August 1, 1997
There are a number of pilots and AOPA members in Congress who greatly aid the entire pilot community in matters involving general aviation. When House or Senate hearings are held on subjects affecting flying in this country, these politicians are often the first to testify on our behalf, bringing valuable additional support to our initiatives. One member stands out consistently in his efforts on behalf of all of GA: Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK), AOPA 238902.
I first met Jim when he was a U.S. Representative from the Tulsa area, and quickly grew to realize the commitment he has to flying. A commercial pilot and CFI with more than 7,000 hours, he taught all four of his children — two sons and two daughters — to fly, and owns three airplanes: a Cessna 303 Crusader, a Grumman Tiger, and a Taylorcraft L-2 World War II reconnaissance airplane. In 1991, when we first met, then-Rep. Inhofe was preparing to retrace Wiley Post's path around the world in his own airplane. You'll find Inhofe and some of his family each year at Oshkosh; 2 years ago I gave him a ride from Washington, D.C., to the fly-in, where he camped out for the week.
You name the issue and Inhofe has been there for his fellow AOPA members — from product liability reform to keeping Congress from passing a Draconian law following the unfortunate crash of young Jessica Dubroff, her father, and her flight instructor while attempting her record-setting flight last year.
Many of us felt the injustice done in 1992 when Bob Hoover's medical certificate was lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and Inhofe has been working in the industry to change the law so that this cannot happen to others. The FAA sets the qualifications for pilots and issues pilot certificates. The power to grant a certificate goes hand in hand with the power to revoke it, sometimes on the spot in an emergency. But could the FAA abuse that power? It could, and it has — and AOPA, with Sen. Inhofe's help, is doing something about it.
Bob Hoover's situation was just the most visible in a string of disturbing cases in which the FAA used emergency revocation procedures to ground a pilot immediately when an emergency did not really exist. In many of these cases, including Hoover's, the pilot eventually got his or her certificate back. But during the time they fought to get their ticket returned, every one of these pilots was grounded. Many of these airmen were ATP-rated professional pilots, business flyers, or other pilots whose livelihood depended on flying.
The FAA grounded Bob Hoover for medical reasons despite the four different sets of doctors, each of whom had given Bob a clean bill of health. He lost his medical certificate for 2.5years. (He flew in other countries in the meantime, with no problems.) It took the personal intervention of then-FAA Administrator David Hinson for Hoover to get back into the air in the United States. Unfortunately, Bob must supply the FAA with the results of a neurological exam every 12 months. His medical is up again on September 30, so we'll see if the FAA gives him more grief.
Some revocations, emergency or otherwise, are probably for good cause. But the tedious process of challenging an emergency revocation can leave a pilot twisting in the wind. What's worse, "emergency" is becoming routine. In 1989, 6 percent of all enforcement cases were emergency revocations. By 1995, that proportion had jumped five-fold, to 31 percent.
AOPA and our general counsel, John Yodice, who helped to defend Hoover, have advocated changing the procedures surrounding emergency revocation. Now Sen. Inhofe is working to fix the situation. He has introduced a bill (S.842) that would allow a pilot whose certificate is revoked through the FAA's emergency power to immediately appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board. The Board would hear arguments within 48 hours and decide within 5 days whether a true emergency exists. If the Board agreed with the FAA, the revocation would stand and the pilot would remain on the ground while the case was litigated. But if the NTSB ruled against the FAA, the pilot could resume flying while the FAA pursued its case more or less like a nonemergency revocation.
With these procedures in place, the time a pilot would be grounded unfairly because of the FAA's unreasonable use of emergency power would go from a period of months to a maximum of only 7 days. The U.S. Constitution depends on a system of checks and balances to curb the abuse of government power. This bill does the same thing by giving a separate, independent government agency the means to keep the FAA from abusing its authority.
Senators John Breaux (D-LA), Larry Craig (R-ID), and Tim Hutchinson (R-AK) have joined Inhofe in sponsoring S.842. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) has introduced an identical bill (H.R.1846). These bills have won the support of numerous pilot and aviation industry groups.
AOPA Legislative Action is already working in Washington on your behalf to make this legislation the law of the land. Using the "safety" argument, the FAA may try to scare members of Congress into opposing these bills, so getting our message out to counteract those fears will take time. But it can and will be done. As many of you are aware, in spite of the FAA's opposition, AOPA succeeded in reforming the FAA's unfair civil penalty procedures to give pilots the right to appeal to the NTSB. Because of the unrelenting efforts of your association and advocates in Congress like Sen. James Inhofe, passage of this bill will mean pilots like Bob Hoover — and the rest of us — will breathe a lot easier.
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AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.