Staying Legal: Mechanics Bill of Rights

Pilots Bill of Rights Public Law 112-153; FAA enforcement cases will change dramatically.

Most mechanics who are also pilots have no doubt read of and heard about the recent law signed by the President called the “Pilots Bill of Rights.” Well, we should know that this law also includes mechanics, IAs, and all other certificated airmen — including air traffic controllers, dispatchers, and any others holding airman certificates. It should be titled the “Airmans Bill of Rights.” Lets take a look at it.

Rule changes re: deference, sanctions, and appeals venue

For years the NTSB had to give what is called deference to legal interpretations that were rather obscure and known mostly by the FAA prosecutors. Many times it came as a surprise to the airman that a legal interpretation not in his favor even existed. This concept has now been rescinded. The Board is no longer forced to follow the legal interpretations that are submitted by the FAA in support of their case. It can interpret the law as it sees fit.

Furthermore, the administrative law judges who hear enforcement cases are no longer bound by what the FAA says is the appropriate sanction to be imposed on an airman for a particular infraction. Now the judge will have more discretion regarding any sanction to be imposed.

Finally, and most importantly, the law adds an additional level of appeal from any final decision of the full NTSB, in that you may now file a further appeal in either of two places … a U.S. District Court in your district, which is new, or in the appropriate U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which has always been available. This is significant. The addition of the U.S. District Court as an appeal and trial venue gives you a direct appeal to your own local U.S. District Court rather than going to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would be much more expensive. A U.S. District Court hearing, will give you a full independent review of your case, in essence a new trial. This is important because you can therefore litigate your case all over again and correct any adverse evidence to the extent possible.

Whereas, a Circuit Court of Appeals will only look at the record that is already established in the NTSB hearings … it is not a de novo review like you get in the District Court. You don’t need a lawyer to bring your appeal in the District Court. The court is designed to allow citizens to bring their cases on their own if they choose and is very careful to guard a citizen’s rights when confronting the government. The District Court is your court and caters to the local population in the district. Needless to say, your own U.S. District Court judges are usually local people who will perhaps know much more about your case than a far away Circuit Court of Appeals or the NTSB for that matter. Your chance of success on the merits of your case is increased markedly, in my opinion.

Evidence details

The law also provides for an expansion of defense areas relating to the denial, amendment, modification, suspension, or revocation of any airman certificate, and of course your IA authority. As far as mechanics and IAs are concerned violations of Part 43 and other maintenance-related regulations are relevant. Although most of the defense techniques described regarding enforcement actions have been in existence for some time, there have been some new additions, for example:

1. There is now a clear statement that says … any proceeding against an airman … “shall be conducted to the extent practicable, in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence.” 

What this means is that there will be a bit more formality in any hearing, (similar to a trial proceeding in a U.S. District Court), with regard to the presentation of the case and its defense by you. In the past all of the NTSB enforcement proceedings were conducted in a more informal manner in accord with rules set down in the Administrative Procedures Act (5USC556). This meant that such things as hearsay cannot  now be introduced unless an exception can be found.

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