The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has again expanded its Legal Services Plan benefits. Moreover, the thousands of AOPA members participating will see no increase in fees for the new enhancements.
"We hope that these latest enhancements will convince more AOPA members to have at least an initial place to turn when they need some personal legal advice on an aviation-related matter," said AOPA General Counsel John Yodice. "In addition to its low cost, the AOPA Legal Services Plan now covers initial consultation on Customs enforcement and aircraft purchase/sale issues."
The AOPA Legal Services Plan, started in 1983, provides personal legal counsel and representation in FAA enforcement cases, aircraft accident matters, and in connection with drug and alcohol testing and federal tax issues. Among benefits is a free half-hour consultation on any aviation legal matter with one of the 600 plan attorneys nationwide.
The plan has now been expanded to include coverage for U.S. Customs enforcement matters and aircraft purchase and sales transactions. The plan's maximum rate for attorney fees has been increased from $120 to $140 per hour, and the number of attorney hours covered for the initial stages of an FAA enforcement case is up 25 percent to 10 hours of attorney time.
The new enhancements follow 1995 upgrades to include FAA medical certificate cases plus review of hangar and tiedown agreements and aircraft rental and leaseback agreements.
Even innocent violations of the FARs can involve substantial penalties and legal costs. Penalties for an incursion of Class B airspace, IFR altitude deviation, or taxiing without a clearance can typically be a 90-day suspension. Forget a renewal date and fly on an expired medical? That can earn you a 180-day suspension.
Legal assistance comparable to AOPA plan coverage can be expensive. Such legal fees for an altitude deviation or taxiing without a clearance typically exceed $1,000. A simple legal review of a lease or rental agreement can typically cost $110 to $150. Such legal services are included in the AOPA Legal Services Plan for nothing more than the annual fee, as low as $26 per year for a private, recreational, or student pilot.
Customs enforcement has become an issue for many flying back into the United States from an international trip. Though infractions are usually innocent and unintentional, fines are extremely high and could result in seizure of the aircraft.
The AOPA Legal Services Plan provides unlimited consultation with plan counselors at AOPA headquarters plus new coverage for legal representation in an administrative proceeding on a Customs matter. Legal representation regarding a civil penalty or aircraft seizure/forfeiture is covered for 80 percent of attorney fees, up to 20 hours at a maximum $140 per hour.
Many aircraft buyers or sellers may find they need assistance during an aircraft transaction, even if only to obtain legal review of a purchase/sale agreement. The AOPA plan now includes a one-hour consultation with a plan attorney on aircraft purchase/sale matters.
Because such transactions can occur relatively frequently, this benefit is available beginning one year after continuous plan membership begins, and then may be used again after another two years of continuous plan membership. This feature is not available to persons involved in the business of buying and selling aircraft.
The AOPA Legal Services Plan now includes these additional services and benefits at no increase in its already modest annual fee.
Student, recreational, or private pilots pay only $26 per year to participate. If you fly commercially—as a flight instructor, for example—the fee is only $52 per year. Pilots engaged in operations involving their ATP certificate pay $99 per year.
In most circumstances, the plan allows the choice of using either one of 600 AOPA plan attorneys nationwide, or an attorney of the member's choosing. Most of the AOPA panel attorneys are AOPA members and are trained for plan participation at AOPA-sponsored legal seminars.
The AOPA plan pays plan attorneys directly. The plan participant is responsible for making financial arrangements with a non-plan lawyer.
Full details on the AOPA Legal Services Plan—including exclusions and limitations—are available at 800/872-2672 or AOPA Legal Services Plan, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, MD 21701.
The AOPA Legal Services Plan is an additional AOPA member benefit above and beyond $39 annual AOPA membership dues.
Thousands of AOPA members have already relied on the program when legal counsel or representation is required on aviation matters.
August 16, 2000