Quora Question: What Are the Procedures to Handle Air Traffic Violations?

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Travelers look at a Corsair aircraft sitting on the tarmac during an air traffic controller's strike at Orly airport, near Paris, on April 9, 2015. Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

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Answer from Tim Morgan, commercial pilot: airplane single-engine land+sea; instrument airplane; tailwheel, high-performance, complex endorsements.

(Ground) traffic violations are violations of state or local law and are handled by state or local police. The laws of the air are specified in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and are administrated by federal agencies.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for enforcing the FARs. If in their judgment it's possible you violated a FAR, they will begin enforcement actions against you. The FAA will choose one of a number of punishments depending on the severity of your alleged violation:

  • administrative action: They send you a nasty letter. This does not consist of an official "finding of a violation" and therefore has no need to be appealed or proven in a fair trial (though you can write the FAA and argue your side if you wish).
  • reexamination: The FAA will require you to retrain on the areas of study relevant to your violation, and then be tested by a designated pilot examiner (DPE). These are usually friendly matters and many pilots report that the reexamination process was a good opportunity to learn and become better pilots.
  • civil penalty: Essentially a fine. The FAA rarely fines pilots but it can. This is the first of the enforcement actions that can be contested (see below).
  • certificate suspension: The FAA can suspend your certificate privileges for 60, 90, or some number of days.
  • certificate revocation: In extreme cases, the FAA can revoke your pilot certificate.
  • criminal action: Typically this falls upon Department of Justice lawyers, not the FAA, but the FAA may coordinate with the DoJ to bring a case against a pilot. This then proceeds like a normal federal crime. This would only be used for situations like aircraft piracy, carrying weapons, etc.

For civil and certificate actions, the pilots are notified by the FAA of the charges against them. Except in emergency actions, the pilots then have a chance to respond to the charge and explain why they should not be charged. The pilots can also request an informal conference with the FAA attorney handling the case, among other options. Most cases settle at the informal conference.

Otherwise, the FAA issues an order suspending or revoking the pilot certificate (or imposing the fine). If the pilot wishes to appeal, he must do so not to the FAA but to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent agency.

The appeal is a formal legal proceeding. The NTSB will convene a court and a judge, and the FAA will send its lawyer (and the pilot will presumably send his). The lawyers will argue their cases to the NTSB judge, who will then make a ruling.

If the losing party of this ruling wishes to further appeal, it can attempt an appeal to the NTSB's full five-member board. If the board agrees to hear the appeal, it will then vote and issue a new ruling.

One further appeal level is available; the losing party can request a judicial review in a federal appeals court. This is very rare, however.

And yes, there are specialized aviation lawyers. If you find yourself on the receiving end of an FAA Notice of Proposed Enforcement Action, you'd do well to hire one.

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Quora Question: What Are the Procedures to Handle Air Traffic Violations? | World