WASHINGTON -- Following a two day hearing in Philadelphia, the Chief Administrative Law Judge of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dismissed an emergency order issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeking revocation of the Airframe & Powerplant, Inspection Authorization, and Commercial Pilot certificates held by a New Jersey aircraft mechanic (NTSB Docket No. SE-18415). The FAA alleged that during an annual inspection, the mechanic made a fraudulent or intentionally false maintenance record entry concerning the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) battery, and that he returned the aircraft to service with airframe corrosion.
The mechanic testified that during an inspection of a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza, he noted that the ELT battery had expired. He immediately notified the owner, who was assisting with the inspection. He then removed, tested, and replaced the battery back into the aircraft after confirming that the battery still contained sufficient charge. The maintenance record entry stated "Removed and replaced ELT battery next due for replacement again in [intentionally left blank]." The owner testified that he was going to supplement the maintenance record entry after he had installed the new battery. Although the battery had been purchased, he forgot to install it in the aircraft.
The Chief Judge substantially relied upon the testimony of Carmine "JC" Colaluca, Chief Inspector of a repair station located in Frederick, MD. Inspector Colaluca was accepted as an expert in General Aviation maintenance. According to Colaluca, the maintenance record entry contained a "poor choice of words." However, in his opinion, the mechanic did not violate the Federal Aviation Regulations. Based upon the expert testimony, the Judge found that the mechanic meant he "removed and reinstalled" the battery. Since the aircraft did not require an ELT battery to be airworthy, he found "no fraudulent or false intention" by the mechanic.
During cross examination, FAA Inspectors Daniel Spera and Thomas Mancuso from the Teterboro, New Jersey, Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) stated that they never spoke with the mechanic or the aircraft owner during their investigation. As a result, the Judge found "insufficient contact" by FAA Inspectors to ascertain the facts before initiating a revocation action. The Judge stated that there was a "failure to communicate" between the FAA and the mechanic.
Unrelated to the annual inspection, the nose gear collapsed upon landing eight months later. At that time, Inspectors Spera and Mancuso took pictures of what appeared to be corrosion on the left flap. Based upon the photos alone, they incorrectly testified that corrosion existed at the time of the inspection. Neither inspector had experience maintaining aircraft near the highly corrosive Atlantic Ocean seashore, where the aircraft had been based.
The mechanic testified that he removed the right flap based upon the amount of corrosion noted during his inspection. Accordingly, the Judge found that "when and if" the mechanic saw corrosion he would take "appropriate action" as he did with the right flap. As a result, the Judge discredited testimony that corrosion must have existed at the time of the inspection.
During closing argument, the Chief Judge stated that the case did not represent a "real life" scenario, meaning that no safety issues were involved. Accordingly, he stated that the case "never should have been brought."
The mechanic was represented by Gregory S. Winton, Esq., a former FAA and U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney, who has been practicing aviation law for the past 20 years. According to Winton, "this case is just another example of the FAA's abuse of prosecutorial discretion." This is the second emergency revocation that Winton has had reversed within the past three months.