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),
On February 11, 2011, the FAA published a Policy Statement in which it informs airman that the FAA is suspending its policy of expunging certain records of legal enforcement actions against individuals. Up until recently, the FAA would expunge an airman's personal information from the FAA's enforcement database 5 years after the FAA's action in civil penalty and certain certificate action cases (suspension cases, but not revocation cases). However, the FAA is now suspending that policy in order to ensure compliance with recent amendments to 49 U.S.C. 44703(h),the Pilot Records Improvement Act ("PRIA").
On August 1, 2010, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (the "Act") amended PRIA to now require the FAA to create a pilot records database that, among other things, will include summaries of enforcement actions in which individuals were determined to have violated federal aviation regulations. Under the Act and PRIA, Part 121 and Part 135 air carriers will be required to use this database to perform background checks on pilots before hiring them. Rather than expunging individual information after 5 years as before, under the Act the FAA must now keep these records until it receives notice that the individual is deceased.
It is unclear exactly what impact this change in policy will have. Although PRIA requires the FAA to provide this information to air carriers making hiring decisions, as a practical matter, many, if not most, air carriers' employment applications also ask some variant of the question "have you ever been subject to an enforcement action in which you were found to have violated the Federal Aviation Regulations?" Of course, this amendment may, perhaps, deter airmen from providing a false answer, or, more likely, it will reveal an airman who has, in fact, provided a false answer to that question.
With respect to airmen who are not seeking employment with an air carrier, this amendment will likely have limited effect. It is possible that this could affect an airman involved in an aircraft property or casualty lawsuit in which the enforcement information that previously would have been expunged will now be available for use in the litigation. However, given that properly drafted discovery requests in such a case (e.g. "have you ever....") will ask for that same information, the impact of the Act may have the same effect as it might on air carrier applicants.
In any event, it appears that the amendment is another example of legislation resulting in, perhaps, unintended consequences. Fortunately, the FAA will continue to expunge records of administrative actions and cases with no enforcement action, since the FAA is not required to maintain that information under PRIA. However, for an airman who has had his or her airman certificate suspended or revoked, the phrase "till death do us part" now has a new, and unfortunate, meaning
For more information about expunction under PRIA, you can read the FAA's Pilots Records Expunction Policy Frequently Asked Questions or, for a general discussion of PRIA, you can read my article What Will The FAA Say About You?
According to an Article in the Tulsa World, the United States Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, landed his Cessna 340 on a closed runway at the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport in Texas. At the time, the closed runway was marked with large X's to protect a crew that was working on the runway and a corresponding NOTAM regarding the runway closure had been issued.
The Senator stated that he only saw the X's about 20 seconds before he landed, which, according to him, was too late to change course. However, he was able to land on a part of the runway that was away from the location where the work was being performed. When asked about the NOTAM, the Senator stated "I did not know it because it was not given to me." Later, when the Senator wanted to leave, he used the airport's taxiway to take off.
What is interesting about this incident is that, after apparently notifying the FAA soon after landing and then talking with the FAA several days later, the Senator "expressed assurance that the agency will not take any action against him." I find that hard to believe.
Any other airman would be looking at an enforcement action alleging, at a minimum, violations of FARs 91.103 (requiring a pilot to become familiar with all available information concerning a flight), 91.139(c) (requiring compliance with a NOTAM) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless) and seeking suspension of the airman's pilot certificate for a period of at least 30-90 days based upon FAA Order 2150.3B Appendix B (the FAA's Sanction Guidance Table).
[more]Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to encourage an enforcement action against the Senator. After all, he has always been a stalwart supporter of general aviation. Also, as we all know, stories reported in the media never include all of the facts. Perhaps the Senator has some viable defenses. However, it seems to me that the Senator should be subject to the same regulatory enforcement as every other airman. No more, no less.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens. If the FAA does pursue an enforcement action, I hope the Senator filed his NASA/ASRP Form, and hires a good aviation attorney to defend him!