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FAA Enforcement Case Update

This month I thought I would provide you with another update regarding some of the recent NTSB cases involving FAA enforcement actions. They are instructive because they not only show you the FAA's and NTSB's positions regarding some of these issues, but they also provide some examples of problem areas a prudent airman should avoid.

NTSB Dismisses FAA Appeal For Untimely Filing Of Appeal Brief

In a recent NTSB case in which an administrative law judge awarded attorney's fees and costs to an airman under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), the Board dismissed the FAA's appeal of the EAJA award for failure to timely file an appeal brief. In Application of Hayes, the FAA timely filed its notice of appeal. However, the FAA did not then file an appeal brief by the deadline required by 14 C.F.R. 821.48(a). Although the FAA's appeal brief was dated the last day allowed by the rule and the certificate of service stated the brief was served by overnight mail on that date, the Federal Express tracking data indicated a pickup date of three days after the deadline for filing the brief.

Based upon the untimely filing, the airman subsequently filed a motion with the Board to have the FAA's appeal dismissed. The FAA did not respond to the motion within the time allowed, but did later file a notice of withdrawal. The Board ruled that the FAA's failure to show good cause for its untimely appeal brief, or to request, before the appeal brief was due, leave to file the appeal brief out of time, required dismissal of its appeal. As a result, the Board deemed the FAA's withdrawal of its appeal as moot.

Nice to know that, at least with respect to timing requirements for filing of appeals, the Board will treat the FAA the same as airmen.

ATP Receives 90-Day Suspension For Failure To Find Suitable Landing Site For Hot Air Balloon

In Administrator v. Chemello, the airline transport pilot landed a hot air balloon in a high school parking lot in the morning shortly before the start of classes. Of course, the balloon attracted a lot of attention from the teachers, students, local law enforcement and, not surprisingly, the FAA. The FAA investigated the incident and subsequently issued an order suspending the airman's ATP certificate for 90 days for alleged violation of FARs 91.119(b) (prohibiting operation of an aircraft over congested area below an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless). The airman appealed the suspension to the NTSB.

After an evidentiary hearing, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") affirmed the suspension. Relying upon his determination of the witnesses' credibility, the ALJ held that the school parking lot was a "congested area" at the time of the landing and that no emergency was present that would have prevented the airman from landing the balloon in a different, suitable location. The airman appealed the ALJ's decision to the full Board arguing that the ALJ's credibility determinations were contrary to the evidence.

The Board initially observed that an airman's "selection of a suitable landing site for a balloon is dependent upon the balloon's proximity to power lines, buildings, and trees, and the availability of alternative landing sites." It also noted that, in addition to generally deferring to an ALJ's credibility determinations, the Board will specifically defer to an ALJ's "credibility determinations with regard to whether a respondent believes that he or she must land a balloon in a certain area due to wind conditions." The Board concluded that the airman had not presented any evidence to compel it to disregard the ALJ's credibility determinations. As a result, the Board affirmed the ALJ's decision.

Tough to get a decision reversed when it is based upon the ALJ's credibility determinations. Unfortunately, this is typically the situation when a case involves a factual dispute, as opposed to a case involving a determination of whether undisputed facts support a violation. The key is to convince the ALJ at the hearing. But that, too, is easier said than done.

NTSB Affords Airman With Second Hearing After 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' Rebuke

After getting its proverbial wrist slapped by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the NTSB has afforded an airman a second hearing. In Administrator v. Klaber, the FAA charged the airman with violations of FARs 135.293(a)2 and (b) (requiring written/oral test and competency check within preceding 12 months), 135.299(a) (requiring line check within preceding 12 months), and, of course, the ever present residual violation of FAR 91.13(a) (the ever present careless and reckless). The FAA ordered a 90 day suspension of the airman's airline transport certificate as a sanction for the alleged violations. The airman appealed the order to the NTSB and, after a hearing, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") affirmed the FAA's order, but reduced the suspension from 90 to 85 days. The airman then appealed to the full NTSB.

On appeal to the full board, the airman argued that the ALJ made a mistake when he prevented the airman from cross-examining an inspector, the FAA's primary witness, regarding a number of issues including the definition "for compensation or hire", the inspector's understanding of flight maintenance logs, the inspector's internal deliberations concerning his investigation into the airman's conduct, and the inspector's experience. The Board rejected the airman's appeal, finding that the ALJ had not abused his discretion nor did any alleged errors result in prejudice to the airman.

The Board specifically found that neither the inspector's understanding of "compensation or hire," nor his general perception of flight maintenance logs, were directly relevant to the evidence that he reviewed concerning the airman's alleged violations. It also concluded that the inspector's opinions during the course of his investigation or his discussions with other investigators were not relevant to the issue of whether the airman violated the regulations as charged by the FAA. As a result, the Board affirmed the ALJ's decision.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the Board. In its unpublished decision, Ferguson v. FAA, the Court determined that the Board had abused its discretion in upholding the ALJ's decision and that abuse of discretion was prejudicial to the airman. The Court initially observed that "[t]he Rules of Practice in Air Safety Proceedings provide that each party has the right to 'conduct such cross examination as may be required for a full and true disclosure of the facts." However, because the inspector "was the FAA's lone witness as to the revenue-generating nature of the disputed flights," the Court determined that the ALJ erred in not allowing cross-examination of the inspector on the many aspects of his testimony regarding that central issue. The Court stated that the ALJ's "reliance on [the inspector's] testimony, particularly as to the contents of the flight logs, makes clear that the error was prejudicial." The Court vacated the Board's decision and sent the case back to the Board for further action.

Although clearly not happy with the Court's decision, the Board complied with the decision, stating "[d]espite our well-established precedent with regard to our law judges' evidentiary rulings, and the reasoning that forms the basis for our deference to such rulings, we recognize that the Ninth Circuit believes that the law judge should have allowed respondent's counsel to question [the inspector] more fully in this case. As such, we are compelled to remand this case to the law judge so that he may oversee an additional hearing at which respondent's counsel may again cross-examine" the inspector."

It is unfortunate that the airman had to appeal all the way to the 9th Circuit in order to get his full day in court. However, you have to wonder whether the additional information that will be obtained through a full cross examination at the new hearing will change the ALJ's mind or provide a sufficient basis for appeal if he doesn't. We'll just have to see how it plays out.

Conclusion

As airmen, we should always be learning. We can learn from current NTSB cases. The obvious lesson is to not do what these airmen did. These cases also reveal what an airman may be able to expect from both the FAA and the NTSB in these situations. Forewarned is forearmed.

How Decreased Utilization Can "Increase" Costs

A user of our cost database asked about the effect of utilization on total cost per hour. His question was with higher utilization do the fixed and total costs decrease on a per hour basis?

First a quick review. Variable Costs are those costs that as activity increases, the total cost will increase but the cost per unit of time will remain constant. An easy example is fuel cost per hour. The next hour you fly will consume so much fuel. If you don't fly, then there is no fuel consumed and thus, no cost.

Fixed Costs are costs that for a given level of activity or period, remain essentially constant. Hangar rent is an example of a fixed cost. You pay so much per year to rent a hangar regardless of how much you fly.

For our discussion, we assumed that Total Cost per Hour was the Variable Cost per Hour plus the Annual Fixed Cost divided by the Annual Hours flown. The example I used was an aircraft with a variable cost of $1,250 per hour and fixed costs of $400,000 per year.

For 200 hours per year = 200 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $650,000 per year divided by 200 hours = $3,250 per hour average.

For 400 hours per year = 400 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $900,000 per year divided by 400 hours = $2,250 per hour average.

You spread the annual costs over more and more hours so the total average cost per hour decreases as utilization increases.

The reverse is also true. Decreasing utilization by a certain percentage will not drive down total costs by the same percentage. If your aviation budget were reduced by 15%, you'd have to reduce flying by a lot more than 15% to make your savings. From our earlier numbers:

400 hours per year = 400 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $900,000 per year divided by 400 hours = $2,250 per hour average.

To reduce our $900,000 budget by 15% to $765,000 by only reducing flight hours, we'd need to reduce flying to 292 hours - a 27% reduction:

292 hours per year = 292 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $765,000 per year divided by 292 hours = $2,620 per hour average.

Also note that our average cost per hour went up by 16%. So if you were tracking that metric too, things would look bad. Decreased flying and increased average cost per hour.

This can result in the "flight department death spiral" of reduce hours, average cost per hour increases, reduce hours some more because the cost per hour goes up, average cost per hour increases again... until at some point the aircraft is sold for being too expensive.

In some cases this cannot be avoided as the company is in dire straits and simply cannot afford the expense regardless. However, as aviation managers you need to be aware of the perception of your aircraft costs and be prepared to both defend and explain them so as to avoid a knee-jerk "the planes too expensive" reaction to reduced flying.

I hate to ask, but have you been there?

Off-Shore Aircraft Registration

In the maritime world, a ship is said to be "flying a flag of convenience" if it is registered in a foreign country "for purposes of reducing operating costs or avoiding government regulations." The country of registration determines the laws under which the ship is required to operate under and also that which are to be applied in any relevant maritime legal cases that might come about.

In aviation there are a multitude of reasons why you might choose to register your aircraft off-shore under the flag of a foreign country. Some of these include:

Complete Anonymity, i.e. if you suffer from celebrity notoriety; or you are a powerful corporate leader who relies on discreet and untracked movement within the territory of your competitors; or simply for personal reasons requiring anonymity. When your aircraft has been registered off-shore your privacy protection begins. If a journalist, corporate competitor or other interested party seeks the registered owner of your aircraft; their search will end with the contact details of your registered agent or trustee, and not with you.

Sales Tax or other Tax Avoidance, i.e. generally speaking, it is fairly simple for you to avoid a multitude of forms of taxation that are normally associated with the ownership and operation of a private or business aircraft, by registering it off-shore. Neutral Nationality Registration, i.e. this issue has become very prominent since we have moved into the new age of terrorism and unrest. By registering off-shore, you can fly internationally without instant recognition as being from the U.S.A.

Most foreign registries require that the registrant be a citizen of that country. The United States is the same: A U.S. citizen by definition of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 47.2 can be an individual, or partnership where each individual is a U.S. citizen, or a corporation organized under the laws of the United States, state, territory, or possession of the United States of which the president and at least two-thirds of the board of directors are U.S. citizens and 75 percent of the voting interest is owned or controlled by U.S. citizens. A resident alien is considered to be a corporation other than classified as a U.S. citizen, lawfully organized and doing business under the laws of the United States or of any state thereof, if the aircraft is based and used primarily in the United States; or a government entity (federal, state, or local). How then do these off-shore registries allow a foreigner to register with them? This is allowed by the employment of a native 'Trustee' or 'Agent' who acts on-behalf for the foreign ownership entity, under the auspices of a formal 'Trust Agreement.' In all cases there are annual fees that are payable to the agent. The U.S.A. aircraft registration branch is the only authority that I know of, that does not charge any annual registration fees.

Internationally, the most popular off-shore countries of registration are Bermuda, the United States of America, and now the relatively new player: the Isle of Mann. The "M" Registration was first introduced in 2007 by the government of this small island tax-haven which is located in the North Sea between England and Northern Ireland; it is probably better known for its T.T. motorcycle racing history rather than for its aviation industry.

Even though the aircraft eligible for entry onto the "M" or "Manx" registration must all be Type Certificated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Isle of Mann has chosen to more closely mimic the Federal Aviation Regulations of the United States rather than the bureaucratic tangles and inconsistencies that are normally found within the rules established by the European Aviation Authorities. Interestingly though, no non-resident islander can register any aircraft that is non-turbine powered and below 12,500 lbs MGTOW, or in the case of Helicopters, a non-twin-turbine powered machine.

Since a convenient loophole in the Value Added Tax (VAT) Regulations was recently exorcised by the European Union from the Danish Ministry of Taxations' rolls, whereby a 'flat-tax' was charged for an aircraft run through their tax-registration system, instead of the normal 25% or so, being charged like everyone else. The Isle of Man registry has quickly taken the lead largely because of its zero tax ratings for both corporations and inheritances, and depending on an aircraft owner's tax domicile, the Manx government provides a pathway for owners to either significantly reduce or even eliminate the VAT charge on their aircraft purchase.

By the beginning of November, 2009 almost 180 business jets and turbo-props had already been enrolled onto the Manx aircraft register. I am certain that this number shall continue climbing at a high rate. How do you or your company handle the Registration of you aircraft? Please click on the link below which states "Reply to this Article", your thoughts and comments would be very much appreciated. Be funny, be inspired, but most importantly of all, please be nice.

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Three Tips for an Effective Aircraft Evaluation

Buying on impulse often leaves you disappointed. What looked or sounded great in the moment can turn out not to be what you thought you were getting. This applies to love and fast machines. With aircraft, it then applies double!

The first tip when looking at what aircraft to acquire is to be objective. Objective means choosing criteria that can be measured. In this way you avoid the subjective trap: what was great last night can be less than desirable come morning. With objective criteria, you can compare more than two aircraft and rank order them. Be as specific as possible. Non-stop to West Palm Beach is good. Non-stop to West Palm Beach with four passengers is better. Non-stop to West Palm Beach with four passengers, IFR fuel reserves against a 25 knot headwind is best. If what you are measuring isn't in units of some kind, it's doubtful that it is objective. The joy of an aircraft used for transportation is in proportion to its utility.

Objective criteria should also be specific to the mission assigned to the aircraft. That way you can avoid over-buying - getting far too much aircraft than you really need. If you are clear about what you need, it is easier to set up your criteria. "Go anywhere, anytime" might set you up for a supersonic tilt-rotor amphibian, but can you afford that?

The second tip is to separate your criteria into desired and required criteria. Required criteria are criteria that the aircraft must meet in order to do the mission (job) assigned to it. If the aircraft does not meet the required criteria, it should not be considered any further.

Desired criteria are those that enhance or expand the capability of the aircraft to perform its mission. Generally speaking desired criteria go beyond the minimum needed for the mission, or perhaps they make accomplishing the mission easier, or faster. Once you have your aircraft that meet the required criteria, you can use the desired criteria to differentiate between them. This is helpful in rank ordering the aircraft. Here is a basic example:

Mission Criteria
Required
Desired

Range with 4 passengers (NBAA IFR Reserves 200 NM)

1,800 NM
2,100 NM

Range with 6 passengers (NBAA IFR Reserves 200 NM)

1,500 NM
2,100 NM
Passenger Seats
6
8
Hot food galley?
Microwave
Convection Oven

If you understand your mission, then you can your criteria to reflect what you need to do, and also choose desirable criteria that are meaningful. In the above example, the aircraft buyer was OK stopping for fuel on the 2,100 NM trip, but not for 1,800 NM trip with 4 passengers, of which there were quite a few.

The third tip is to prioritize before you analyze. If you group your criteria into sub groups, then you can not only rank order within those sub groups, but also prioritize which sub groups are more important. Again, this is best shown in the below example. Do you value more range over a bigger cabin?

Mission Score:
Range 60%
Cabin 15%
Payload 15%
Speed 10%

In this case, once an aircraft meets the required cabin size, an aircraft with a larger cabin has value, but not a lot. But, once an aircraft meets the required range, additional range will be greatly valued. This can be done once again after looking at the costs and supportability:

Total Score:
Mission 50%
Life Cycle Cost 35%
Product Support 15%

Here, an aircraft that costs a little more but offers more capability may be the best ranked aircraft in the group.

A big caveat: set this up before evaluating your aircraft. If you really, really want that supersonic tilt-rotor amphibian, you may ignore the fact that you really don't need to land on the water! OK, a bit of a stretch there but the warning is to set the rules first and then perform the evaluation second. What is important to have in your aircraft?

All of this can help you identify the "Best Value Aircraft." We do a lot of our work on the cost side, but we always stress that a large gain in performance at a small increase in cost may be well worth the added expense. At the end of the analysis, it is the responsibility of the decision maker (the one who writes the check) to arrive at that best value. An objective analysis should be done first.


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I've Had an Aircraft Accident: What Do I Do?

Most pilots will go through their entire flying lives without ever having an accident or incident involving an aircraft. That is a wonderful testament to the quality of pilots flying in America today as well as the quality of the aircraft which they operate. Most pilots work very hard at maintaining the skills necessary to avoid aircraft accidents. That includes proper initial and recurrent training, adequate and effective aircraft maintenance programs and, depending on the type of aircraft and type of operations, participation in a Safety Management Systems or a full ISBAO program as commitment to safety of flight.

However, we are all vulnerable to the whims of fate or development of a fault tree that leads to something which we try our best to avoid: an accident. The cause might be a sudden downdraft or cross-wind burst just prior to landing, an unexpected runway incursion, a slight depression in the taxiway or a catastrophic systems failure. There are possibilities lurking out there that, try our best, we may not be able to foresee or overcome.

Hopefully, you will never have to experience an event of this type; certainly not one of a catastrophic nature. The old saw of "bent metal is always better than broken bones" never rang more true. Accidents involving injury (or worse) can become extremely complex and are best dealt with by medical, legal, FAA/NTSB and or insurance professionals. It is not the intent of this article to deal with those events.

What this article is intended to address is the incident in which your aircraft is damaged, for some unforeseen or unexpected reason, and you need to interact with your insurance carrier to file a claim, get your aircraft repaired and start flying again.

Aircraft Insurance, like other types of property /casualty insurance, is based on the principle of indemnity: In exchange for the premium paid, the insurance carrier will make you whole in the event of a loss (subject to deductibles, exclusions, terms and conditions). This does not mean that your insurance carrier will pay to replace your steam gauges with the latest glass panel or "zero-time" your engine. The spirit of the insurance contract is to put you in the same condition you were in prior to the accident. The wording of you aircraft insurance policy may seem complex but, given a little effort on the part of the policy holder (a couple of hours to read the policy) and a broker or underwriter willing to answer questions, it is relatively easy to understand. Like your auto insurance policy, your aircraft insurance functions in a pretty straight forward manner.

So, what are the basic and appropriate steps you need to take in the event of an accident involving your aircraft?

If you have an accident, you need to:

1) Report the accident

As soon as possible, report the event to your broker or insurance carrier and, if the event is significant to warrant it, the FAA or NTSB. Some insurance carriers will provide you with direct reporting channels (via phone or e-mail) but, if you have an insurance broker you should contact them first if at all possible as they are your advocate in all insurance matters.

In preparation for this initial report make sure you have the important facts. Use "Who, What, Where, When and How" as a guide. You will need to provide date, time location, description of events leading to the accident, who was PIC, SIC and any passengers onboard, description of the damage to your aircraft as well as damage to any other aircraft and to any persons or property not in your aircraft (including on the ground or other in-motion or in-flight aircraft). You may have to provide additional information subsequent to the initial report but your broker and/or insurance carrier will advise you of what you should provide and to whom.

2) Capture the event and damage

If possible, take photos of the scene of the event. Carrying a disposable camera in your emergency bag on the aircraft is a good idea (remember to check periodically and replace if needed). Memorializing the physical location, the amount and scope of damage, weather conditions and other important factors on film or digital media can be a valuable resource.

Prepare a written statement. While it may be difficult to slow your mind down after an accident, it can be beneficial to prepare a personal account of what happened and how it occurred from your perspective. The most difficult part of this written statement is to remember to use only the facts as you know them. Do not speculate, guess, assume, pre-suppose or interpret. Just record the event as it unfolded to you and try to include as many facts as possible (time, weather conditions, airspeed, attitude, altitude, heading, aircraft performance, traffic, etc.). You may choose to, or be required to, share this statement with others so just stick to the facts.

3) Protect your aircraft from further damage

Depending on the location and severity of the event, you may need to wait for the FAA/NTSB, state or local or other authorities or your insurance carrier to authorize movement of you aircraft to a secure area. However, if the damage is minor, it maybe your responsibility to see that the aircraft is moved to a location where weather or other conditions will not cause or contribute to additional damage. If this is the case, make sure that the location (preferably a controlled environment) is secure but accessible to both you and your insurance claims person. In most cases, a local FBO or repair shop can provide a good, secure location until such time as you and your insurer are ready to have the repairs made.

4) Cooperate with your Insurance Carrier

Unlike the reputation of some other aspects of the insurance world, aircraft insurers, for the most part, want to work with you to ensure that your aircraft is repaired and returned to you in an efficient and timely manner. If the aircraft is deemed to be a total loss, the insurer wants to pay you, close the claim and deal with the salvage.
Like you, your insurance carrier understands that the claim will not improve with age so they want to treat you fairly, in accordance with the terms and conditions of your insurance policy, and get the repairs made or payment made as expeditiously as possible. Providing the claims adjuster with the information he or she needs to get the repairs completed and the claim settled will only get you back in the air sooner.

5) Use a repair shop that you trust

While the accident may not have occurred at your home base, you still have the ability to decide where, within reason, you want to have the repairs made.
Depending on the amount of damage, you may be able to work with your insurance carrier to ferry the aircraft to your preferred repair facility, be it the manufacturer or your home FBO. If the repairs are minor enough to have fixed locally and you choose to do so, ask around about the quality of work performed by the facility that you are considering. If there is more than one shop on the field, find the one with the best reputation and check their prices with the insurance carrier. Even if the carrier balks at the repair cost, you might find it worthwhile to contribute toward the repair if you know it will be top notch. After all, you want your ship back in the best shape you can get it.

6) Consider this a learning experience.

Once you have had an accident, affected the repairs and are ready to fly again, ask yourself, "What can I learn from this experience?"

The answer may be that you can learn many things including that you need more frequent recurrent training, better quality training or training of a different sort. It could also be that you need to pay more attention to the upkeep and maintenance of your aircraft including the quality of the work performed by your preferred shop. A good mechanic takes pride in his work
and should not be unhappy to show you what has been done and explain why. It may be his or her name that goes in the maintenance log book and they may have responsibility for the service or repair work performed but you are flying in the aircraft and, potentially, staking your life on their work so check it out.

No one wants you to have an aircraft accident or incident. If you do, however, remember that you buy insurance coverage for just such an event. Your insurance policy does have limitations and may not cover certain things after a loss (like certain types of damage excluded by the policy, diminution of value and damage within the deductible amount) and your insurer may require you to do certain things after a loss but you should view your insurance carrier as a partner in this process.

If you stay informed as to what coverage your aircraft insurance policy provides, use your insurance broker as your advocate and intermediary (part of the service for which you pay them) and stay actively involved in the process, you can help make an unfortunate situation as least painful as possible.


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