Even with all the chaos going on in Washington, D.C., the week of Oshkosh — from debt ceiling talks to the partial shutdown of the FAA — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) flew to AirVenture — twice. He flew his new RV-8 up on Thursday, but had to return to Washington. He then flew back on Saturday to lead a forum on his recently introduced Pilot’s Bill of Rights, telling a crowd of pilots that he knows the way to get legislation passed in Washington is to garner their support.
He also took time to explain just how the Bill of Rights came to be.
In October 2010, Inhofe was investigated by the FAA after he landed on a closed runway at Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport (PIL) in Texas. The long-time CFI, who has logged more than 10,000 hours, eventually agreed to take remedial training, but was so frustrated by the process of defending himself that he came up with the Bill of Rights.
A developer, Inhofe said he flies to South Texas on a regular basis, having landed at PIL more than 200 times over the years in his Cessna 340. On the day of his incident, he said he was cleared to land by Valley Approach. He also said he checked the NOTAMs before flying and didn’t see one for PIL.
After he landed on the 8,000-foot runway, which had construction workers on the first 200 feet, he said, he had to face the FAA. And what he found, he said, was disturbing.
“The way the law is written, when a pilot is accused of something, they have 10 days to answer,” he said. “I don’t know of any other instance where you are guilty until proven innocent.”
And trying to prove himself innocent was an eye-opening experience, he said. When he tried to get recordings of his clearance from controllers, it took him four months — “and I’m a U.S. Senator,” he said.
That’s why the first article in the Bill of Rights requires the FAA give a pilot all relevant evidence 30 days prior to a decision to proceed with an enforcement action.
The Bill of Rights also addresses the appeal process. Right now, only the NTSB reviews FAA actions and that board “too often rubber stamps the decision of the FAA, making the appeals process meaningless,” Inhofe said. “I want to open it up to the federal courts, where it can be judge on the basis of fairness.”
He said this also will help pilots, because if FAA investigators know their decisions can be reviewed, this should create “a major change in behavior,” he said.
The third article requires the FAA to simplify NOTAMs, as well as create a central archive for NOTAMs.
The last article in the Bill of Rights deals with a review of the FAA’s medical certification process and forms. “There’s not a pilot in here who doesn’t have a story to tell” about problems with medical certification, he said. To illustrate his point, Inhofe brought legendary air show performer Bob Hoover to the forum and had him tell the story of what happened after the FAA pulled his medical certificate in the early 1990s.
One of the biggest problems with the medical certification process is the 8500-8 form pilots must fill out when they get their medical exam, added Kathy Yodice of Yodice Associates, the law firm that oversees the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) legal services plan.
“The medical form is so antiquated that pilots make innocent mistakes,” she said.
And those innocent mistakes can lead to the FAA revoking all your certificates, grounding you until the mistake is cleared up. “People who falsify their information deserve that,” she said. “But people who don’t understand the question because the question is written poorly don’t deserve that.”
Question 18, Medical History, creates a lot of problems for pilots, she noted. For instance, it asks if you have had an admission to a hospital. Does that trip to the emergency room count as an admission? Most pilots would say no, but the FAA says “of course, you were admitted to the ER,” she said.
Or how about 18V, which covers arrests, convictions and other actions. “It is a 35-word question that requires a Yes or No answer in no less than 12 circumstances,” she said. “We think the question needs to be broken down into separate questions so pilots can answer them correctly.”
Inhofe has called on GA groups, including AOPA, to serve on a advisory panel to review the medical certification process and forms, as well as the NOTAM system.
At the conclusion of the Oshkosh forum, Inhofe passed out copies of the Bill of Rights and told each person to contact their elected representative to support S. 1335. The sheet also included responses to anticipated objections they might have.
“There are no legitimate reasons to oppose this,” he said. “If you agree with me, we can get this done.”