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Bill heading to White House gives pilots increased ability to fight FAA

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, a pilot, is spearheading legislation to institute a  "Pilot's Bill of Rights."

Story highlights

  • The legislation was spearheaded by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma
  • Inhofe faced FAA scrutiny after landing his private plane on a closed runway
  • The bill would all pilots to appeal NTSB rulings in federal district court
  • It also would require the GAO to review the FAA's medical certification process

Fueled by a close call on a runway two years ago involving a U.S. senator, general aviation pilots will soon have increased leverage when facing FAA disciplinary action under a bill awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.

The legislation was spearheaded by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, whose own piloting incident led to increased scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Inhofe, an experienced pilot with more than 10,000 flying hours, faced an FAA investigation after landing his private plane on a closed runway, sending ground workers scrambling for safety.

In the October 2010 incident, the investigators said the runway was clearly marked with a large "X" indicating it was closed. Additionally, a notice warning pilots the runway was closed had been issued. Such notices, called NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), are supposed to be checked by all pilots prior to departure.

Inhofe said he didn't check for FAA warnings.

Supporters of the "Pilot's Bill of Rights" say the new measure passed by the House and Senate gives general aviation pilots the ability to fight charges levied against them by FAA officials.

Highlights of the bill include:

-- Allowing pilots to appeal National Transportation Safety Board rulings in federal district court. Previously, pilots could only appeal FAA findings to an NTSB administrative law judge.

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-- Requiring the FAA to inform pilots when they're being investigated and notify them that any response by the pilot can be used as evidence against them.

-- Forcing the FAA to share all evidence with the pilot before any enforcement action is enacted.

-- Requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the FAA's medical certification process. Pilots have argued that current FAA medical forms are easily misunderstood, resulting in those who are under investigation being accused of falsifying the documents.

"This bill remedies many of the most serious deficiencies in the relationship between general aviation and the FAA, and ensures that pilots are, like everyone else, treated in a fair and equitable manner by the justice system," Inhofe said after the bill passed by voice vote in the House.

Pilot advocacy groups lauded the news. "This is a landmark bill for general aviation, and protecting GA pilots' freedom to fly," said Lorraine Howerton, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association vice president of legislative affairs, said on the AOPA's website.

Inhofe told the Washington Post at the time, "I called the [Federal Aviation Administration] when I landed to tell them what had happened" and to see if there was any problem ... Since there was no accident, there appeared to be no significant problem."

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