New York Passes Aviation Tax Reform

downloadThe New York State Legislature recently passed significant tax reform which brings the Empire State’s aviation tax requirements in line with neighboring jurisdictions.  Through its budget process, the State legislature exempted general aviation aircraft from its sales and use tax.  The measure is aimed at attracting aviation-related jobs and business to New York, which has long been devoid of such economic resources.  The State legislature also removed onerous requirements on leasing structures used by aircraft owners and other businesses.

Once signed by the governor, the reforms will exempt general aviation aircraft, machinery and equipment installed on such aircraft from New York sales and use tax, beginning on Sept. 1, 2015.  The exact level of impact on the State’s economy and aircraft owners, as well as the legal implications for aircraft transactions remain to be seen.

Due to the complexity of aircraft transactions, potential buyers and sellers should consult with experienced legal counsel as early as possible in the deal process.

FAA Announces Unmanned Aircraft Testing Sites

quadcopter-droneThe FAA recently announced the congressionally-mandated research and test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”).  The test site operators selected by the FAA are:

The University of Alaska;

The state of Nevada;

Griffiss International Airport (RME) (New York);

The North Dakota Department of Commerce;

Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi; and

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

In announcing its selections, the FAA stated that “each test site operator will manage the test site in a way that will give access to parties interested in using the site.”  However, the agency has yet to announce rules or procedures by which it will ensure that UAS will avoid and not enter the same airspace as manned aircraft, or whether UAS operating at these test sites will meet the same certification and airworthiness standards as manned aircraft.

Sequestration Comes to New Jersey

The FAA has released it schedule of tower closings due to federal sequestration.  According to statistics provided by  AOPA, the FAA is being forced to cut $600 million, about 5 percent of its budget, and the Contract Tower Program is slated to take a 75-percent cut.  On the list of tower closings is Trenton Mercer Airport (TTN) in Ewing, New Jersey.  Situated on the edge of the Philadelphia Class B airspace, Trenton Mercer Tower provides key coordination and separation services for both air carrier and general aviation operations.  Pilots should check the tower closing list and call ahead to verify whether ATC services will be available at their destination.  For safety and compliance, pilots who do not regularly operate at uncontrolled airports should review non-towered airport procedures prior to departure.

FAA to Begin “Ratcheting Down” Operations Under Sequestration

This week, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta laid out the FAA’s plan if mandatory federal budget cuts go into effect on March 1.  He indicated that sequestration will mean furloughs, shuttered control towers, slowed NextGen modernization programs, selective repairs of navigation aids, and a “steady ratcheting down” of FAA operations.  According to AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger, general aviation will suffer the greatest impacts of sequestration.

Because the budget reduction program requires percentage-based cuts across the board, all FAA programs will be vulnerable, including control towers under the FAA’s Contract Tower Program, which are expected to gradually close.   Eventually Lockheed-Martin Flight Service and DUAT flight planning will also be affected.  Advocacy groups, including AOPA, are pushing for a legislative solution before the March 1 deadline.

NTSB Adopts Final Rule for Review of Emergency FAA Certificate Actions

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its final rule amending provisions of its rules of practice pertaining to the review of FAA emergency certificate actions.  Acting on comments submitted to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the NTSB modified its rules of practice (49 CFR 821) to require a law judge to permit evidence pertaining to the propriety of the FAA’s decision to proceed against the certificate holder on an emergency basis.  Although the NTSB declined to change its rule requiring its administrative law judges to “assume the truth” of the FAA’s factual allegations in emergency certificate actions, allowing respondents to submit evidence as to the appropriateness of the FAA’s decision to proceed on an emergency basis is encouraging.

In support of its decision not to back down from its “assume the truth” standard of review, the NTSB cited the statutory time constraints applicable to emergency cases, which require it to render decisions on emergent cases within five days.  With only four administrative law judges, the NTSB claims that it cannot effectively hold hearings and render full decisions on the merits within the short time frame required for emergency actions.

Appealing an emergency order of suspension or other adverse certificate action can be an overwhelming process, which should not be undertaken alone.  Contacting an experienced aviation attorney immediately after receiving notice of such an action can make all the difference.  Don’t delay!

Federal Judge Sentences Pilot to Fly

In a unique ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang sentenced pilot, Thomas Leroy Hauptman, to donate 500 hours of flight time as restitution for violations of the Lacey Act.  Mr. Hauptman estimates that the flight time will cost him approximately $500,000, a sentence that he called, “expensive but fair”.  Local news coverage indicates that Mr. Hauptman pleaded guilty to illegally transporting deer and mouflon rams between Maui and the mainland island of Hawaii.  The Lacey Act, which dates back to 1900, is designed to protect native species by prohibiting the introduction of non-native species into an ecosystem.

In addition to FARs, pilots should always be cognizant of laws, regulations, and rules which regulate flight activities, including the transportation of cargo and live animals.  Although Mr. Haputman might not have violated any Federal Aviation Regulations, he did illegally transport wild animals which resulted in a hefty fine.  Before departing on flights involving the transportation of passengers, cargo, or animals, pilots should consult with an experienced aviation attorney who can research and advise them on any applicable laws governing the trip.

President Obama Signs Pilot’s Bill of Rights

On August 3, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Pilot’s Bill of Rights.

In the event that a pilot is subject to a proposed certificate action, the new law allows pilots access to investigative reports, air traffic control and flight service recordings, and any other evidence gathered by the FAA at least at least 30 days in advance of action.  It also opens an avenue of appeal of NTSB decisions to the federal courts.

Any airman who is contacted by the FAA or receives a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action should speak to an experienced aviation attorney before agreeing to talk to authorities.

Pilot’s Bill of Rights Passes the House

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights, sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday.  Less than one month after it received unanimous approval in the Senate, the bill is now on its way to the President for his signature.

This important piece of legislation includes improvements to our current system of NOTAMs as well as an overhaul of the FAA medical review process. Most notably Senator Inhofe’s Bill protects pilot rights by overhauling the process by which the FAA prosecutes pilots for FAR violations and the procedure by which the NTSB hears appeals from FAA actions against pilots. The Bill requires the FAA to inform pilots of their basic rights before statements are taken and requires the NTSB to adhere to the same procedural safeguards that are afforded to litigants in regular courts.

We will continue to monitor the status of this legislation and will update you on its progress.