It isn’t uncommon in aircraft purchase agreements to see language stating the parties are agreeing that the aircraft is being purchased “as-is” or “as-is, where-is.” Oftentimes the agreement will go on to also say that the seller is not making, nor is the buyer relying upon, any representations or warranties regarding the condition of the aircraft. And it may also specifically state that the buyer is only relying upon its own investigation and evaluation of the aircraft. But what does this really mean?
Well, from the seller’s perspective, the seller wants to sell the aircraft without having to worry that the buyer will claim at a later time that the aircraft has a problem for which the seller is responsible. So, the seller does not want to represent that the aircraft is in any particular condition (e.g. airworthy). When the deal closes, the aircraft is sold to the seller in its existing condition without any promises by the seller about that condition.
Here is an example of how this works: If the first annual inspection of the aircraft after the sale reveals that the aircraft is not in compliance with an airworthiness directive (“AD”) that was applicable to the aircraft at the time of the sale, the buyer could claim that the aircraft was not airworthy at the time of the sale and demand that the seller pay the cost of complying with the AD. But if the purchase agreement has “as is” language, then the chances of the buyer being able to actually force the seller to pay are low.
Not only does this “as-is” language protect the seller, but it also protects other parties involved in the sale transaction such as seller’s aircraft broker. A recent case provides a nice explanation of the legal basis for this result.
Red River Aircraft Leasing, LLC v. Jetbrokers, Inc. involved the sale of a Socata TBM 700 where the aircraft owner/seller was represented by an aircraft broker. The buyer and seller entered into an aircraft purchase agreement that included not only “as-is, where-is” language, but it also provided that the buyer was accepting the aircraft solely based upon buyer’s own investigation of the aircraft.
During the buyer’s pre-purchase inspection of the aircraft, the buyer discovered certain damage to the aircraft. However, the buyer accepted delivery of the aircraft in spite of the damage based upon alleged representations by the broker that the damage was repairable. After closing the buyer learned that certain parts were not repairable. Rather than sue the aircraft seller, presumably because the buyer recognized the legal impact of the “as-is” language in the purchase agreement with the seller, the buyer instead sued the aircraft broker alleging that the broker negligently misrepresented the aircraft.
In order to succeed on a claim of negligent misrepresentation under Texas law (the law applicable to the transaction), the buyer was required to show (1) a representation made by the broker; (2) the representation conveyed false information to buyer; (3) the broker did not exercise reasonable care or competence in obtaining or communicating the information; and (4) the buyer suffers pecuniary loss by justifiably relying on the representation.
In response to the buyer’s claim, the broker argued that the “as-is” language in the purchase agreement waived the buyer’s right to be able to prove that it justifiably relied upon any alleged representations by the broker. The buyer primarily argued that the purchase agreement language did not apply because the broker was not a party to the agreement. But the Court disagreed with the buyer.
The Court found that
the purchase agreement contains clear language evincing Red River's intent to be bound by a pledge to rely solely on its own investigation. And, because it appears that the parties transacted at arm's length and were of relatively equal bargaining power and sophistication, the court concludes that the language in the purchase agreement conclusively negates the reliance element of Red River's negligent misrepresentation claim.
So, even though the broker was not a party to the purchase agreement, the Court still held that the buyer was bound by the statements/obligations to which the buyer agreed in the purchase agreement, even with respect to third-parties. As a result, the Court granted the broker’s summary judgment motion and dismissed the buyer’s claims against it.
“As-is” language will continue to be common in aircraft purchase agreements. Aircraft sellers and those working with them will certainly want to include and enjoy the benefit from this language. Conversely, aircraft buyers need to be aware of the scope and impact of “as-is” disclaimer language in an aircraft purchase agreement. If a buyer is unhappy with the condition of the purchased aircraft, the presence of this language in the purchase agreement will significantly limit the buyer’s remedies and recourse.
I am frequently asked by pilots whether an employer's disclosure of certain documents is properly within the scope of a request for documents under the Pilot Records Improvement Act ("PRIA"). Answering the question usually requires analyzing whether the document being disclosed relates to the individual's "performance as a pilot." However, based upon a recent Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel, it appears that the scope of a PRIA request casts a bigger net.
The Interpretation initially noted that "the separate provisions of the PRIA work in tandem to provide a complete record of potential pilot employment issues and to capture instances relating to an individual's performance as a pilot that do not fall into one of the provided statutory categories." It then went on to discuss how these provisions overlap.
With respect to whether a document relates to an individual's performance as a pilot, the Interpretation stated "to the extent that a pilot's behavior directly disrupts safe aircraft operations, those records should be included in accordance with the 'catch-all' provision" of § 44703(h)(l)(B)(ii). Next it noted that § 44703(h)(l)(B)(i) requires disclosure of documents an air carrier must maintain under 14 C.F.R. § 121.683 (records of each action taken concerning the release from employment or physical or professional disqualification of any flight crewmember).
The Interpretation then confirmed that the records maintained under § 121.683 are not limited to those records relating to an individual's performance as a pilot. Rather, it stated "[p]ilot infractions not related to pilot performance that would rise to a level grave enough to cause an air carrier to release a pilot from employment would be captured by this recordkeeping requirement, and a hiring air carrier would be required to request and receive those records."
Based upon this Interpretation, it appears the scope of documents an air carrier must produce in response to a PRIA request potentially includes more than just documents directly relating to the individual's performance as a pilot. As a result, if you are a pilot applying for a position with an air carrier and you are concerned about what your previous or current employer may or may not disclose, I recommend that you request a copy of your employment file BEFORE you apply to the air carrier. That way you will know what is in your file and potentially subject to disclosure.
But keep in mind that if you disagree with what is in your file or what the employer may be disclosing, any recourse you may have against your employer is likely governed by applicable employment laws. As the Interpretation states, "PRIA is not a means for the FAA to arbitrate employment disputes."
If you have additional questions regarding PRIA, you should review FAA Advisory Circular 120-68G. And, as always, if you have additional questions, I'm happy to help.
It isn't uncommon for someone to be unhappy with an FAA decision. Fortunately, our laws provide a mechanism for appealing or objecting to certain final orders or decisions issued by the FAA. Specifically, 49 U.S.C. § 46110(a) provides that a person with a substantial interest in the FAA's order/decision "may apply for review of the order by filing a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or in the court of appeals of the United States for the circuit in which the person resides or has its principal place of business." The petition must be filed not later than sixty (60) days after the order is issued unless reasonable grounds exist for filing later than the 60th day.
However, in order for an FAA order to be subject to review by a court, the order must be "final." What does it mean to be "final"? Well, the courts have held that two requirements must be met: (1) the FAA's action must evidence the completion of the agency's decisionmaking process, rather than simply tentative or subject to further consideration; and (2) the FAA's action must determine certain rights or obligations, or result in legal consequences. Courts also consider whether the decision or order is at a stage where judicial review would interfere with or disrupt the FAA's administrative/decisionmaking process.
So, for example, if the FAA issues a letter merely restating a previously adopted interpretation of a regulation, that would not be considered a a "final" decision. However, if the FAA issued a new interpretation or clarified an existing interpretation, in either of those instances it is quite possible that the FAA's action would be considered a "final" decision subject to appeal.
Additionally, if the FAA issues a letter or notice in which it indicates that a party's practices may potentially violate the law, that letter or notice may not necessarily be the completion of the agency's decisionmaking process such that it determines a party's legal rights or obligations. For example, neither a letter of investigation nor a notice of proposed certificate action is considered final agency action because the FAA hasn't yet determined whether it will actually pursue enforcement action and issue a final order subject to appeal.
As a result, if you are concerned about something the FAA says or does, before you run to the courthouse to file a petition asking a Judge to tell the FAA it is wrong, make sure the FAA's action is actually a "final" action subject to judicial review. Otherwise, you could end up wasting time and money only to have the Judge tell you that the Court doesn't have the authority to even consider your arguments.
As many of us know, revocation has been the FAA’s choice of sanction in medical application falsification cases for a very long time. This was especially true prior to enactment of the Pilots Bill of Rights I (the “PBR-1”), when the National Transportation Safety Board (the “Board”) was “bound by” the FAA’s choice of sanction. In all of the case law prior to PBR-1, the Board relied upon this language and deferred to the FAA’s imposition of revocation in falsification cases.
In 2012 the PBR-1 removed the “bound by” language from the regulations. Since that time, the Board has followed the traditional doctrine of judicial deference set forth in Martin v. OSHRC and subsequent cases when determining whether to defer to the FAA’s imposition of revocation in falsification cases. However, the deference the Board must accord to the FAA in sanction review is not unfettered, and it does not eliminate or replace the due process requirement for the Board’s evaluation. In each case the Board must consider aggravating and mitigating factors and compare factually similar cases to determine whether the FAA’s choice of sanction is appropriate.
In practice, administrative law judges have discussed the need to analyze and weigh the facts and circumstances of each case when they apply the principles of judicial deference to determine if the sanction selected by the FAA is appropriate. In each of those cases, the Board on appeal also considered the merits of the FAA’s sanction choice, even though in both instances it was within the recommendations of the FAA’s Sanction Guidance Table. And yet in each case the sanction of revocation was affirmed.
Although the FAA will often state that it "carefully followed the sanction guidelines when it proposed revoking all airman certificates held by the respondent", this is self-serving at best. 14 C.F.R. § 67.403(b)(1) provides for suspending OR revoking airman and medical certificates. However, contrary to Section 67.403(b)(1), FAA Order 2150.3B, Appendix B-4-b(1) (the FAA's Sanction Guidance Table) states that revocation of all of an airman’s certificates is the only available sanction.
And although the FAA may deny it, a review of the Board’s past and present docket, as well as Board precedent, clearly shows the FAA very rarely seeks any sanction other than revocation of all airman certificates in cases where it alleges falsification. So, to say the FAA "carefully followed the sanction guidelines" implies analysis and consideration that the FAA’s own guidance does not permit.
Also, the FAA almost always claims its chosen sanction is appropriate because the alleged falsification shows the airman lacks qualification to hold any airman certificate or airman medical certificate. Yet after one year from the date of the order of revocation the airman will typically be allowed to reapply for airman certificates, and provided the airman is otherwise qualified, the prior revocation will not prohibit the airman from being issued airman certificates.
And in the meantime, the airman can apply for and be issued a new medical certificate provided he or she is able to demonstrate that he or she is qualified to hold a medical certificate under 14 C.F.R. Part 67. The fact that the regulations and the FAA permit application for and issuance of both airman and medical certificates after the FAA concludes that an airman is not qualified to hold those certificates, as a matter of course, belies both the accuracy and the legitimacy of the FAA’s conclusion.
It is hard to understand how revocation of all of an airman’s certificates, rather than suspension, is anything other than a punitive sanction that the FAA automatically assesses without thought or consideration to the factual circumstances of each case. Further, the FAA’s often-heard claim that it "has limited its decision to what is prescribed by the sanction guidelines" is an admission that it has disregarded the clear language of the regulation permitting revocation OR suspension. The FAA's singular selection of sanction to the exclusion of what is otherwise provided in the regulation is, both on its face and in application, arbitrary and capricious, and should not be entitled to deference.
But, in spite of the above, both the Board and the courts continue to defer to the FAA’s imposition of revocation in falsification cases and to rely upon pre-PBR-1 precedent to support those decisions. It isn’t clear to me why the Board and the courts may rely upon those cases as precedent when they were decided based upon the requirement that the Board was “bound by” the FAA’s choice of sanction, and that requirement is no longer present. Unfortunately, in falsification cases where the FAA’s continued "knee-jerk" reaction is to revoke all of an airman’s certificates, the words of The Talking Head’s seem apropos: “same as it ever was.”
When the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the "Act") became law, its provisions immediately and significantly impacted business aircraft owners and operators in a number of ways. One of the key provisions of the Act resolved an issue between the IRS and aircraft management companies. Prior to the Act, the IRS was taking the position that fees paid for aircraft management services were subject to Federal Excise Tax ("FET"). Of course, the business aviation community objected to the IRS's position. As a result of the ongoing dispute (and discussions aimed at obtaining guidance from the IRS and/or changing its position), although the IRS had audited aircraft management companies and assessed FET, it was not attempting to enforce those assessments.
The Act addressed this situation and now provides a specific exemption to FET for aircraft management services. The following amounts paid by an aircraft owner for management services related to maintenance and support of the owner’s aircraft or flights on the owner’s aircraft are exempt from FET:
Payments for support activities related to the aircraft itself (e.g. storage, maintenance, and fueling);
Payments for the aircraft’s operation (e.g. hiring and training of pilots and crew);
Payments for administrative services (e.g. scheduling, flight planning, weather forecasting, obtaining insurance, establishing and complying with safety standards); and
Payments for other services as are necessary to support flights operated by an aircraft owner.
It is important to keep in mind that these payments are exempt from FET only to the extent that they are attributable to flights on an aircraft owner’s own aircraft. Payments for services that apply to other aircraft in addition to the aircraft owner’s aircraft are still subject to Federal excise tax. Also, to the extent that monthly payments are allocated to flights on the aircraft owner’s aircraft and other non-owned aircraft, then FET must be collected on the portion of the payment attributable to flights on the non-owned aircraft.
But, you might be wondering, what about the many aircraft owned by single-purpose entities and leased to operating companies who operate the aircraft in connection with their businesses? How does the Act affect the operating company lessees? Well, with respect to aircraft lessees, the Act considers an aircraft lessee to be an aircraft owner to which the exemption is available provided that the lease is for a term of more than thirty one (31) days and the aircraft is not leased from the aircraft management company or a related party.
So, within the parameters of the Act, we now have clarity on when payments for aircraft management services are, and are not, subject to FET.