What does the Office of Administrative Law Judges do?

Since 1967, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has served as the "court of appeals" for any airman whenever a certificate action is taken by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Office of Administrative Law Judges is responsible for the conduct of all formal proceedings arising under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, as amended. These proceedings primarily involve appeals by pilots, navigators, mechanics, dispatchers and air traffic control tower operators from orders of the FAA suspending, revoking or modifying their certificates for alleged violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations, or for lack of qualification to hold such certificates. Proceedings also involve petitions from applicants denied airman medical or other certification by the FAA Administrator and certain civil penalty actions initiated by the FAA Administrator. Additionally, this office reviews and decides applications for attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, from airmen who prevail against the FAA in certain adversary adjudications.

Is the NTSB and its Office of Administrative Law Judges associated with the Federal Aviation Administration or the Department of Transportation (DOT)?

No, the NTSB is wholly independent from the FAA and DOT. In reviewing FAA actions, it is not bound by the FAA's findings and conducts a completely objective review of the evidentiary record.

What is an Administrative Law Judge and what does he do?

An Administrative Law Judge is an independent, impartial trier of fact in formal hearings similar to that of a trial judge conducting civil trials without a jury. Administrative Law Judges conduct hearings, develop records, apply judicial expertise and render decisions.

What happens when an FAA order is appealed to the NTSB?

The case is assigned to an Administrative Law Judge for an evidentiary hearing. An advance notice of formal hearing is issued at least 30 days before the hearing, but as far in advance as 60 days to allow the parties time to prepare for the hearing. However, the notice given in an emergency hearing can be as little as 2 weeks as the Board is required by statute to dispose of these cases in a 60-day time-frame.

What happens at a formal hearing before an NTSB Administrative Law Judge?

In formal hearings conducted by Administrative Law Judges all parties are given an opportunity to present oral and documentary evidence, to submit evidence in rebuttal, to conduct cross examinations and to make arguments. The parties may be accompanied, represented and advised by counsel or other qualified representatives. The FAA bears the burden of proving the charges alleged in its orders, and the pilot may offer evidence in defense. However, in cases involving certificate denials, the petitioner bears the burden of proof. In most cases, the judge issues an oral initial decision at the conclusion of the hearing. A court reporter is present at all hearings and a copy of the transcript will be provided to each party free of charge.

Do I need an attorney at a formal hearing?

Appeals to the NTSB are formal legal proceedings. The FAA Administrator will be represented by an attorney. If an airman can afford it, it is advisable to have legal representation as well. However, it is not mandatory to have an attorney.

How can I find out what evidence the FAA will use against me?

As soon as an appeal is docketed, either party may request information such as witness lists, exhibit lists, names and curricula vitae of expert witnesses and other data. Parties may also use written interrogatories, depositions, requests to admit and other discovery tools.

Where do these hearings take place?

Hearings are held in the closest hub city to where the alleged incident took place that is served by a scheduled air carrier. However, in special circumstances, the location of a hearing can be set or changed to meet the convenience of the parties and/or witnesses.

How long do these hearing last?

Hearings can last anywhere from several hours to several days. However, a typical hearing lasts 1-2 days.

What if I am dissatisfied with the Administrative Law Judge's decision?

If either the FAA or the airman is dissatisfied with the judge's decision, a further appeal may be taken to the NTSB's full five-member Board. If the airman or FAA is dissatisfied with the full Board's order, either may obtain judicial review in a federal appeals court. However, the FAA can only appeal the Board's order in cases that it determines may have a significant adverse impact on the implementation of the Federal Aviation Act.

Can I use my license while the appeal is pending?

The certificate remains effective until the NTSB finally disposes of the appeal, except in cases that the FAA has determined that an emergency in air safety exists. In those cases an Emergency Order of Revocation, Emergency Order of Suspension or an Order with Immediate Effectiveness will be issued and the airman must return the certificate to the FAA pending the outcome of the appeal.


For further information about the Office of Administrative Law Judges, you may contact us by writing or telephoning:

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Administrative Law Judges
490 L'Enfant Plaza E., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20594

Telephone (202) 314-6150
Toll Free (800) 854-8758
Facsimile (202) 314-6158