The Pilot’s Bill of Rights: How Does it Protect You?

Pilot's Bill of Rights

The goal of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR) is to give pilots rights during FAA enforcement actions. Before the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, pilots would struggle to understand enforcement actions and couldn’t access information that would help their defense. 

To understand the PBR, it’s important to understand the FAA’s structure and history. It’s a federal executive administrative agency, so it does not have law enforcement powers or a judiciary review process. As a result, pilots and FAA certificate holders often get the short end of the stick if they find themselves in trouble with the FAA. 

An act of Congress forced the FAA to change the way they did business. Here’s a look at that law and how it affects pilots today.

History of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights

In 2010, the FAA gave US Senator and pilot James Inhofe a citation. Inhofe was displeased with the process and, as a sitting US Senator, had the power to make a difference and change the way the FAA did business. He drafted and sponsored a bill, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 1 and Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2. It was passed by both houses of Congress in 2012 and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

James Inhofe, who frequently flew, landed on a closed runway. For months, he was in limbo as the FAA considered what certificate action to take against Inhofe. In addition, Inhofe struggled to access the NOTAMs and ATC records applicable to his case. 

Pilots and aviation attorneys had always struggled with appealing FAA enforcement actions. The NTSB is meant to act as a neutral agency for pilot appeals. However, pilots and attorneys often contend that the NTSB usually sides with the FAA and rarely takes the pilot’s side. In addition, pilots and their attorneys have claimed that the FAA’s pilot investigation and prosecution process is unfair. 

Before the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, the FAA often justified enforcement actions without direct witnesses. In addition, the FAA would send the Letter of Investigation (LOI) to the pilot after the investigation had already started. These letters were not timely and gave the pilot the belief that they had to respond. The pilots would then make statements that the FAA used against them during hearings. 

What’s in The Pilot’s Bill of Rights

Letter of Investigation

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights requires the FAA to send timely notifications to airmen if the FAA is investigating their airman certificate. The Letter of Investigation now must provide information that helps a pilot mount their defense. 

Access to Air Traffic Control Data

The FAA is now directed to give pilots air traffic data so that they can defend themselves and productively participate in their cases. Before the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, the FAA would not release ATC data if the pilot was being investigated. 

When air traffic data is provided to the pilot, the FAA cannot take action for 30 days. The FAA must finish its investigation before issuing a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action. 

Updates to NTSB Appeal Process

The NTSB used to be bound by the FAA’s interpretations of its laws and regulations. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights gives the NTSB the ability to use their own interpretation of the FAA’s regulations. The PBR states that the NTSB does not have to give the FAA special deference and simply needs to use due deference. 

Before the PBR, pilots had to file NTSB appeals in the US District Court in Washington, DC. Now, pilots can appeal either in the home location or where the event occurred. In addition, pilots can appeal using a federal Court of Appeals. 

NOTAM Access

Senator Inhofe desired access to NOTAMs to defend himself. However, the NOTAMs were not easily accessible, and the FAA did not cooperate with furnishing them. Now, NOTAMs are searchable on the FAA’s website. In addition, all NOTAMs are archived and filtered so pilots can find relevant information. 

When pilots conduct their pre-flight, they can find the most relevant and essential NOTAMs instead of sifting through hundreds of irrelevant NOTAMs. The NOTAM improvements include ensuring that NOTAMs are specific and relevant to the airman’s route. 

Pilot Medicals

The PBR also aims to improve the process of getting medical certificates. The medical forms should be built to foster clear responses and avoid miscommunication. The goal is to allow for a consistent process that avoids allegations that airmen have intentionally falsified their medical applications. 

Pilot Thinking of the Bill of Rights

Amendments to The Pilot’s Bill of Rights

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 offers the same PBR protections to all FAA certificate holders, not just pilots. 

The FAA must disclose a description of the events that lead to the investigation. If the FAA doesn’t provide timely notice of their investigation, they cannot take enforcement action and cannot keep related records on file. The FAA cannot entrap pilots into making statements or providing documents. In addition, the FAA cannot publicize enforcement actions. If no enforcement action is taken, the FAA must destroy any records after 90 days. 

The FAA must give the certificate holder a copy of the Enforcement Investigative Report if the FAA issues an emergency order or takes enforcement action. 

Pilots are not required to undergo a check ride unless there is evidence of fraud or unsafe piloting. If the FAA requires a check ride, they must provide an explanation. The airman can appeal if the FAA enacts certificate enforcement after the check ride. 

Pilots can appeal directly to a US District Court or the NTSB. In addition, pilots can have their case heard by a neutral third party or an NTSB judge. 

Pilot’s Bill of Rights Impacts

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights protects pilots and makes the certificate action process fair.  Pilots and other certificate holders can now mount more effective defenses. 

The FAA must follow specific guidelines to conduct timely notifications and investigations. Plus, the FAA must clearly communicate with certificate holders and give them access to ATC records and NOTAMs. Certificate holders have more appeal options, and the NTSB no longer has to give the FAA special deference. 

By Liz Brassaw

Liz Brassaw is the Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Operations Officer for Thrust Flight. She is a CFI, CFII and MEI with over 2,500 hours of flight instruction given. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Utah Valley University School of Aviation Sciences. She’s passionate about flying and enjoys instilling that love in the instructors on her team and the new students she trains.

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