S. 1335: Pilots Bill of Rights

S. 1335

Pilots Bill of Rights

Sponsor
Sen. James M. Inhofe

Date
July 23, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Monday, July 23, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider S. 1335, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority for approval.  The bill was introduced on July 6, 2011, by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and was discharged from the committee by unanimous consent on June 29, 2012.  The bill passed the Senate with amendment on June 29, 2012, by unanimous consent and it was received in the House and referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Bill Summary

S. 1335 would require National Transportation Saftety Board (NTSB) to review Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforcement actions to conform to the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The bill would also require the FAA to provide timely notice to a pilot who is the subject of an investigation, and that any response by the pilot can be used as evidence against him.  The bill would require 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.  

Additionally, the bill would make contractor-run flight service station and contract tower communications available to airmen.  (Currently, if a request is made for flight service station information under FOIA, it is denied to the requestor because the contractor is not the government, per se.  However, the contractor is performing an inherently governmental function and, according to the bill’s sponsor, this information should be available to pilots who need it to defend themselves in an enforcement proceeding.)

The bill would also remove the special statutory deference as it relates to NTSB reviews of FAA actions, and would allow for Federal district court review of appeals from the NTSB, at the election of the appellant.  This is important because a review by the Federal district court is de novo, meaning the pilot gets a new trial with the ability to introduce evidence and a new review of the facts.  

The bill would also require that the FAA undertake a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) Improvement Program, requiring simplification and archival of NOTAMs in a central location.   

Lastly, the bill would require a GAO review of the FAA’s medical certification process and forms, with the goal of demonstrating how the FAA can provide greater clarity in the questions and reduce the instances of misinterpretation that have, in the past, lead to allegations of intentional falsification against pilots. The FAA would be required to take appropriate action on the GAO recommendations within one year.

Background

According to the bill’s sponsor, “too often the NTSB rubber stamps a decision of the FAA, giving wide latitude to the FAA and making the appeals process meaningless.”  Provisions in this bill would return NTSB’s deference to the FAA to general administrative law principles, just like every other government agency.

Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) also maintains that the process by which Notices to Airmen are provided by the FAA has long needed revision, and this bill would ensure that the most relevant information reaches the pilot.  Currently, FAA makes pilots responsible for knowledge of pre-flight conditions.  Non-profit general aviation groups would make up an advisory panel to improve the NOTAM program under this bill.

The FAA’s medical certification process has been known to present a multitude of problems for pilots seeking an airman certificate.  Under this bill, non-profit general aviation groups would make up an advisory panel, which will give advice to the FAA on how the medical certification process can be improved.

 

Cost

There is no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate available at this time.