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Date:  Sept. 20, 2006
Contacts:  Vanee Vines, Senior Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FAA SHOULD DEVELOP NEW COMPUTER MODEL
TO DETERMINE STAFFING LEVELS FOR AVIATION SAFETY INSPECTORS

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration should develop a new computer model for gauging the number of aviation safety inspectors needed in the agency's Flight Standards Service, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The current model is inadequate in several areas, making it difficult for the FAA to predict the consequences of staffing shortfalls or account for important factors that affect inspectors' workloads.  Inspectors and their managers should play a role in the design, creation, and implementation of any new model, the report adds.  

The FAA employs aviation safety inspectors in two offices that enforce and maintain safety regulations and promote safety in civil aviation: the Flight Standards Service, which oversees aviation operations, maintenance, training, and other programs; and the Aircraft Certification Service, which ensures the safety of aircraft design and production.  In recent years, the number of aviation safety inspectors in those offices has remained relatively stable at about 3,600, with roughly 95 percent of them employed in the Flight Standards Service.  Yet the aviation industry has changed dramatically.  More-advanced technologies are now in use, as well as new manufacturing tools and techniques.  Maintenance work is increasingly outsourced to subcontractors, both in the United States and abroad.  The FAA also relies more on "designees" to take on certain responsibilities previously assigned to aviation safety inspectors.  Such designees are nongovernment inspectors, often aviation industry employees, who are certified to act on the agency's behalf.  Some observers have questioned whether staffing levels for inspectors are adequate.  The report concludes that the FAA lacks an evidence-based method for finding out. 

The agency should address key human-resource issues before attempting to create a new model, the report says.  Regardless of how sophisticated staffing models may be, it is impossible to determine the number of aviation safety inspectors needed unless the agency has precise and up-to-date job specifications, qualifications, and performance criteria for those positions.

The staffing challenge in this area is unique, ruling out the option of adapting a model from another organization, the report says.  Improvements can be achieved only through the creation of a new tool that draws on the FAA's previous modeling efforts and takes into account important properties detailed by the study committee.  Processes for verifying and validating the model's design and operation are especially critical. 
     
Specifically, a new staffing model for the Flight Standards Service should accurately reflect work-force supply and demand, use appropriate measures of both individual and system performance, and allow frequent updates to work procedures.  The forecasting and planning tool currently used by that office -- called the Automated Staffing Allocation Model (ASAM) -- has too many limitations, the report concludes.  Before putting ASAM in place, the Flight Standards Service worked for several years on its Holistic Staffing Model, but it, too, had technical shortcomings and was never fully developed or tested. 

The estimated cost of designing, building, and putting a new tool into operation is about $900,000; this would be more cost-effective than reworking the current model or the abandoned one to overcome their limitations, the report says.

The Aircraft Certification Service, which has about 175 aviation safety inspectors, uses a different method to assess staffing needs.  This method is generally satisfactory, the report says, and managers should continue to improve it.  Also, the relatively small number of inspector positions in the Aircraft Certification Service would make it difficult to justify potentially costly changes.

The support and cooperation of those within the organization would be a crucial part of the development, maintenance, and use of any new model, the report emphasizes.  The FAA should conduct rigorous cost-benefit analyses for new modeling proposals, moving forward with a particular plan only if the agency is prepared to make a long-term commitment to it.  

The study was sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.

Copies of STAFFING STANDARDS FOR AVIATION SAFETY INSPECTORS will be available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at HTTP://WWW.NAP.EDU.  Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG ]

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences

COMMITTEE ON FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
 AVIATION SAFETY INSPECTOR STAFFING STANDARDS

WILLIAM C. HOWELL (CHAIR)
Adjunct Professor
Applied Psychology Program
Arizona State University East
Tempe

PAUL F. HOGAN
Senior Vice President and Economist
Lewin Group Inc.
Falls Church, Va.

K. RONALD LAUGHERY JR.
President
Micro Analysis and Design
Boulder, Colo.

JAMES L. OUTTZ
Consultant
Outtz and Associates
Washington, D.C.

ANN MARIE RYAN
Professor
Department of Psychology
Michigan State University
East Lansing

JUAN I. SANCHEZ
Professor and Knight-Ridder Research Scholar
Department of Management and International Business
Florida International University
Miami

NADINE B. SARTER
Associate Professor
Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering
Center for Ergonomics
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

WILLIAM J. STRICKLAND
Vice President
Human Resources Research Organization
Alexandria, Va.

NANCY T. TIPPINS
President
Selection Practice Group
Valtera Corp.
Greenville, S.C.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

SUSAN B. VAN HEMEL
Study Director