Aviation Law Articles

Please do not confess to the F.A.A.

Many times, an airman is asked to “call the tower” or respond to an F.A.A. letter of investigation; the F.A.A. dutifully wants to conduct or complete its investigation and get “your side of the story.” The airman dutifully complies by responding, either by calling or writing, stating “yes, I was the pilot of N1234 and I did… (this, that or the other thing), my altitude was X and I was at Y location…and I didn’t mean to violate any regulations. Then, if the inspector doesn’t like what the airman has said, doesn’t care for the airman’s attitude or just for “C.Y.A.” purposes, he or she, in the name of the F.A.A., proceeds to process a “Notice of Proposed Certificate Action” with proposed suspension or revocation, using the very evidence provided by the airman in hi or her oral or written statement. At this point, the airman has a real problem and must defend against the certificate action, incurring attorney fees and expenses. At this point, or any point afterward, it is virtually impossible to “un-ring the bell” and persuade the F.A.A. inspector to change his or her mind and lower the sanction to a warning or a civil penalty.

However, it does not have to go that way. The airman could have contacted an aviation attorney (i.e. A.O.P.A. Panel Attorney) and had his or her position presented through the attorney. The attorney’s statement cannot be used as evidence against the airman in any enforcement action. Furthermore, the aviation-oriented attorney, knowledgeable about F.A.R.’s, F.A.A. enforcement procedures, as well as F.A.A. counsel, may be able to resolve the F.A.A.’s concerns without the necessity of an enforcement action. This may involve, assuming there was some technical infraction of one or more F.A.R.’s, some remedial training (a so-called 709 ride) or civil penalty. As distasteful as these alternatives may be, they are much better than a suspension or revocation.

Accordingly, next time you are asked to provide your side of the story, please don’t confess because, after you have given the F.A.A. the evidence, it is impossible to undo. Have the information filtered through a knowledgeable aviation attorney who may be able to save your certificate.
by Richard T. Miller, Specialist in Aviation Law – (818) 994-8234