Inhofe proposes pilots bill of rights

July 7, 2011

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has proposed legislation designed to ensure pilots fairer treatment and more access to information in FAA enforcement actions, reform the appellate process, and create advisory boards to help improve the notices to airmen and medical certification processes.

Inhofe outlined his Pilot’s Bill of Rights legislation, S. 1335, on the Senate floor July 5, invoking lawmakers’ responsibility to “prevent agency overreach.” He is scheduled to meet with pilots to rally support for the legislation on July 30 at EAA AirVenture 2011 in Oshkosh, Wis.

The FAA would face new requirements to advise a pilot subject to an enforcement action of the reason for the investigation, and to inform the pilot that the pilot could decline to respond without penalty. The pilot would be given all investigative reports, recordings with air traffic control or other relevant information 30 days before enforcement action could proceed, giving the pilot “all the information that other people have.”

Another initiative Inhofe has included in the bill is to clarify the “statutory deference” afforded the FAA by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when considering appeals of FAA enforcement rulings. Inhofe cited statistics indicating that the NTSB rubber stamps FAA decisions. Another provision of the bill would allow pilots the option of bringing appeals in federal district court.

The bill would create an advisory panel to address the dilemma for pilots created by regulations that require a pilot to have all notams for a flight and a notam system that does not post all required notams. Another advisory board would address medical certification, “long known for a multitude of problems.”

The legislation has been expected for several months. On Feb. 2, Inhofe told the Tulsa World newspaper of his intention to propose legislation to give pilots facing FAA enforcement actions access to notams, recordings of pilot-controller conversations, and other data that pertains to their case.

He outlined the framework for legislation during an interview in which he discussed his agreement to take remedial pilot training after being investigated by the FAA for landing his twin Cessna 340A on a closed runway in Port Isabel, Texas on Oct.21. Inhofe also addressed the Port Isabel landing in his floor remarks, noting that he “never appreciated the feeling of desperation” a pilot experiences during an enforcement case until he experienced it.

Inhofe, a pilot for more than 50 years with more than 10,000 flight hours, added in a statement that the bill was not the first time he had dealt with FAA excesses in legislation; notably he had addressed the FAA’s actions in its much-publicized emergency revocation of airshow performer Bob Hoover’s medical certificate.

Hoover “had his license unjustly taken away and only after I intervened with legislation changing the emergency revocation process was Bob able to get back in the air. I recently realized the problem is still out there, and any pilot is susceptible to the FAA taking their license without, what I believe, would be a fair adjudication. This bill is going to change all that,” he said.

Senators currently co-sponsoring the Pilot’s Bill of Rights include Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the co-chairs of the Senate General Aviation Caucus, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and James Risch (R-Idaho).

“AOPA applauds Senator Inhofe for introducing the Pilot’s Bill of Rights legislation giving the aviation community much greater certainty about the process of enforcing the regulations by which we fly. We look forward to working with Senator Inhofe and others in the Congress who have already stepped forward with their support,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller.

Inhofe, who has addressed audiences at the annual Oshkosh event on legislative issues of importance to GA every year for 31 years, urged AOPA members in his written announcement of the bill to contact their members of Congress to rally support for the legislation.

“Sen. Inhofe's proposed Pilot's Bill of Rights addresses a wide range of issues that affect thousands of pilots, many of whom seek assistance with these matters through the AOPA Legal Services Plan,” Fuller said. “We at AOPA are pleased to see that this measure has received broad support from so many U.S. senators because it will help provide a degree of certainty, enabling pilots who follow the complex regulations governing aviation to fly with confidence.”

Some notam system changes took effect June 30 to bring the system into closer conformity with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.