While there is no strict statute of limitations or time within which the F.A.A. must bring an enforcement action for suspension or revocation of a certificate, there is a procedural rule that may help. It is called the “stale complaint” rule. This rule requires the F.A.A. to send out a notice of proposed action within six months of the alleged occurrence. Thus, if a pilot was thought to have violated an F.A.R. on January 1, 2008, the F.A.A. must advise of its intent to suspend or revoke on or before July 1, 2008.

However, like most rules, there are exceptions. The stale complaint rule will not be enforced if the F.A.A. alleges a certificate holder’s “lack of qualification” or a “public interest” exception or that the delay was for “good cause.” Again, the Administrative Law Judge and N.T.S.B. are quite deferential to the F.A.A. Therefore, if the F.A.A. asserts an exception in response to a motion to dismiss, the burden may effectively be on the certificate holder to disprove the F.A.A.’s position.

Nevertheless, the stale complaint rule has been enforced in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, therefore, is a very useful defense position. So, as indicated, staleness can be good.
by Richard T. Miller, Specialist in Aviation Law – (818) 994-8234