House Passes Pilot's Bill of Rights, Sending Measure to President for Signature
By Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
Any pilot who has had the misfortune to become entangled in an enforcement action brought by the FAA would agree: The deck is stacked in the agency's favor. For example, the agency may not allow the airman to have access to the evidence against him, especially in an emergency certificate action. And if the airman chooses to appeal to the NTSB, which is tasked with hearing such cases, administrative law judges at the Safety Board usually will defer to the FAA. All that is set to change, thanks to the Pilot's Bill of Rights, legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Monday, clearing the measure for the president's signature.
First proposed by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) in the aftermath of the FAA's grounding of air show legend R.A. "Bob" Hoover, the concept got a major boost in 2010 after the senator landed a Cessna 340 on a closed runway in Texas, making national news. After his experience with the FAA's enforcement process, Inhofe came away more convinced than ever that reform was needed. He introduced the result as a free-standing bill in July 2011 as S. 1335. Thanks to his efforts, the measure passed the Senate unanimously on June 29. Yesterday, less than a month after it made it out of the Senate, the same bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, clearing it for the president's signature. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) shepherded the bill through the House.
"This is the biggest news for general aviation pilots in recent years," said Inhofe after the House vote. "I am grateful that the House has seen the merits of the Pilot's Bill of Rights. Now that it has passed both the House and the Senate, I look forward to this becoming law with the president's signature," he added. "Thanks to the efforts of so many pilots, and organizations like AOPA and EAA, we are just one step away from this becoming law."
"This is a great day for aviation," EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower said. "Congratulations and thanks to Sen. Jim Inhofe for making this a possibility and for recognizing the need for improvements in four critical areas. Thanks and congratulations also to Rep. Sam Graves for his invaluable support and assistance in the house."
But what's in the bill, and what will it do for pilots?
Provisions in the Pilot's Bill of Rights legislation approved yesterday by Congress and on its way to the president for signature fall into the four broad categories below:
In an enforcement action, the FAA must provide all relevant evidence to the pilot 30 days prior to proceeding. This currently is not done and often leaves the pilot grossly uninformed on the exact nature of any violation and options available.
Clarifies statutory deference as it relates to NTSB review of FAA actions by pointing out the board "is not bound by the findings of fact." Too often the NTSB rubber-stamps an FAA enforcement decision, giving the FAA wide latitude and making the appeals process meaningless.
Allows for federal district court review of appeals from the FAA, at the election of the appellant, bypassing the NTSB's appeals process.
The FAA is to improve NOTAM dissemination by simplifying and archiving them in a central location. EAA and other general aviation groups will compose an advisory panel. Goals include:
reducing the volume of NOTAM information;
ensuring NOTAMs are more specific and relevant to the airman's route and placed in a more usable format;
providing both a full set of NOTAM results plus specific information requested by airmen;
providing an easily searched document; and
establishing a filtering mechanism similar to the DOD's.
Flight service briefings
Currently, when an FOIA request is made for a recording of a Flight Service briefing or "other air traffic services" provided by Lockheed Martin, the FAA denies it because Lockheed Martin is a contractor. The PBOR mandates such information be available to anyone submitting an FOIA request.
Medical certification reforms
The bill requires the FAA review its medical certification process and forms to provide greater clarity in the questions asked and minimize the chances of misinterpretation. In the past, confusing forms and questions have led to allegations of intentional falsification. EAA and other general aviation groups compose an advisory panel.
DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3;
2015: July 27-Aug. 2