other and the authorities in order that potential problems and concerns are shared informally before they become a more formal problem. That having been said…it’s not always possible.

You did what?

Pay close attention to the regulations cited in the alleged violation notice. Regardless of your understanding of the written regulations, open the applicable regulations and reread them closely. Identify any clarifying guidance that may have been issued both at the time the regulation was issued and subsequently.

Compliance History
Review your history of compliance in regard to the specific regulation(s) you’re alleged to have violated. If you are not tracking your compliance history, start doing so immediately.

Notification and Communication
Notify personnel at all your other locations where similar violations could be committed (without admitting guilt), through the most appropriate and immediate channel possible. Include a plea for personnel to pay close attention to the area(s) in question.

This step accomplishes several important goals: 1) it demonstrates to the regulator that, regardless of concurrence, you take their concerns seriously; 2) it allows you to caution personnel unaware of the allegation to review compliance at their station/in the area of concern; 3) it sometimes opens a necessary dialogue suggesting whether there are areas of misunderstanding in regard to the matter; 4) it could possibly lead to significantly contrasting clarifications from the same regulator-representatives at other airports, and; 5) the step is viewed as a quick and sometimes necessary response to their concerns, in the event you find that your company indeed violated a regulation.

For most aircraft operators, morning Operations Briefings offer good opportunities to inform key management of an alleged violation, and to send a caution out to appropriate senior management in the area of the concern.
Oh, and how were you notified? Regulators have a basic duty to inform local company management at the earliest opportunity when they believe a company has failed to comply with a security regulation. Any time a regulator tells a line-level employee that he or she has violated a security regulation without letting company management know, they open themselves up to the very real counterclaim that, either the matter was not that important a security matter (since it is only management that carries the concordant responsibility to immediately correct such a failure), or the regulator acted carelessly in allowing an important security vulnerability to continue unaddressed.

Starting an Investigation
Next, interview and/or obtain statements from the parties involved or witnesses to the alleged violation to determine whether you agree that such a violation took place, and that the regulator included all the critical facts in their written allegation.

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