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?