FAA Enforcement Actions and Proceedings
Certificate suspensions is the most common of actions that the FAA takes on a pilot. It offers a fixed number of days that are issued to discipline an alleged violator and to deter others similarly situated. Suspensions of indefinite duration are issued to prevent a certificate holder from exercising the privileges of a certificate pending demonstration that the certificate holder meets the standards required to hold its certificate. Certificate revocations are issued when the FAA determines that a certificate holder is no longer qualified to hold a certificate. Orders of suspension and revocation issued by the FAA may be appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Board's decisions may be reviewed by a United States court of appeals.
The FAA has authority to issue orders assessing a civil penalty of up to $50,000 for violations of certain aviation laws and regulations. An air carrier is subject to a penalty of up to $11,000 for a single violation of the aviation law or an FAA regulation; other entities are subject to a penalty of up to $1,100. There is no $50,000 limitation on assessments for violations of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Act or the Hazardous Materials Transportation Regulations, and the penalty for each violation of these requirements ranges from $250 to $27,000.
Before a penalty is assessed, an entity may appeal the notice proposing a civil penalty. A hearing before one of the Department of Transportation's administrative law judges (ALJ) is available. Any decision by an ALJ may be appealed to the FAA Administrator.
For civil penalties in excess of $50,000 (for other than hazardous materials violations), the FAA has authority to compromise a penalty, but not assess it. This type of action is initiated when the FAA sends a civil penalty letter to an entity. The letter advises that the FAA believes the entity has violated a statute or regulation. The letter also states that the FAA is willing to accept a penalty of a specified amount in resolution of the matter. An entity may pay this amount or another agreed-upon amount, including an amount less than $50,000 and no adjudicated finding of violation is made a part of the entity's enforcement record. If an entity does not agree to the compromise, the case is referred to a United States Attorney for prosecution in United States district court. There a penalty is assessed, if appropriate, and findings of violation, which serve as part of a certificate holder's enforcement record, can be made.
Final decisions by the Administrator or the district court may be appealed
to a United States court of appeals.
Informal Procedures and Settlements
There is an opportunity at the beginning of most enforcement cases for informal procedures, including an informal conference with an FAA attorney, to give the alleged violator a chance to bring to the FAA's attention information favorable to it, e.g., exculpatory or mitigating evidence. During these informal procedures an enforcement action can sometimes be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
Either during the informal procedures or later in the process, cases are often settled without resort to the full litigation process. Such settlements often result after consideration of the risks and expense of litigation. Settlements may reflect a lower civil penalty amount, sometimes due to charges being dropped, or the payment of a civil penalty without a violation established as a matter of record. In the latter case, the FAA may issue a compromise order. In some situations, multiple cases are resolved at one time, a situation when a consent order, signed by the FAA and the regulated entity, may be issued. Finally, sometimes cases initiated as certificate actions, i.e., suspensions or revocations, are resolved by payment of a civil penalty.
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