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PILOT-COUNSEL: The $5,000 Fine
This case tells us what can happen if an airman refuses to surrender a medical certificate that has been timely reversed by the FAA. In this case, under the circumstances, it was a $5,000 fine. The pilot had earlier reported to the FAA, as he was required to, that he had suffered an alcohol-related suspension of his driver’s license/privileges. Some months later, the pilot applied to an Aviation Medical Examiner for a third-class medical certificate, and in routine fashion received it. When the application was routinely reviewed by the Manager of the AMCD, the Manager, noting the driver license suspension, asked for additional information to determine the pilot’s eligibility to hold a medical certificate. After the pilot failed to provide the requested information, the Manager reversed the issuance of the certificate within the 60-day period as extended by the request for additional information. The Manager asked the pilot to return the certificate to the FAA, and offered a grace period. The pilot again failed to respond, and the FAA initiated a civil penalty assessment proceeding seeking a $5,000 fine. The FAA has a sanction guidance table that provides a range of sanctions for various violations, including for failure to surrender a certificate when legally demanded.
The FAA correspondence warned the pilot that he was subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,100 for each day the violation continued, but did offer to close the matter out if the pilot surrendered the certificate within 10 days. The pilot did not surrender the certificate until 16-days after the grace period expired.
The pilot tried to avoid the fine by appealing to the National Transportation Safety Board. He told the Board that “this whole process has been quite confusing and, regrettably, I did not act within the timelines requested of me. As a father and business owner/operator, I am constantly busy with various activities that require my time. Unfortunately, I did not always respond to the issues outlined in this case in a timely fashion. For that, I regret allowing this issue to become a case at all….I submitted my information to [the Aerospace Medical Certification Division manager] and subsequently have surrendered my medical certificate. I hope this letter makes it clear that the $5,000 penalty is not appropriate considering the nature of the case and I hope that you feel the same way.”
But the Board, stressing that the FAA provided the pilot with ample opportunity to avoid the fine, affirmed the assessment of a $5,000 civil penalty. The Board noted that the penalty assessed was at the low end of what the FAA could have sought under the sanction guidance table, representing a fraction of the $17,600 maximum that could have been made for the 16-day period, at $1,100 per day.
Nevertheless, we continue to advise that pilots should never voluntarily surrender a pilot or medical certificate to anyone including the FAA until he or she has gotten some expert advice. This case represents a very limited exception.
Copyright © Yodice Associates 2012. All rights reserved.
John Yodice is the Senior Partner of the Law Offices of Yodice Associates, a law firm experienced in aviation legal matters involving DOT, FAA and TSA certification and compliance, corporate governance, aircraft transactions and more. www.yodice.com
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