U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus and a CFI with more than 10,000 hours, has introduced S. 1335, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights.
“Over the course of my years in Congress, I have helped an untold number of pilots facing the pressure of dealing with the FAA,” Inhofe said. “This bill remedies many of the most serious deficiencies in the relationship between general aviation and the FAA, and ensures that pilots are treated in a fair and equitable manner. One of the reasons I got into politics was to fight for the everyday citizen facing an uphill battle with bureaucracy, and that’s why I’m so pleased to introduce this legislation — it’s a mixture of my love of flying and pilots and my job of legislating for the people.”
The bill of rights grew out of Inhofe’s own experience after he landed on a closed runway at Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport (PIL) in Texas, in October 2010. After an FAA investigation, he agreed to take remedial training.
He told the “Tulsa World,” that the bill is designed to “add more fairness” to FAA enforcement actions. “If a person is going to be accused of something, he has to know what he is being accused of,” the local newspaper quoted him, adding that he believed that air traffic controller recordings had to be kept and made available to pilots. “I found out that isn’t true. When I tried to get the voice recording, it took me four months, and I’m a United States senator.”
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights:
Requires that in an FAA enforcement action against a pilot, the FAA must grant the pilot all relevant evidence 30 days prior to a decision to proceed with an enforcement action. This is currently not done and often leaves the pilot grossly uninformed of his violation and recourse, Inhofe noted.
Clarifies statutory deference as it relates to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reviews of FAA actions. Too often the NTSB rubber stamps a decision of the FAA, giving wide latitude to the FAA and making the appeals process meaningless, he said.
Allows for federal district court review of appeals from the FAA.
Requires the FAA simplify the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) program, as well as archive NOTAMs in a central location. The process by which NOTAMs are provided by the FAA has long needed revision, Inhofe said, noting, “this will ensure that the most relevant information reaches the pilot.” He added that non-profit general aviation groups will make up an advisory panel for the reforms.
Makes flight service station communications available to all pilots. Currently, the FAA contracts with Lockheed Martin to run its flight service stations. If a request is made for flight service station briefings or other flight service information under the Freedom of Information Act, it is denied because Lockheed Martin is not the government, per se, Inhofe said. “However, they are performing an inherently governmental function and this information should be available to pilots who need it to defend themselves in an enforcement proceeding,” he said.
The bill also requires a review of the FAA’s medical certification process and forms, to provide greater clarity in the questions and reduce the instances of misinterpretation that have, in the past, led to allegations of intentional falsification against pilots, he said. Non-profit general aviation groups will make up an advisory panel.
The bill has 24 original co-sponsors, including U.S. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the co-chairs of the Senate General Aviation Caucus.
“Pilots deserve to be on a level, legal playing field with the FAA,” Johanns said. “This bill gives them access to the same information as the FAA and ensures fair treatment in any enforcement action. The bill will also take important steps to improve the flow of flight information to general aviation users.”