Answers for Pilots

Now more than ever

December 1, 2001

Protecting yourself from enforcement actions

After the tragic events of September 11, it has been said that things will never be the same. You're probably finding that statement true in many areas of your life, including your attitude toward jumping into your Cessna 152 and practicing in the pattern. While all conscientious pilots know they should get updated briefings and check notams, up until this fall a relaxed attitude was pervasive. No more.

"Since September 11, pilots have come to realize that they can't just jump into their airplane and go," says Craig Brown, AOPA aviation technical specialist. "It was always the case that you could inadvertently violate a notam and get caught, but the chances were often small. Now you never know unless you thoroughly research your flight." For example, a pilot in the Frederick, Maryland, area (home to AOPA headquarters and 12 miles from the presidential retreat at Camp David) flew in the temporary flight restriction (TFR) that extends the prohibited airspace around Camp David from a three-nm radius to eight nm. He was forced to land by an F-16. Now that's a wakeup call.

"Temporary flight restrictions used to be rare, but not anymore. A GA pilot needs to know what a TFR means," says Brown. "TFRs are not on a sectional."

Another member called the AOPA Pilot Information Center after he flew on September 13 believing that the notam restricting flights in his area had been lifted. The pilot checked the notam briefing at approximately 9 a.m. to find the restrictions were to be lifted at 11 a.m. They weren't but he did not check again before his flight at 3 p.m. The case is still being reviewed, but the fact that six hours had elapsed since the pilot's briefing won't help him.

"Getting an official briefing and checking it immediately before the flight is more important than ever," says Brown. "Shifting notams can cause enforcement action — a new notam doesn't necessarily cancel another one. And specifically asking for Flight Data Center (FDC) notams if you don't receive them is imperative."

If you are called upon by the FAA to explain an incident involving your flying activities, AOPA legal counsel John S. Yodice offers this advice: "Perhaps it goes without saying, but your response to the FAA should be truthful and not misleading. However, except in limited instances, there is no legal or moral compulsion for a pilot to respond to an FAA request for information. Pilots believe that all they need to do to resolve a situation is to explain their side to the FAA. Unfortunately, pilots will often say things unnecessarily that could hurt them later in an enforcement case. Resist your initial reaction to respond too quickly."

The AOPA Legal Services Plan — just $26 per year for a private pilot — provides information on obtaining legal advice. If you are not a member of the legal services plan, AOPA's aviation specialists can offer suggestions.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its members through many communications technologies. Reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA or 800/872-2672), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

Legal services plan: an anniversary, by AOPA legal counsel John S. Yodice.

The FAA expunction program, explained by AOPA legal counsel John S. Yodice.

Details of the program compiled by the aviation technical specialists at AOPA.

A remedial training clause allows a pilot to take additional training to resolve an enforcement action.

How to respond to the FAA when an enforcement action has been taken.

The five types of actions that the FAA typically uses to enforce the federal aviation regulations.

The aviation safety reporting system (ASRS) provides protection from the loss of a pilot's certificate.

The NASA ASRS form is available online.

FAA immunity for runway incursions, by AOPA legal counsel John S. Yodice.

The AOPA Legal Services Plan has expanded to provide new coverages.

Booklet on the FAA enforcement program compiled by the AOPA aviation technical services department (to be updated by December 1, 2001).

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.