House backs Pilot’s Bill of Rights

July 23, 2012

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chair of the House GA Caucus and GA Caucus member Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) have pushed the Pilot’s Bill of Rights past its final legislative hurdle and on to the president’s desk. The legislation, championed by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), co-chair of the Senate GA Caucus, stands to lift a veil of secrecy from investigations and reverse the presumption of guilt that pilots subject to certificate action have always faced.

“For a long time, pilots have expressed frustration about the treatment they receive during an FAA enforcement proceeding. It tends to be a guilty-until-proven-innocent process,” said Graves. “The Pilot’s Bill of Rights is intended to address this and other issues that, in some cases, actually lead to an FAA enforcement action.”

"Passage of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights is a much-needed step toward improving communications between pilots and the FAA and ensuring that vital safety-related information reaches those who need it most,” Lipinski said.

Approved in a June 29 Senate vote, the measure—once signed by President Barack Obama, as expected—will guarantee that pilots facing certificate action are given access to ATC and flight service recordings, and require the FAA to provide the evidence being used as the basis of enforcement at least 30 days in advance of action. Pilots would also, for the first time, be able to appeal decisions in federal courts, and the NTSB would be given a greater oversight role in reviewing enforcement cases.

“It gives general aviation pilots access to the same justice system that everybody else has in America,” Inhofe told AOPA Live following the bill’s June 29 Senate approval. “That hasn’t been true—forever.”

Graves and Lipinski introduced a companion bill in the House and helped get the final bill on the fast track for House passage on the opening day of EAA AirVenture, where Inhofe first unveiled the bill in 2011. With strong backing from AOPA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, and thousands of pilots who spoke up in favor, the measure quickly gained legislative support.

“This is a landmark bill for general aviation, and protecting GA pilots’ freedom to fly,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. Howerton and her staff made sure lawmakers heard the voice of 400,000 members seeking due process protection for their freedom to fly. “This bill ensures that basic principles of fairness and transparency will govern the relationship between pilots and their government.”

The legislation also would establish advisory boards to improve the system of distributing notams, and another to examine medical certification. AOPA President Craig Fuller noted in June that Inhofe took “bold” action when GA was otherwise under attack inside the Beltway, and passage of the important legislation when so many other bills have stalled is a testament to the dedication of its backers.

The House approved the bill by voice vote on July 23. The vote was taken under suspension of rules, which precluded amendments and limited debate. Reps. Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) and Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) both shepherded the bill through its final steps toward passage on the House floor and spoke in favor, Howerton noted, and support from Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was also crucial.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.