Photo credit: U-T San Diego, John Gibbins / AP
Every now and then, a story emerges regarding a small airplane that made an emergency landing on a public road or highway. The press never fails to sensationalize the story, often concluding without any evidence that a “stall” or other “failure” caused the incident. Thankfully, skilled pilots who are forced to make these types of emergency landings often walk away from the event. The Federal Aviation Regulations authorize a pilot in command to deviate from any rule to the extent necessary to “meet that emergency.” See FAR 91.3(b). However, when landing on tarmac not owned or operated by FAA governed airports, pilots often encounter difficulties from the state and local authorities which govern the commandeered pavement.
State and local authorities who have no specialized training in aviation regulations may cite pilots in these situations for obstructing highways, damaging property, careless operation, and other offenses despite the fact that the pilots most likely failed to violate a single FAR. It is important to remember that when faced with such a situation, any statement made to authorities may be used against you. Similarly, statements made to the press will often be misprinted and misconstrued. It is wise consult an experienced aviation attorney before speaking to any authorities – federal, state, or local. Our attorneys are available to assist in a wide range of situations, both emergency and routine.
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!