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As the title asks, what is the formal process to contest a local FSDO policy which appears to contradict a FAR or FSIMS (8900.1) guidance?

I have already sent an email asking them to reconsider, to which the inspector reviewed the request with his front line manager and said that they were not going to change it (in spite of what I feel is clear guidance to the contrary).

I then asked for the policy to be reviewed by the local FSDO manager who would be in a position to change it, who also said that the policy would not be changed.

What is the next step? Elevate it to regional/national? I remember reading about a formal process where you make a request, and if it gets denied you have 30 days in which to ask for it to be elevated to the next level, but I don't know where I saw that.

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  • $\begingroup$ While this is a good question, you may get some more specific answers if you list the actual infraction as there may be different elevation methods depending on the situation. $\endgroup$ – Dave Sep 14 '16 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Dave I intentionally kept it general so that it applies to any situation where a local FSDO policy in in question and to not get caught up in the details of the specific question (FYI, no infraction is involved but rather just a FSDO policy which is causing more work for a lot of operators only in a specific region!) $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Sep 14 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for something like that: CSI? More here. $\endgroup$ – mins Sep 14 '16 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @mins That looks very promising, although I haven't had time to review it and don't believe it is what I saw in the past. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Sep 14 '16 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ I think the "30 days" stuff you're remembering may be one or more of the many generic "We have to get back to you within 30 days" requirements the FAA operates under, or the standard "You have 30 days to appeal this decision" for FAA actions/violations (if you want to bring them before an NTSB Administrative Law Judge). As far as I'm aware there's no time limit on escalating a bad FAA interpretation - you just have to live with the FSDO's interpretation until such time as you can get a better one... $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Sep 15 '16 at 3:03
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The FAA Hierarchy is your typical government bureaucracy - you can escalate your way through it like most others:

  • Local Level
    Your point of contact for all things FAA will typically be a local district office -- for most things you would start with the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) unless you know specifically that your issue falls into the domain of another office (like Aircraft Certification or Manufacturing).
    If you can't work out the issue with the local folks at your FSDO you can try moving laterally and contacting someone from the FAA Safety Team at the FSDO (they may not be able to change anything, but they may be able to help get you a better explanation of why things are being interpreted the way they are, and give you a voice on the inside).

  • Regional Level
    Each district office is contained within a region, and each region has a regional administrator. The regional administrator's office would be your next point of escalation. As with the District Offices contact information is available on the FAA website, and if you are able to convince the regional administrator's office that the district office has made an error and their interpretation is inconsistent with published FAA guidance you may be able to get the local interpretation overruled.

  • National Level
    Your next step would be the appropriate FAA Headquarters office -- for most stuff it would be the Aviation Safety office (AVS), and as mins pointed out you probably want to avail yourself of the Consistency and Standardization Initiative which exists to bring some standardization to what has traditionally been the the inside joke of "There's nothing standard about Flight Standards!" -- If a local FSDO is operating contrary to published guidance in FSMIS or an Advisory Circular these folks can set them right. There are separate national offices that deal with Air Traffic and Airports which may also be useful contacts if you have incidents with those divisions.

  • The Big Legal Hammer
    When all else fails and you need a legal interpretation to tell the entire FAA "This is what the language in 14CFR means, and this is how it must be interpreted." your point of contact is The Office of the Chief Counsel.
    These are the folks you contact if you have a specific question about how to interpret the FARs that you can't answer concretely from an Advisory Circular, or when you have contradictory interpretations from different parts of the FAA (dueling FSDOs) that you can't resolve through the other channels.
    An interpretation by the counsel's office is binding on the entire FAA organization, and as you climb the ladder there's an increasing chance that the folks you talk to will involve the lawyers at the counsel's office.


In practice the regional level is often skipped - particularly given the Consistency and Standardization Initiative at the national level: It is often more efficient to escalate directly to a group solely charged with making sure the national standards are consistently applied.

As you climb the bureaucratic ladder the chances of someone involving the FAA's lawyers for a final legal interpretation increases: a motivated employee who thinks they're right may refer the matter to the counsel's office and copy you on the request (or you could get fed up and do the same).

Once you reach the point of an interpretation from the Office of the Chief Counsel you've climbed as high in the bureaucracy as you can - an unfavorable interpretation by the FAA lawyers can only be challenged by bringing in lawyers of your own and hashing it out in court.
Because the US court system has a long established practice of deference to agency interpretation of their own regulations the chances of winning such a case are not good unless the interpretation of the agency is entirely unreasonable or the application can be proven "arbitrary and capricious" based on other similar cases.

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If you want to force a policy change, write directly to FAA Chief Councel. If CC writes an opinion that aligns to your position then the FSDO really can't have their own opinion. If, however, CC disagrees with you then you're sunk unless you want to take it to court.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, I considered this but as I mentioned, I believe that there is a formal process to follow in order to elevate it so that we don't have to go directly to the Chief Council (I'm fairly certain that it doesn't need to be elevated quite that far to get a favorable response). $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Sep 14 '16 at 21:12

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