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.”