All posts tagged 'FAA' - Page 13

Experimental Helicopter Purchaser Receives Suspension For Registration And Airworthiness Violations


In a recent opinion issued by the National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB"), the Board affirmed the findings of violations issued by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The case, Administrator v. Haddock arose following the crash of an experimental helicopter operated by an airman shortly after his purchase of the helicopter. After investigating the accident, the FAA issued an order alleging that the airman had not properly registered the helicopter and, at the time of the accident, the helicopter did not comply with its experimental operating limitations because it did not have a current condition inspection. According to the order, the airman's operation of the helicopter violated FARs 91.403(a) (owner or operator responsible for maintaining aircraft in an airworthy condition), 91.13(a) (prohibiting operation of an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner), and 47.3(b) (prohibiting operation of an aircraft unless registered or using temporary registration). The airman appealed the order to the NTSB and requested a hearing before an ALJ.

After a hearing, the ALJ determined that the prior owner of the helicopter had used the wrong language to indicate he had completed the required condition inspection and thus the ALJ found that the helicopter was not airworthy at the time of the accident. However, the ALJ did not make a specific finding as to whether the airman had relied upon the prior owner's verbal statements to him regarding the condition inspection and the airworthiness of the helicopter. The ALJ also found that the airman hadn't produced any documentation to show that the aircraft registration had actually been submitted to the FAA Registry prior to the accident flight. But the ALJ did reduce the sanction from 90 days to 60 days based upon evidence that the airman had apparently made a “substantial attempt” to register the aircraft.

The airman appealed the ALJ's decision and the Board remanded the case back to the ALJ for more detailed findings on certain issues. The ALJ obliged, and issued an order again affirming the findings of violations, but providing further explanation regarding most of the issues with which the Board was concerned. The airman then appealed the ALJ's order on remand back to the Board.

On appeal, the airman argued that the ALJ erred in determining the helicopter was not properly registered at the time of the accident. He also contended that the ALJ improperly concluded he was responsible for operating the helicopter when it was in an unairworthy condition because the prior owner had, in fact, completed a condition inspection before the accident and he had reasonably relied upon the prior owner's verbal statements to that effect.

With respect to the registration issue, the Board first noted that the ALJ had not addressed its question concerning the paperwork required to register an aircraft pursuant to FAR 47.3(b). However, rather than remanding to the ALJ a second time, the Board relied upon the ALJ's credibility finding in favor of the two FAA inspectors who testified at the hearing to support the Board's own conclusion regarding the documentation required under FAR 47.3(b).

Since one of the inspectors opined the helicopter was not registered to the airman until he sent the registration to the FAA, sometime after the accident, the Board considered that opinion to be an interpretation of FAR 47.3(b) to which it must defer. When it combined that interpretation with the inspector's testimony, which the ALJ found more credible and to which the Board also had to defer, the Board agreed that the pink copy of the application for registration needed to be present in the aircraft on the date of the accident in order for the airman to have complied with the requirements of FAR 47.3(b). As a result, based upon the inspector's testimony that the pink slip was not in the cockpit at the time of the accident, the Board concluded that the helicopter had not been properly registered.

With respect to the airworthiness issue, the Board rejected the airman's defense based upon the doctrine of reasonable reliance. Since the prior owner was neither the airman's copilot nor crew member, as required by that defense, the airman, as owner and operator of the helicopter, had a duty to ensure that the helicopter complied with its type certificate and was in a safe condition for operation.

The Board found that the airman could have "reviewed the maintenance log and compared it with the requirements of the experimental operating limitations applicable to the aircraft, which explicitly provide the language necessary to indicate the aircraft underwent a satisfactory condition inspection." If he had done so, the Board reasoned, he would have discovered that the prior owner had not used the language to properly document a condition inspection. The Board concluded that the airman's reliance upon the prior owner's statements that the helicopter was airworthy was not reasonable under the circumstances and did not excuse his violations of FARs 91.403(a) and 91.13(a).

Conclusion

This decision highlights the responsibility pilots have for confirming the airworthiness of their aircraft before they fly. If pilots, or aircraft buyers, are going to trust representations by others, as the airman did in this case, they will also need to take reasonable steps to confirm those representations. Similarly, aircraft owners need to comply with the requirements of the aircraft registration regulations on a timely basis to ensure proper registration of their aircraft while they are flying. Although the requirements are simple and straightforward, they need to be met to avoid the consequences suffered by the airman in this case.

Answers To Aircraft Dry-Lease Questions

In an August 11, 2011 Legal Interpretation, the FAA discussed regulation of aircraft wet and dry leases. Under a dry lease of an aircraft the lessor provides the aircraft and the lessee supplies his or her own flight crew, retains operational control of the flight and may operate under FAR Part 91. Under a wet lease, the lessor provides both the aircraft and the crew and retains operational control of the flight, but the lessor is usually required to hold an operating certificate because the FAA considers it to be providing air transportation.

According to the Interpretation, "[a] key consideration in differentiating a dry lease from a wet lease is whether the aircraft and flight crew are obtained separately, or provided together as a package." For example, if the evidence shows that the parties are "acting in concert" to furnish an aircraft and crew, then the FAA would likely consider the arrangement a wet lease. However, whether an aircraft lease is a dry or wet lease is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Interpretation goes on to state that the regulations do not limit the number of lessees that may lease an aircraft, nor do they establish hourly requirements for aircraft leases. Those issues are "contractual terms negotiated by the owner and the lessee." Additionally, a lessee may hire the same management company that is used by the owner, provided that the other facts and circumstances do not show that the arrangement is "merely a wet lease in disguise."

The interpretation also notes that a lessee may contract with the same flight crew that is contracted for by the aircraft owner. But again, only so long as the other evidence does not suggest that the arrangement is really a wet lease. The Interpretation states "[g]enerally the FAA would consider an arrangement where a person leases an aircraft from its owner, and secures the flight crew from another source to be a dry lease. If the aircraft and flight crew are provided as a package, the lease would be a wet-lease."

Finally, the Interpretation indicates that the FAA "does not have specific requirements regarding collection of payment for the flight crew. However, the method of payment may serve as indicia of whether the parties have entered into a wet- or dry-lease agreement."

If you enter into aircraft lease arrangements, you should become familiar with this Interpretation. However, the Interpretation only provides a general outline of how the FAA will review such arrangements. Since the "devil is in the detail," having an aviation attorney review the particular circumstances for each situation and then draft or review an appropriate written lease agreement can protect aircraft lessors, aircraft lessees, and the pilots who operate the aircraft, from FAA enforcement.

NTSB Rejects Fatigue As A Defense For Violations Of Federal Aviation Regulations


In a recent FAA enforcement action, Administrator v. Kooistra, the FAA alleged the airman committed a number of operational errors in violation of FARs 91.9(a) (requiring compliance with an aircraft's operating limitations), 91.13(a) (careless and reckless), 91.117(a)91.123(b) (requiring compliance with ATC instructions), and 91.703(a)(3) (requiring a person operating an aircraft of U.S. registry outside the United States to comply with FAR Part 91 to the extent that it is not inconsistent with the applicable regulations of the foreign country where the aircraft is operated). The FAA issued an order suspending the airman's airline transport certificate for 60 days and the airman appealed to the NTSB.

At the hearing before the administrative law judge ("ALJ"), the airman did not deny the operational errors, but rather asserted a number of affirmative defenses including that his violations were justifiable based on the fact that he was suffering from fatigue. At the end of the hearing, the ALJ acknowledged the airman's fatigue defense, but stated "[t]he aspect of fatigue...cannot excuse an Airline Transport rated pilot who at all times must exercise the very highest standard of care, judgment and responsibility which the complete record shows that was not exercised by [the airman]." The ALJ affirmed the FAA's order and the airman then appealed to the full Board.

On appeal, the Board rejected the airman's fatigue defense. It acknowledged "the tremendous effects fatigue may have on virtually all major aspects of a pilot's behavior in the cockpit" and observed that "pilot fatigue has consequently been a noteworthy aviation safety issue in the past year." And although the airman relied upon a FAA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements, that describes how fatigue can adversely affect several aspects of a pilot's conduct, the Board observed that the Notice, which is a proposed rule and not yet in effect, "does not state that the FAA's policy is to allow fatigue to serve as an affirmative defense, whereby it excuses regulatory violations." As a result, the Board concluded that the airman had provided "no authority for his proposition that fatigue should serve as an affirmative defense to excuse a pilot of violating operational regulations."

Interesting defense. Unfortunately, the airman didn't have any law to back it up. Certainly fatigue is currently a hot button for the FAA and the industry. But, for now, the onus of regulatory compliance will remain with the airman, regardless of whether he or she is suffering from fatigue. Thus, the airman will need to determine whether he or she is too fatigued to comply with the regulations BEFORE the airman operates an aircraft.
(prohibiting operation of an aircraft below 10,000 feet mean sea level at an indicated airspeed of more than 250 knots),

NTSB Allows Airmen To Waive Exclusion Of ASAP Report From Enforcement Action


In a recent decision by the NTSB, Administrator v. Austin and McCall, the Board determined that an administrative law judge ("ALJ") should have admitted into evidence two Aviation Safety Action Program ("ASAP") reports offered by two airmen in an enforcement hearing. ASAP programs are governed by FAA Advisory Circular 120-66B and typically provide that an airman flying for an air carrier has the option of submitting a voluntary report concerning an incident. Once submitted, the ASAP event review committee (ERC) may review the report, accept the reporting airman into the ASAP, and the FAA then agrees not to initiate a certificate action against the airman based upon the reported incident. AC 120-66B also specifically provides that an ASAP report may not be used for any purpose in an FAA legal enforcement action, unless the report involves criminal activity, substance abuse, controlled substances, or intentional falsification.

In this case, the airmen wanted to have ASAP reports they submitted admitted into evidence at the hearing. However, the ALJ granted the FAA's motion to exclude the ASAP reports based upon AC 12-66B. The ALJ determined that ASAP reports were not subject to review and that such a review would render ineffectual the memoranda of understanding under which ASAP programs operate. (The elements of an ASAP are set forth in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the FAA, certificate holder management, and an appropriate third party, such as an employee's labor organization or their representatives). Interestingly, the ALJ also acknowledged that this issue was one of first impression for the Board and that the Board needed to decide the issue before he would review the ASAP reports.

After a hearing, the ALJ affirmed the FAA's orders of suspension against the airmen. One of the airman then appealed the ALJ's decision to the full Board. Not surprisingly, the airman argued, among other things, that the ALJ improperly excluded the ASAP reports.

The Board initially noted that the protection provided by AC 120-66B prohibits the FAA from using ASAP evidence in an enforcement action. However, it then concluded that AC 120-66B "does not prohibit a pilot from waiving this protection to submit his or her own ASAP report into evidence." As a result, the Board remanded the case back to the ALJ for him to review the ASAP reports and to consider whether the airmen's filing of their respective ASAP reports protected one or both of them from FAA enforcement action.

It will be interesting to see how the ALJ rules on remand since the Board simply ruled that the ASAP reports were admissible and should be considered by the ALJ. Unfortunately, the Board didn't provide any guidance on whether the ASAP reports should have precluded the FAA from pursuing enforcement action against the airmen in the first place. I guess we will have to see what the ALJ decides.

Complying With A Manufacturer's "Current" Maintenance Instructions

 

If you own or operate a large airplane (over 12,500 MTOW and to which FAR Part 125 is not applicable), turbojet multiengine airplanes, turbopropeller-powered multiengine airplanes, or turbine-powered rotorcraft, you know that FAR § 91.409(f) requires you to have an FAA approved maintenance/inspection program in place for your aircraft. One option for complying with this requirement is to use a "current inspection program recommended by the manufacturer." In the past, that option had been interpreted to mean that, when a manufacturer updates its maintenance instructions, the aircraft operator is obliged to comply with the new instructions.

That interpretation was questioned when the FAA's Aircraft Maintenance Division requested a legal interpretation from the FAA's Office of Chief Counsel regarding the meaning and application of FAR § 91.409(f)(3). The specific issue that the Chief Counsel was asked to address was: "Whether, if a manufacturer amends its maintenance/inspection instructions, an affected aircraft operator is obliged to comply with the new instructions in order to be in compliance with § 91.409(f)(3)."

The FAA Chief Counsel issued a December 5, 2008 Legal Interpretation addressing this issue. It concluded that an operator is not required to comply with either "current"/"new" maintenance instructions or a "current"/"new" inspection program.

The FAA's Perspective

The Legal Interpretation initially observed that a similar issue had previously been raised, but not answered, regarding whether FAR § 91.9(a), required an operator to comply with a change to an operating limitation in an airplane flight manual if the change had not been made through the notice and comment procedures of 5 U.S.C. 500 et. seq., the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA").  It then concluded that an operator was not obligated to comply for the same reason that an operator is not required to comply with "current", or subsequently issued, changes to maintenance manuals or inspection programs.

According to the Legal Interpretation, "[i]f 'current' in § 91.409(f)(3) and similarly worded regulations could be read to mean an ongoing obligation, manufacturers unilaterally could impose regulatory burdens on individuals through changes to their inspection programs or maintenance manuals. In essence, they would be making rules that members of the public affected by the change would have to follow." However, the FAA does not have the authority to delegate its ability to make rules. Additionally, allowing a manufacturer to issue rules in the form of maintenance instructions or inspection programs, without public notice and comment, would be contrary to the APA.

As a result, the Legal Interpretation concluded that "to comply with § 91.409(f)(3) an operator need only adopt a manufacturer's inspection program that is 'current' as of the time he adopts it, and that program remains 'current' unless the FAA mandates revisions to it." For example, revisions would be required if the FAA issued an applicable airworthiness directive or amended the operating rules applicable to the operator.

Finally, the Legal Interpretation noted that, although not required, operators could, and typically do, incorporate subsequent changes issued by manufacturers. It also suggested that the FAA should initiate a rulemaking change to clarify the meaning of § 91.409(f)(3), and associated regulations, to remove the ambiguity associated with the term "current".

The Litigation Perspective

This Legal Interpretation clarifies that FAR § 91.409(f)(3) does not require compliance with subsequently issued changes to maintenance manuals or inspection programs, absent an airworthiness directive or other regulatory requirement. Thus, from a regulatory perspective, compliance is not mandatory. Yet, simply because the FARs do not specifically require an operator to comply with subsequently issued changes to maintenance manuals or inspection programs, does this mean an aircraft owner or operator can ignore these changes?

We know now that an FAR Part 91 aircraft operator will not invoke the wrath of the FAA if the operator does not comply with subsequently issued changes to maintenance manuals or inspection programs (unless, of course, an airworthiness directive or other regulatory requirement mandates compliance). However, before "current" changes are ignored or rejected, compliance must also be evaluated from a tort perspective in order to accurately assess the risks of non-compliance.

Under tort law, and specifically the law of negligence, we all have a duty to use reasonable care. The standard of care is established by determining what a reasonable person would do under a set of given circumstances. In recent years, plaintiffs in aircraft crash cases have been using subsequently issued changes to maintenance manuals or inspection programs to establish the standard of care with respect to aircraft ownership, operation and maintenance.

Specifically, in a post-aircraft accident scenario, plaintiffs’ experts will scour the aircraft’s logbooks in an attempt to identify subsequently issued changes with which the aircraft owner, operator, or maintenance provider has not complied. They then try and argue a causal connection between that lack of compliance and the aircraft accident.

At trial, the plaintiffs argue that the manufacturer issues the changes because it believes compliance will make the aircraft or its components safer and that compliance with the "current" change's recommendations, issued by the manufacturer who should know best, establishes the duty owed by the aircraft owner, operator or maintenance provider. They will direct attention to the “mandatory” nature of the issued changes, so designated by the manufacturer. Plaintiffs will also argue that deferred or rejected compliance improperly placed financial savings over safety.

In response, the defense will argue that the aircraft is still safe without compliance with the changes, pointing out that the changes are not issued by the agency responsible for safety and certification of aircraft and aircraft components. After all, unless the FAA has issued an airworthiness directive based upon the manufacturer's changes or otherwise mandated compliance under some other operating rule; the FAA apparently does not deem the manufacturer’s recommendations to be necessary or mandatory to protect the public’s interest in aviation safety. So why should the aircraft owner, operator, or maintenance provider comply when the FAA doesn't think it is necessary or mandatory? And why should the owner or operator spend additional money for parts or maintenance that may or may not actually make the aircraft safer?

All of these arguments are made to, and allowed by, the courts, in spite of the fact that compliance with the subsequently issued changes is not mandated by FAR § 91.409(f)(3). Additionally, juries have heard evidence regarding the absence of compliance and returned verdicts in favor of plaintiffs based upon that evidence. The higher standard of care argued in the tort context has yet to be pre-empted by the regulatory standard of care established by the FARs.

What Should You Do?

So how should an aircraft owner or operator deal with subsequently issued changes to maintenance instructions or an inspection program? First, you will need to be aware of applicable changes to the manufacturer's maintenance instructions or inspection program and to discuss the information with the aircraft owner and/or operator. This means making sure that you are aware of all applicable changes issued by the manufacturer.

Next, you need to specifically identify, in writing, the maintenance instructions or inspection program that have been adopted for your aircraft: Is it current as of the date the aircraft's type certificate was issued or is it current as of some later date? Unfortunately, the Legal Interpretation doesn't provide any guidance in this regard. This is necessary to later prove the version of instructions or program with which you complied.

Conclusion

The Legal Interpretation appears to raise more questions than it answers. And, unfortunately, these questions will only be answered by further legal interpretations or by changes to the regulations. In the meantime, you need to be aware of the regulatory requirements of compliance, to the extent that it is possible given the existing confusion. You will also need to understand the costs and benefits of compliance from a tort perspective. Only then can you make an informed decision as to how the regulations apply and what you should do with "current" maintenance instructions.

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