SENATOR INHOFE’S BILL OF RIGHTS COULD REVOLUTIONIZE AVIATION LAW’S ENFORCEMENT PROCESS AS TO GA PILOTS

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ARTICLE:  Pilot’s Bill of Rights passes Senate

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On July 6, 2011 Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK.) introduced the Pilot’s Bill of Rights (S.1335). Inhofe is member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus and a certified flight instructor (CFI) with more than 10,000 flight hours. The bill attracted 65 co-sponsors as well as the support of the AOPA, EAA and Harrison Ford. A majority of the Senate Commerce Committee, the legislative group that initially reviews such proposals, signed on as co-sponsors. Review of the normal legislative tracking services shows that the bill never was subject to a hearing before the relevant committee. On June 29, the Senate passed this bill.

The legislation applies only to general aviation pilots, but the strength of support by 65 Senators, its swift progress through the Senate and the potency of the pilot rights (versus the FAA’s historic powers) suggest that there are widespread legislative concerns about the agency’s enforcement actions. (It should be noted that the senior Senator from Oklahoma was the subject of an FAA enforcement action [he landed a plane on a closed runway.])

On January 24 , 2012 Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chairman of the House General Aviation Caucus, and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights” in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3816. The House bill has 11 co-sponsors (including 9 Republicans), and it should be noted that Mr. Lipinski and the other Democrat co-sponsor, Mr. Boswell, are very influential on aviation issues.

The House may not act on S.1335 and the junior body may not accept the bill’s language, but the below summary of its provisions demonstrates the degree to which the pilots would be advantaged by final enactment; if passed, the bill will

  • Require that the FAA read the pilot his “Miranda” rights, including his/her right to remain silent and as with the criminal analogy, the accused’s silence CANNOT be inferred as an admission and that failure to respond is not, in and of itself, a basis for FAA adverse action;
  • Give the pilot the option of taking an appeal from a final action by the NTSB on an FAA order suspending/revoking a pilot certificate or imposing a punitive civil action to a US District Court. The option to seek redress at a US Court of Appeals will remain. Ostensibly, this means that by granting jurisdiction to a federal district court, the pilot can compel the FAA to prove its claims under the much stricter Federal Rules of Evidence.
  • Remove the statutory deference which the NTSB must give to the “all validly adopted {FAA} interpretations of laws and regulations”. To quote the Inhofe statement which accompanied the bill’s introduction, “Too often the NTSB rubber stamps a decision of the FAA, giving wide latitude to the FAA and making the appeals process meaningless.” and
  • Require that in an FAA enforcement action against a pilot, the FAA must grant the pilot all relevant evidence 30 days prior to a decision to proceed with an enforcement action.

Not directly related to the enforcement program, Senator Inhofe’s Bill would also reform the Notice to Airmen program by creating an advisory group to simplify the information presentation and archive the old data.

Another reform, which may be motivated by revising the enforcement program, would make the briefings that are dispensed by the privatized Flight Service Stations subject to the Freedom of Information Act. These facilities are managed under contract by Lockheed Martin and requests for these records have been denied as the information is not in the possession of the FAA.

A final substantive change proposed in S. 1335 would be to establish a private sector panel to address specific problems in the FAA’s Medical Certification process and forms.

If S.1335 becomes law, Senator Inhofe’s Pilot’s Bill of Rights will revolutionize the FAA enforcement program pertaining to pilots.

We have heard similar concerns about the FAA enforcement process as it applies to air carriers, repair stations, ATP pilots and AMT’s. There are ways of trying to proactively address the FAA’s enforcement approach (jdasolutions.aero), but the Inhofe change of the statute will change how the game is played only for GA pilots.

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