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NTSB Ruling Backs FAA in Pilot Enforcement Cases

GA groups contend pilots at disadvantage to dispute allegations

November 21, 2012 - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has declined to make major changes to its oversight role regarding FAA enforcement actions against pilots, ruling instead that it will maintain its "assumption of truth" in FAA allegations presented by the agency.

In a final ruling, the NTSB said its administrative law judges that review emergency actions by the FAA, such as pilot revocations, will continue to assume the FAA version of events in these cases to be complete and accurate. The Board concluded that the short timeframe mandated for review of FAA emergency actions dictated that the current standard must be maintained.

EAA and other GA groups contended that pilots who faced FAA emergency actions had little opportunity to present their own evidence during NTSB reviews and therefore faced unequal burdens in proving their innocence.

"This is an unfortunate ruling by the NTSB that hurts pilots involved in emergency enforcement actions as it minimizes the opportunity for pilots to present evidence in their own defense," said Doug Macnair, EAA's vice president of government relations. "While FAA does have the responsibility to take emergency action against pilots and operations that threaten aviation safety, there have been cases where the agency has overreached and left a pilot little recourse to counter the allegations. Sadly, the NTSB ruling holds that the FAA's version of events will be regarded as the accurate record, regardless of actual circumstances."

The NTSB did leave open the possibility to reconsider its stance and did make minor changes to its review policy, such as the ability to electronically file documents in emergency action cases. That will allow some additional time for all involved to consider the merits of a particular case.

The Board also opened a month-long public comment period (through December 17) on administrative changes in emergency enforcement actions, as required by the Pilot's Bill of Rights signed into law last summer. That includes a policy change that would allow enforcement actions to be dismissed if the FAA does not provide sufficient access or time to review allegations against a particular pilot or operation.

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