Recently the NTSB remanded a case back to the administrative law judge ("ALJ") for a hearing on an independent charge of violating FAR 91.13(a) (careless and reckless). In the case, Administrator v. Hollabaugh, the FAA suspended the airman's airline transport pilot certificate for alleged violations of FARs 135.263(a) and 135.267(d) (flight and duty time regulations), as well as FAR 91.13(a) which the FAA alleged was a residual violation based upon the other violations. Based upon the airman's admission of all allegations except the careless and reckless charge, the FAA moved for summary judgment on all counts.
In response to the FAA's motion, the airman argued that the residual FAR 91.13(a) charge was inappropriate since violations of FARs 135.263(a) and 135.267(d) were not operational violations. The FAA then filed an "errata" to its motion which stated that reference to the FAR 91.13(a) violation as a residual charge was an error "because the factual allegations in the [c]omplaint effectively charge [r]espondent with an independent charge of carelessness under FAR 91.13(a). The ALJ accepted the errata and then granted the FAA's motion on all counts.
On appeal to the full Board, the airman again argued that "granting summary judgment on the FAR 91.13(a) charge was inappropriate because FAR 91.13(a) only applies to operational violations" and since neither FAR 135.263(a) nor FAR 135.267(d) is an operational violation, his admissions concerning those violations did not prove that he also violated FAR 91.13(a). Recognizing that the Board had not faced this issue before, it initially reiterated that the FAA needs "to plead explicitly in the complaint whether a charge under FAR 91.13(a) is residual or independent."
However, accepting that the charge against the airman was an independent charge, the Board then determined that the FAA had failed to produce facts supporting an independent violation of FAR 91.13(a) and, as a result, summary judgment was inappropriate. The Board observed that the FAA's "correction" to allege an independent violation did not operate to the prejudice of the airman because the independent charge then required "a higher threshold of evidence than a residual charge." Consequently, since the FAA had not provided proof, the Board remanded the case to the ALJ to hold a hearing solely on the independent FAR 91.13(a) charge.
Nice to see the FAA's untimely attempt to fix its pleading error backfire in favor of the airman. At least now the FAA will have to prove the independent violation of FAR 91.13(a) rather than simply tacking it on, although I don't know that the hearing will result in a different outcome since it will still be in front of Judge Geraghty. However, hopefully the FAA will at least take note of the Board's admonition and draft careless and reckless allegations more accurately in the future.
This was one of the questions addressed in an October 3, 2011 Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA's Office of Chief Counsel. The individual requesting the interpretation posed the questions in the context of a proposed trip to a wedding in which the pilot would receive a pro-rata share operating expense reimbursement from additional passengers pursuant to FAR 61.113(c). The questions presented were:
Whether the pilot may advertise, on Facebook, the specific time and date that he was traveling in order to carry two additional passengers with him in exchange for a pro-rata reimbursement of the operating expenses;
If he receives a response to his Facebook post from two friends that expressed an interest in traveling with him in order to attend a baseball game whether he and his passengers share a "common purpose"?
Whether he may post the same information on a fixed based operator's (FBO) bulletin board instead of on Facebook; and
Whether he could receive the pro-rata expenses through Paypal since Paypal extracts a 3% commission from any fees paid through their service.
The Interpretation initially noted that FAR 6l.113(c) "allows a private pilot to receive a pro-rata reimbursement from his passengers for fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees, so long as the pilot and his passengers share a bona fide common purpose for conducting the flight." It went on to discuss "common carriage," which is not allowed without a FAR Part 119 commercial operating certificate. If an operator is "holding out" to the public or a segment of the public, that "is the 'crucial determination' in deciding if one has engaged in common carriage or not." According to the Interpretation, holding out is accomplished through any "'means which communicates to the public that a transportation service is indiscriminately available' to the members of that segment of the public it is designed to attract." This can be done through signs, advertising or even where an operator has a reputation to serve all.
With respect to advertising the specific time and date of his trip on Facebook to his "friends/family/acquaintances," the Interpretation stated that would be acceptable as a private pilot, since he would not be holding out to "the general public." However, since the pilot didn't provide any additional details about the nature of the Facebook post or how large his Facebook audience was, the FAA cautioned that Facebook advertising could still be construed as holding out. For example, if the pilot advertised to a class such as all Facebook users, that could still be considered holding out if the advertising was expressing a willingness to provide transportation for all within that class.
Regarding the "common purpose," the Interpretation noted that "[t]he existence of a bona fide common purpose is determined on a case-by-case basis." It then concluded that based on the facts presented by the pilot, it appeared to be a bona fide common purpose, since the destination was dictated by the pilot, not the passengers, and he and his passengers both had personal business to conduct at the destination. Thus, the purpose of the flight was not just to transport the pilot's passengers to the destination.
Finally, the Interpretation cautioned that putting the Facebook post on the bulletin board at an FBO could be considered holding out. It also noted that "payment through Paypal would suggest that there is an interest in carrying passengers with whom there is no previous personal relationship and that the offer to accept passengers is being made to the general public," which would suggest that the pilot was "holding out." However, in specific response to the pilot's question, stated that whether or not the passengers reimburse the pilot through an online payment system such as Paypal has no bearing on the legality of the payment so long as the pilot does not pay less than his pro-rata share of expenses.
This Interpretation provides some fact specific insight into determining whether a private pilot may share expenses under FAR 61.113(c). For additional discussion on the topic, please read my article Shared Expenses and the Private Pilot.
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),