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Senator Jim Inhofe Finally Gets His Way With “Pilots Bill Of Rights” Was It An Abuse Of Power
By Mike Mitchell

July 1, 2012 - On Friday the U.S. Senate unanimous passed the Pilots’ Bill of Rights (S.1335). The bill garnered the endorsement of pilot and actor Harrison Ford.  For the past few weeks, Senator Inhofe a member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus worked with Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, to reach a unanimous agreement on the legislation. 

On October 21, 2010, at the age of 75, Inhofe landed his Cessna on a closed runway at a south Texas airport, scattering construction workers who ran for their lives. In a recorded telephone call, the men's supervisor told the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that Inhofe "scared the crap out of" workers, adding that the Cessna "damn near hit" a truck.

And the airport manager, also speaking to the FAA in a recorded telephone call, opined, “I’ve got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life. Something needs to be done. This guy is famous for these violations.” Shortly after Inhofe landed, Sidney Boyd, who was supervising construction on the closed runway, called the FAA

Listen to an excerpt of Boyd’s speaking with the FAA

Listen to an excerpt of second call Boyd makes to the FAA  

Airport manager Marshall Reece Speaks with the FAA  

In response to the incident, Inhofe stated that he "did nothing wrong", and accused the FAA of "agency overreach" and causing a "feeling of desperation" in him. He agreed to take a remedial training program, and the FAA agreed not to pursue legal action against him if he took the program. In July 2011, Inhofe introduced a bill to create a "Pilot's Bill of Rights" which he said would increase fairness in FAA enforcement actions.



Inhofe said “This is a big victory for general aviation pilots all across the country. Last year, I introduced this bill and presented it to the general aviation community at OSHKOSH. Thanks to the efforts of so many pilots, and organizations like AOPA and EAA, we were able to get this important bill passed. “Over the course of my years in Congress, I have helped an untold number of pilots facing the pressure of dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This bill remedies many of the most serious deficiencies in the relationship between general aviation and the FAA, and ensures that pilots are, like everyone else, treated in a fair and equitable manner by the justice system.  

Rod Hightower, Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) President/CEO said, “This is a very important win for GA and protecting aviators’ rights. We especially appreciate the bipartisan support in the Senate for the measure and Sen. Inhofe’s dedicated efforts to move this bill forward.”  

Craig Fuller, Aircraft Owners Pilots Association (AOPA) President said, “A year ago, Sen. Inhofe made a bold decision to introduce legislation in support of pilots' rights when general aviation seemed to be under attack in Washington, D.C. His willingness to take a stand on behalf of pilots, and his success in bringing this measure through the Senate at a time when so much legislation is at a standstill, are powerful testaments to his commitment to protecting the freedom to fly. We applaud Sen. Inhofe's ongoing work on behalf of general aviation so it can continue to play an important role in fostering economic development, providing personal and business transportation, and delivering services to millions of Americans.”   

Details About The Pilots Bill Of Rights 

Makes FAA Enforcement Proceedings and NTSB Review Fair for Pilots  

- Requires NTSB review of FAA enforcement actions to conform, to the extent practicable, with the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

- Requires the FAA to provide timely notice to a pilot who is the subject of an investigation, and that any response by the pilot can be used as evidence against him. 

- Requires that in an FAA enforcement action against a pilot, the FAA must grant the pilot all relevant evidence 30 days prior to a decision to proceed with an enforcement action. This is currently not done and often leaves the pilot grossly uninformed of his violation and recourse. 

- Makes contractor-run flight service station and contract tower communications available to airmen. Currently, if a request is made for flight service station information under FOIA, it is denied to the requestor because the contractor is not the government, per se. However, the contractor is performing an inherently governmental function and this information should be available to pilots who need it to defend themselves in an enforcement proceeding. 

- Removes the special statutory deference as it relates to National Transportation Safety Board reviews of FAA actions. Too often the NTSB rubber stamps a decision of the FAA, giving wide latitude to the FAA and making the appeals process meaningless. This returns NTSB’s deference to the FAA to general administrative law principles, just like every other government agency. 

- Allows for Federal district court review of appeals from the NTSB, at the election of the appellant. This is important because a review by the Federal district court is de novo, meaning the pilot gets a new trial with the ability to introduce evidence and a new review of the facts.   

NOTAM Improvement Program  

- Requires that the FAA undertake a NOTAM Improvement Program, requiring simplification and archival of NOTAMs in a central location. The process by which Notices to Airmen are provided by the FAA has long needed revision. This will ensure that the most relevant information reaches the pilot. Currently, FAA makes pilots responsible for knowledge of pre-flight conditions. Non-profit general aviation groups will make up an advisory panel.  

Medical Certification Review

- The FAA’s medical certification process has long been known to present a multitude of problems for pilots seeking an airman certificate. The bill requires a GAO review of the FAA’s medical certification process and forms, with the goal of demonstrating how the FAA can provide greater clarity in the questions and reduce the instances of misinterpretation that have, in the past, lead to allegations of intentional falsification against pilots. Non-profit general aviation groups will make up an advisory panel, which will give advice to the FAA on how the medical certification process can be improved. The FAA is required to take appropriate action on the GAO recommendations within one year.
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