An airman recently found out the hard way that failure to read the questions on an FAA medical application was not a defense to a charge of intentional falsification under FAR 67.403(a)1. In Administrator v. Cooper, the FAA alleged that the airman checked "No" in response to question 18(v) on the medical application which asks about convictions and/or administrative actions relating to the applicant's driver's license. However, the airman's driver's license had, in fact, been suspended in connection with an alcohol related motor vehicle action.
As a result, the FAA issued an emergency order revoking the airman's airline transport pilot (ATP), certified flight instructor (CFI), and second-class medical certificates based upon alleged violations of FARs 67.403(a)(1) (prohibiting an airman from making fraudulent or intentionally false statements on an application for a medical certificate), 67.403(c)(1) (providing that the making of an incorrect statement in support of an application for a medical certificate may serve as a basis for suspending or revoking a medical certificate) and 61.15(e) (requiring an airman to provide a written report of each motor vehicle action to the FAA, Civil Aviation Security Division within 60 days).
The airman appealed and presented a number of arguments at the hearing. Although the airman admitted that he failed to answer question 18v correctly, he argued that he did not intentionally falsify the application because he had simply failed to read the question or the instructions that accompanied the medical application before answering. Rather than reading the questions, the airman stated that he had just copied his answers from a previous application. However, he also admitted that, if he had read question 18(v), he would have answered "Yes."
The administrative law judge ("ALJ") determined that the airman's incorrect answer was "inadvertent," and that the FAA had not shown that the airman had an intent to falsify the application. As a result, the ALJ dismissed the FAR 67.403(a)1 charge. However, because the airman did answer question 18(v) incorrectly, the ALJ concluded that revocation of the airman's medical certificate was appropriate for violation of FAR 67.403(c)1. The FAA appealed the ALJ's decision to the full NTSB, arguing that the ALJ erred in finding that the airman had not intentionally falsified the application simply because he did not read it.
The Board initially observed that an airman must read the questions on a medical application carefully before answering them. It went on to state that an airman who does not read the questions on a medical certificate application "should be determined to have intended that whatever answer he gave be utilized in the review of his qualifications." Finally, the Board concluded that "failure to read a question before answering it renders the entire medical certificate application process pointless, and does not provide a defense to a charge of [FAR] 67.403(a)(1)." As a result, the Board granted the FAA's appeal and affirmed its revocation of all of the airman's certificates.
This case is different from other recent cases that have held that an airman's confusion about a question may present a defense to an intentional falsification charge. Here the airman admitted to not reading the question, rather than not understanding the question. As a result, the defense of "failing to read the question" is no longer a legitimate defense. However, the defense of "confusion" or "misunderstanding" of a question remains a viable defense which an ALJ may or may not find credible, although it is still not a particularly strong defense.