In our last column we discussed how the ability to describe the specifics of a problem expedites potential solutions. Once we have identified and written an effective problem statement, many defined techniques can guide us to the remaining steps in the problem-solving process. MindTools’ article “What is Problem Solving” offers a review of the skills needed as well as links to details that should assist in solving even the most complex problems. Another article, “What Is Problem Solving? Steps, Techniques, & Best Practices Explained” by Simplilearn, explores the process in general and highlights five associated steps: Precisely Identify Problems, Collect Information and Plan, Brainstorm Solutions, Decide and Implement, and Evaluate.
Let’s use a current and critical issue for the aviation industry that is entangled in ongoing debate as an example for precisely identifying a problem. On June 20, 2022, an application for a commuter air carrier authorization was entered into a nonrulemaking Docket by the Department of Transportation (DOT) (refer to DOT-OST-2022-0071 on Regulations.gov). The application began as a nominal request by a company to the DOT and, as of this writing, had not received a decision after fifteen months. The request while not beginning as a problem has turned into a public debate. Interested parties have identified perceived problems that range from safety issues in public charters, unfair competitive advantages, “loopholes” in the current regulatory framework, and air transportation access for underserved communities. Many recent news articles frame the issue from a different perspective.
My intent here is to highlight the fact that reaching a conclusion on the actual problem we are attempting to resolve sometimes looms over everything else in problem solving.
In this example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued proposed revisions to “Regulatory Definitions of “On-Demand Operation,” “Supplemental Operation,” and “Scheduled Operation.” The FAA is seeking comments, data, and other information “regarding current and planned public charter flights operated under on-demand rules that appear indistinguishable from flights conducted by air carriers as supplemental or domestic operations.” The stated purpose of this action is to “evaluate the need for and, if necessary, scope of any rulemaking.”
Is there really a problem with the current regulatory definitions of these terms? They have been in place for a long period of time and each of them are directly referenced to regulations outlined in Title 14, Chapter II, Subchapter D, part 380, Public Charters. As stated in the FAA’s outline, “Were FAA to amend its regulatory framework, some operators conducting public charter operations would need to transition from operating under part 135 to part 121. This transition may require affected operators to adjust their service models.” Will this “solution” become tomorrow’s problem? Will the FAA be able to address the resulting number of applicants requesting part 121 certificates in a timely and orderly manner if these changes are made?
As I write these words, I am reminded how difficult it is to focus on interests rather than positions. News articles, public comments on the commuter air carrier application, and comments on FAA’s proposed revisions to the regulatory definitions are examples of positions that each interested party would like to present as a solution as we frame the debate. So, let me refocus on problem solving. Once we have a problem precisely identified, we then should move on to “identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.”
In subsequent columns, we will take an in-depth look at each of these remaining problem-solving actions. For now, please keep your feedback coming our way so we maintain focus in areas that will accomplish the most for our industry. If you wish to address either of the dockets mentioned above, please follow the links and upload your comments. We will also be hosting two additional Business Aviation Roundtables this year to take advantage of face-to-face communications and discussion. Thank you for your time and attention and helping to make “Regulatory Matters” a success.