Judge: FAA Must Pay For Flawed Investigation

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The FAA has been ordered to pay fees and other expenses incurred by two ATP-rated Learjet pilots, whose certificates the agency had ordered suspended, according to Aviation Law Experts LLC, acting on behalf of the pilots. A Chief Administrative Law Judge of the NTSB found that "the agency proceeded on a weak and tenuous basis with a flawed investigation bereft of any meaningful evidence" and further showed a "lack of substantial justification" ... "not having a reasonable basis in both law and fact." According to legal counsel for the pilots, the case involved both FSDO-approved removal of a divan from a Learjet 60 (that FAA inspectors at another location later deemed in violation of regulations), and the alleged violation of operating the same jet without a functioning ELT battery (which defending attorney, Greg Winton, successfully argued was inapplicable per the regulations). The FAA filed a complaint against two pilots involved and consolidated those cases, then further sought a $9,900 civil penalty against the owner of the aircraft. Initiated on March 21, 2008, the FAA withdrew all charges against the pilots on June 20, 2008. Details follow.

In removing the divan, the Lear's captain had contacted the FAA FSDO at Albuquerque to determine a proper procedure and subsequently, and as instructed, had the seat removed by an A&P mechanic. The mechanic recalculated weight and balance, prepared maintenance records and returned the aircraft to service. Then, upon the jet's arrival at Teterboro, N.J., local FAA inspectors determined that removal of the divan required an STC and, as performed, was in violation of regulations. While at Teterboro an A&P mechanic found the aircraft's ELT battery failed a bench test but reinstalled the old battery while awaiting a freshly ordered replacement. The FAA alleged that operation of the aircraft without the new battery constituted a violation of regulations. It later found that the regulations would not apply because the unit had been temporarily removed for replacement. The judge sided with the pilots on both issues and the pilots have been awarded over $12,000 in fees and expenses.