WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On April 22, 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) denied an appeal by the FAA and affirmed the initial decision of Administrative Law Judge William A. Pope II, modifying an emergency order. The FAA sought revocation of the air carrier certificate held by Air Trek Inc., an air ambulance operator based in Punta Gorda, FL.
Air Trek has been grounded since May 24, 2008, when the FAA first issued an emergency order indefinitely suspending its certificate, pending compliance with the federal aviation regulations. On June 10, 2008, the FAA withdrew its suspension order and issued an order of revocation instead. Prior to the revocation, Air Trek had been in operation for thirty years with no history of violation.
The revocation order initially contained 38 factual allegations and 14 regulatory violations. At the outset of the nine-day hearing, the FAA withdrew seven factual allegations and two regulatory violations. By the fourth day of the hearing, the FAA withdrew most of the remaining factual allegations and nine of the 14 violations.
According to the NTSB, the FAA's attorney "almost immediately began experiencing difficulties in presenting his case." In denying the Agency's appeal, the NTSB stated that the FAA's brief was "long on argument and short on proof." Accordingly, the NTSB affirmed the law judge's decision modifying the revocation order to an indefinite suspension, until such time that Air Trek can satisfy the FAA that it can safely fulfill all responsibilities of its air carrier certificate.
The NTSB stated, "we do not find that the Administrator has established sufficient support for the complaint's allegation regarding lack of qualifications, as well as other allegations that the law judge dismissed." In conclusion, the NTSB ordered the FAA and Air Trek to "work together in good faith, as expeditiously as practical," in order to resolve the FAA's concerns and demonstrate that Air Trek can properly operate in accordance with its certificate and regulatory requirements. As of April 30, 2009, the FAA has not yet established a schedule for Air Trek to demonstrate compliance.
Throughout the hearing and appeal, Air Trek was represented by Gregory S. Winton of Aviation Law Experts LLC, along with co-counsel, Darol H.M. Carr of the Farr Law Firm. Winton, a former FAA senior trial attorney, has been practicing aviation law exclusively for the past 20 years.
According to Winton, "although the revocation order did not survive, Air Trek has been grounded for almost one year and has lost millions of dollars in revenue. Nevertheless, Air Trek is ready, willing, and able to immediately demonstrate that it can properly operate in accordance with its operating certificate and regulatory requirements." In the meantime, Winton will apply for reimbursement of attorney fees and expenses on behalf of his client pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).