After a run-in with the long arm of FAA enforcers in 2010, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights” in the Senate. The stated purpose of S. 1335 is to provide fairer treatment and more access to information during FAA enforcement actions.
Inhofe, who has been a general aviation pilot for 50 years, has already collected 60 other senators as cosponsors. Last fall, during a visit on Capitol Hill with the Senate General Aviation Caucus, actor and avid GA pilot Harrison Ford endorsed the bill, which helped give it some impetus.
Now Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chairman of the House General Aviation Caucus, and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) have introduced a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights” in the House of Representatives. H.R. 3816 would improve the relationship between GA pilots, the FAA and the NTSB.
It would offer pilots more protection during an FAA enforcement proceeding; require the FAA to work with the GA community to improve the notice to airmen system and clarify medical certification forms; and provide pilots greater access to information, such as Flight Service Station briefings.
“The support the bill has received, including [from a] a majority of the members of the Senate [transportation committee], is indicative of the commonsense approach to correcting problems faced by [GA] pilots,” said Inhofe. “We are seeking to give pilots access to evidence that is being used against them while ending the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that the FAA has taken, improve the notice to airmen [notam] system, and correct problems with the pilot medical certification process.”
Inhofe is also seeking to clarify what he calls the “statutory deference” that the NTSB affords the FAA when reviewing FAA enforcement cases. He criticized evidence that he said statistically demonstrates the NTSB’s rubber stamping of FAA decisions. Addressing that concern, his bill would allow pilots the additional remedy of pursuing appeals in federal district court.
Inhofe got in hot water with the feds when he chose to land his Cessna 340 on the main runway at a south Texas airport despite the big “X” on the threshold, causing workers to scatter as his airplane hopscotched over them and six construction vehicles.
(According to the Tulsa World, Inhofe claimed the incident "was not his fault." But according to the FAA Investigation of Pilot Deviation Report, "Pilot landed on a closed runway at PIL. The runway had the required 'X' on the threshold. There were men and equipment on the runway at the time. The pilot stated that he did not check notams prior to the flight." Under comments, the FAA inspector wrote: "When pilot did notice the 'X' panel on the threshold of the runway on short final, he still elected to land, avoiding the men and equipment on the runway." The runway is 8,000 ft long.)
The downside of what Inhofe did was wrong and dangerous, but the FAA let him off with four hours of remedial training. In reality, that is a mere slap on the wrist. The upside is that the “Pilot’s Bill of Rights” may make things easier for GA pilots who run afoul of the FAA in the future—hopefully not for landing on a closed runway.