AOPA recently helped a pilot get the due process that all pilots are entitled to in an FAA enforcement action. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a decision of the National Transportation Safety Board, saying the safety board allowed the FAA to proceed with enforcement action against a pilot in violation of a procedural "stale complaint rule."
Such a rule is intended to ensure that the FAA pursues cases with reasonable diligence so that evidence is not lost and so a threat of an enforcement action is not indefinitely hanging over a pilot's head. In this case, the FAA had evidence of a pilot's possible violation of the FARs for nine months before the matter was investigated and determined by the FAA to constitute a regulatory violation.
The delay was apparently caused by FAA staff and resource shuffling, and the evidence languished until an inspector investigated the matter. The court noted that "if diligence is required, then it should begin as soon as the ball is in the FAA's court."
"This is good news for AOPA members," said Kathy Yodice, counsel to AOPA. "The court is holding the NTSB, and by default the FAA, to the applicable procedures. The rules exist to protect the rights of the participants and the integrity of the process, and the rules must be applied uniformly."
AOPA counsel participated in this case as a "friend of the court," emphasizing the "importance of fairness in the process and upholding due-process protections in the rules" for all pilots. The pilot is a subscriber to the 20-year-old AOPA Legal Services Plan, which is available exclusively to AOPA members.