Senator Inhofe Introduces a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights”

The FAA civil penalty and certificate action scheme can be both complicated and bizarre to the uninitiated.  What do you think might happen if a member of Congress had to negotiate the FAA or NTSB rules of practice?

Well, recently Senator Inhofe was accused by the FAA of pilot error when he allegedly landed his aircraft on a closed runway last year.  He navigated through the system and retained his pilot’s license.

But his encounter with administrative law has clearly left its mark on him.  Senator Inhofe has introduced new proposed legislation, S. 1335, that would provide a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights.”  Under the proposal, airmen accused of offenses would get some additional rights,

  • pilots would be entitled to relevant air traffic information (many attorneys have complained that exculpatory information is routinely erased);
  • the right to appeal matters to the Federal District Courts (and not just the FAA/NTSB system);
  • on appeal, the court would grant deference to FAA legal interpretations but would not be bound by them (NTSB is bound by FAA interpretations of law, no matter how contradictory they may be);
  • in an emergency case, the reviewing court would have the power to provide independent review of the emergency decision

This Bill of Rights could be useful to pilots and mechanics accused of FAA violations.  It could also be improved a bit.  For example, independent review of emergency decisions is not the problem.  The problem is that the review of emergency actions is only permitted to be based on the allegations of the FAA.  The FAA attorneys are pretty smart – smart enough to know that if they allege fraud then they can justify an emergency hearing – even if the items of proof don’t really support an allegation of fraud.  Thus, a true reform would permit an evidentiary hearing on the emergency charge (like a hearing for a preliminary injunction) and would impose the burden of proof on the FAA.

And in a perfect world, the rights should also be extended to anyone else facing a FAA/NTSB hearing.

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About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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