Next step for Pilot’s Bill of Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pilot’s Bill of Rights is moving along through Congress after Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) recently introduced a companion bill to one introduced last year in the Senate by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), which now has more than 60 co-sponsors.

The two bills are meant to improve the relationship between general aviation pilots, the FAA, and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Currently, if the FAA is investigating a flight, that agency will deny pilots access to critical information that is part of the investigation. This limits the pilot’s ability to know what happened, as well as to participate in the investigation, according to the bill’s sponsors. Among other enforcement related provisions, the Bill of Rights requires the FAA to notify a pilot who is the subject of an investigation. It also requires the FAA to provide to pilots their options for moving forward and to share relevant information with them.

It also permits any person who is denied an airman’s certificate, or one whose certificate is revoked, to file an appeal in the United States district court or to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Other sections of the bill require the FAA to improve the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system. It requires the FAA to work with the general aviation community to clean up the system and ensure that relevant information is easily searchable.

Another section of the bill changes how Flight Service Station briefings and other air traffic services performed by government contractors are made available. Currently, a subpoena is needed to obtain the information. The bill changes that to making it available through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Another part of the bill takes on the FAA’s medical certification process and forms. Its aim is to provide greater clarity. The present form is considered to be ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation, resulting in pilots unintentionally giving incorrect information. The bill requires the FAA to work with the general aviation community to update and clarify the form.

A panel to work more closely with the aviation community would also have to be established by the FAA. It would consist of people from general aviation pilot groups, aviation examiners, and other qualified medical experts to advise the FAA.

Advice from people can change conditions if they have the proper incentives, as this bit of information about altering the FAA medical requirements will show. Max Karant, a long-time aviation journalist and for nearly 30 years the number two man at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), wrote about general aviation and loved every part of it. But in his early years he was not able to become a pilot because his depth perception eye problem was not acceptable under rules of the Civil Aeronautics Authority (predecessor of the FAA). Citing Wiley Post, who flew solo around the world although he had but one eye, had no effect on changing medical requirements. Then, in 1944, a scientist buried deep in the bowels of the CAA maneuvered into position to appear before a Congressional medical committee. He pointed out that a bird with one eye on each side of its head uses depth perception from only one eye, noting that if a bird can land on a tiny branch safely, surely an intelligent human can land an aircraft. Max got his license. For a quarter of a century he piloted aircraft safely.

Congressional action on the Pilot’s Bill Of Rights might be today’s way of getting and keeping more people in the air.

The request for other representatives to sign on as co-sponsors was sent to members of the House by Graves and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), a member of the aviation sub-committee. Graves and Inhofe are both pilots and leaders in the general aviation caucuses in both houses of Congress.

Industry supporters of the bill cited in the request for co-sponsors include AOPA, Experimental Aircraft Association, Helicopter Association International, National Business Aviation Association, and Recreational Aviation Foundation.

The bills go first before committees, then are acted on by the full chambers, and finally go to the President for signature.

In Washington, good things move slowly, but the Pilot’s Bill of Rights is on its way.

 

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

 

 

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