What Pilot’s Rights Act of 2012 Means to You

If you’ve been wondering what the Pilot’s Rights Act of 2012 means to you as an airline pilot and ALPA member, we have an answer for you: Not a lot.

The new federal legislation, signed into law by President Obama on August 3, 2012, is more significant for general aviation pilots than for ALPA members, says Jim Johnson, ALPA supervising attorney.

In an FAA enforcement case “relating to denial, amendment, modification, suspension, or revocation of an airman certificate,” the agency’s letter to the accused (the so-called “10-day letter”) now must include the “releasable” portions of the FAA’s evidence against the pilot. Johnson explains that, in most FAA enforcement cases against ALPA members, the union advises the pilot against responding to the letter, as any such response can be used against the defendant, and it is not required.

ALPA attorneys then obtain the relevant evidence via a Freedom of Information Act request. Thus this change, while it will require the FAA to supply the information earlier, won’t matter much to ALPA members represented by ALPA attorneys.

The NTSB administrative law judges who hear FAA enforcement cases no longer will be bound by the FAA’s interpretation of FAA regulations—and that’s a significant improvement for all pilots.

The Pilots’ Bill of Rights provides a new option for appealing a certificate action: A pilot has a choice of appealing an NTSB Order to either the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, or to the U.S. District Court in which the pilot resides or in which the action in question occurred, or to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. An appeal to the District Court may give the pilot the opportunity to introduce additional evidence and make additional arguments. Pilots thus now have “another bite at the apple” if they so choose.

Another improvement for all pilots is that within six months, the FAA must begin a NOTAM Improvement Program to streamline the NOTAM system, to include a filtering mechanism similar to that used by the Department of Defense to reduce the number of NOTAMs pilots receive for a specific flight. The new legislation mandates that the improvements to the NOTAM system be implemented by August 3, 2013.

Also within six months, the FAA must begin a government/industry review of the FAA airman medical certification process to

• revise the application form for greater clarity and guidance,
• align medical qualification policies with currently accepted medical judgment and practices,
• improve public understanding of the process, and
• ensure fair and consistent application of medical standards.

The FAA will be required to issue a report to Congress based on the assessment; within one year after issuing the report, the agency will have to act on the report.