All pilots must hold a valid certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to legally fly an aircraft. See 14 C.F.R. § 61.3. The FAA has the authority to suspend or revoke a pilot’s certificate at any time based on the violation of FAA rules. See 14 C.F.R. § 13.19.
Typically, if the FAA believes you have broken a rule, it will contact you with questions about the incident. In general, best practices are to remain silent and consult an aviation attorney. While many pilots think they should automatically cooperate with the FAA by answering their questions and providing them with information, the reality is that they may be providing the FAA with the evidence needed to prove a violation—evidence that the FAA may not otherwise have. That, of course, can lead to the suspension or revocation of your certificate.
If the FAA believes that a legal enforcement action is appropriate, it can issue a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action saying the FAA intends to suspend or revoke your certificate. An emergency order suspending or revoking your certificate can also be issued. An emergency order is effective upon issuance, whereas you have the opportunity for a hearing prior to a proposed suspension or revocation.
Hearings on proposed actions are before an FAA administrative law judge (ALJ). Following that hearing, the ALJ can deny the FAA’s proposed certificate action or grant the action, which can result in the suspension or revocation of your certificate. If you lose, you must surrender your certificate to the FAA.
If the FAA suspends or revokes your certificate, you can appeal the FAA decision to another administrative law judge acting on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). During an appeal action, you can ask that the FAA order be overturned or the penalties reduced. If you still are unhappy with the results of the appeal, you can further appeal the FAA action to the full NTSB for further review, and, eventually, federal court.
Aviation law can be complex. Skilled representation is necessary. Williams Commercial Law Group, L.L.P., is a law firm with decades of experience in aviation law, business divorce, and high stakes litigation. Contact us at (602) 256-9400 and schedule a time to meet with us today.