Pilot and YouTuber Trent Palmer announced on Thursday that the FAA has suspended his certificate for 60 days. According to Palmer, the issue dates back to Nov. 24, 2019, when he made an inspection pass over a private airstrip on a friend’s property in an area described as “sparsely populated” after having been invited to land there by the friend. Palmer says he opted to move on without landing due to the conditions of the strip.

Video footage of the low pass was captured by a neighbor’s security camera and given to the FAA, after which the agency contacted Palmer. In addition to 14 CFR 91.13 prohibiting careless and reckless operation of an aircraft, the FAA holds that he violated 14 CFR 91.119(a) and (c), which cover minimum safe altitudes, including allowing for an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property if a power unit fails and not operating an aircraft closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure except when necessary for takeoff or landing. The issue went to a hearing and, according to Palmer, the administrative law judge (ALJ) ruling on the case stated in his ruling that since Palmer didn’t land the aircraft, the maneuver wasn’t necessary for takeoff or landing and, since there wasn’t a windsock or any sort of runway lights or runway markers, the airstrip wasn’t an acceptable landing site.

“The problem here is the precedents or the case law that is established by the decision,” Palmer said in the video. “The problem with that is that by the judge or ALJ stating that because I didn’t land it wasn’t a necessary landing procedure, now that would basically mean that any time we want to land in a new place that would require inspection passes to assess the feasibility of that spot, if there were any chance that you were within 500 feet of a vehicle, vessel, person, or structure—knowingly or unknowingly—you would need to go land there for it to not be a violation, meaning there would be external pressures making us change our aeronautical decision making.”

Palmer maintains that he had the ability to conduct an emergency landing throughout the entire flight. He is appealing the decision and is able to fly pending the results of that appeal. He also noted that the FAA initially requested a 120-day suspension.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

44 COMMENTS

  1. A much more impactful and important case for general aviation than the drama over the doof crashing the Taylorcraft and the RedBull media stunt.

    • Exactly… in a very big way… not so much the decision, but, the ignorance and stupidity of the people making it on full display.

      • The decision is going to be precedent standing within FAA administrative law if it’s allowed to stand. People know that the level of stupidity is boundless within government.

        • Disagree. Have you read the Off Airport Ops Guide? I don’t think it is applicable in this case.

  2. I hope we have all the facts correctly. If we do then the ALJ is a duffus, and us pilot are once again the whipping boy.

  3. Is this “judge” trying to make go arounds illegal? Because that’s what will happen if this ruling is allowed to stand.

    • Also, are there minimum requirements for private runways? I’ve seen a lot of them that don’t have windsocks, lights, or markings.

      • If I’m not mistaken, the recon was over a radio control model airfield, not a private airport. During flight training, my local airport was a stone’s throw from another a/p. Both non towered sharing the same CTAF. Callouts ID’d which a/p so everyone keeps track of who’s on first. Pattern altitude was 800 feet. Across the road from the a/p is an r/c flying field. All legal and above board. Sometimes after a training flight I would stop by the r/c field to watch rc modelers fly their model a/c. Their altitude is restricted to 400 feet.

    • It’s worse than that, by this ruling the Judge just essentially deemed that ALL Non-Emergency off Field landings aren’t Lawful. This falls into a “Holy F&%# What the hell was that Judge THINKING????” realm. It also doesn’t just affect the recreational back country/bush guys, it also effects things like Alaska, where a lot of people absolutely RELY on Backcountry Pilots. What about Seaplanes?? there aren’t any Runway Lights, or Wind Socks (As specified by the Judge) outside of established Seaplane “Bases”..that means Water landings aren’t lawful now either. the Scope of this decision is, frankly, frightening.

    • Not go-arounds, since presumably the primary intent was to land. But it does seem to make low-approaches illegal, since in that case there is no intent to land. It would also seem to make *any* intentional non-emergency off-airport landing illegal, and specifically make it illegal to do a recon pass. It seems this “law judge” is anti-GA.

      • “Not go-arounds, since presumably the primary intent was to land.”

        Incorrect. A go-around is a specific intention NOT to land.

        The only option the judge left open here, is to land. Period.

  4. Ha! Yeah, this definitely passes the excuses-a-5-year-old-would-never-make test.

    “I totally had to inspect the ground at incredibly high speed in my friend’s backyard at really low level. Then there was a tree and so I had to pull up into a 90 degree climb to avoid it. All my stuff in the cockpit started flying around making a hazard, so I had to do a half roll to keep it from interfering with the flight controls.”

    • Yea, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Sounds like maybe the transcript from the Admin Law Judge that issued the opinion.

    • Im not a lawyer or administrative law expert but from what I understand about this issue, an individual made a complaint about a low flying airplane and provided video of a video of the airplane in flight that the FAA used to bring a FAR violation case against the pilot (Palmer) and an ALJ found him guilty. Not sure how the complainant is “damaged” as you reference but there certainly has been a ruling per Trent Palmer.

  5. If the hose being buzzed was owned by a “friend”, why did the friend file a complaint? When we land at a friend’s ranch we have permission. And we do not land on a gravel bar occupied by others, including bears or moose.

  6. As usual, we are not all in possession of all the facts of this case as presented at the the hearing. Mr Palmer has stated his case publicly; the FAA has not and probably never will. On that basis, all the comments here are completely pointless speculation.

    • “Mr Palmer has stated his case publicly; the FAA has not and probably never will.”

      As I understand it, NTSB administrative cases are a matter of public record, like most (all?) court records. There is a searchable database of NTSB case decisions, here:

      http://www.ntsb.gov/legal/alj/Pages/ONOQuery.aspx

      However, I’m unable to find anything about Trent(on) Palmer. Perhaps it’ll show up later. I can’t find anything for Trevor Jacob, either. But that may be because his was an emergency revocation that hasn’t gone before the NTSB panel yet.

  7. Previously, palmer had an issue at Lake Tahoe where he was demonstrating skiing on the water with tires while carrying a passenger. The question then was reg language “endangering another,” the passenger. Again, another non-landing, landing situation.

    Clearly, there is a big difference between backcountry gravel bar landing techniques & demonstrating a technique on the most contentious body of water in the west. I imagine his history played into the FAA decision to have a hearing at all.

    The property he was inspecting for landing was an RC model field. I imagine there are neighbor tensions there we don’t know about. Given that his plane was captured on the neighbor’s security cameras, i imagine they feel violated (whether or not they legally own the airspace in question. One doesn’t move to the country to be sociable).

    Anyway, two strikes. Wheel skiing with a passenger near the shore in a developed area of Lake Tahoe & invading a homeowner’s sense of privacy. Both avoidably & ill-advised activities.

  8. These are FAA regs, not laws, and this was a hearing, not a court case, that operates on a different set of rules. The ALJ ruled on the applicability of the rulebook, not civil or criminal law statutes. I don’t see where his statement about “… The problem here is the precedents or the case law that is established by the decision…” follows. This was an individual enforcement action and the FAA, being the governing body on future cases as well, will not be adding rules or amendments or precedents to the rule he has been judged – not “convicted” – of violating. The rule is in place. FAA is gonna do whatever FAA is gonna do.

    That being said, I wonder what brand of household security cam can capture such accurate and reliable altitude data re: 500ft. I bet it could also be used to verify ultralights and single-place LSAs actually meet max and min mandated airspeeds. By the book, etc.

    • A camera merely needs to capture the image with a fixed object in the image. From there, with a little geometry, the height above ground can be calculated, assuming the height of the fixed object can be measured. For speed, if the course track relative to the camera location is known, the frame speed of image acquisition is known, can be calculated easily. Your cell phone can be used, provided it is held still during the filming. Even if not, it can still be used to calculate if a motion correction factor can be determined from stationary ground objects. The math is just a little more complicated. Computer analysis can provide a frame by frame correction factor matrix.

    • Great comment, Chris. Also, as Art W. has demonstrated, we are all screwed. Also, don’t invite him to a party if you want to have fun.

  9. Stare decisis relies upon precedent in cases, and this applies to administrative law where one matter for an individual or agency with the matter having been handled previously.

  10. This sounds like typical FAA. Remember LODA for flight training in experimentals?
    FAA says ya this is good this is how it should work (like the AIM), then some Judge interprets the actual laws (FARs) differently and FAA finds out they’ve been telling people to do illegal stuff the whole time.

  11. This sounds like an FAA inspector got a complaint from the neighbors (who might have already been disgruntled by the model airplane activities) and concluded that it was a buzz job before ever speaking to the pilot, then couldn’t take the ego hit of backing down when he found out it was actually a legitimate operation.

  12. And for some people the ‘not so friendly’ private chat.

    Decades ago a Learjet landed on the looong straightaway of the car racing track southeast of Kent WA, before racing started. After the races it departed. I thought that was cool to see.

    Years later in an aviation forum a person responded to my story by saying that an FAA person ‘had words’ with the pilot, as in “Neat, but Do NOT do that again.” 😉

    (That straightaway includes drag strip and runout length for hot dragsters, it is less than a mile since road course is 2.24 miles, wiggles around downhill, and loops around ends of straightaway. There was clearway at west end prior to trees that were of regular height (not mature Douglas Firs). Airplane arrived from that end and departed toward it. I don’t remember trees and terrain off east end, it is on a plateau above a valley.

  13. I remember a case from many years ago where two pilots in a jet (I think it was) were practicing Instrument Approaches to an airport that was not long enough for them to land at. (One being a Safety Pilot also.) They didn’t intend to land – they were just following NAVIDS for proficiency. And, being a twin something, they had plenty of power to go around if an engine failed.

    They didn’t fly any differently than you or I would fly if we were shooting the same approaches at the same airport in a Single Engine Piston. Or if we were practicing Engine Outs. (Which I know one doesn’t do in jets – my point is simply that sometimes we get low while practicing legitimate procedures.)

    Nevertheless, the FAA busted them for Careless & Reckless.

    They appealed and lost. Ruined their ATP’s, IIRC. Probably their livelihoods.

    I learned then what lawyers mean when they use the phrase “arbitrary and capricious.”

    A terrible way to run a legal system. (Hab 1:4.)

    • Sure – what could go wrong. Well, a Boeing 777 lost power to both engines at Heathrow (2008) and crash landed 330 metres short of the runway. But thanks to the large perimeter area of the airport, it came down within the airfield boundary.

      • So are you saying that you consider shooting an Instrument Approach to an airport not approved for landing (say the runway was undergoing construction) is careless & reckless?

        • I’m trying to point out that nothing is guaranteed even with jets and unexpected things can happen. I wouldn’t want to see anyone trapping themselves in a position where there is no escape and in a smaller airport environment where there’s more possible exposure to persons/property. Maybe there could also be noise issues at a smaller airport that wouldn’t exist where a jet would normally be operating. I really would like to see the documentation and explanation that led to this violation.

  14. Okay. The violation that I was citing was from 30 (or more) years ago. In Alaska, IIRC. Before electronic publishing. (And so not likely to be in a searchable database. (I couldn’t find it with a cursory search.) I don’t remember if they were shooting ILS’s (down to an DH of 200 ft or an NDB with an MDA of 1000′. Or if they broke off at 500′ AGL.)

    It’s true that nothing is guaranteed and so flying is risky/reckless by nature. I mean, even in a perfectly maintained airplane, the engine can crack a valve. (BTW, in the B-777 crash that you cited, except for piloting an airplane, there wasn’t anything careless or reckless done by the pilots. (No one knows what happen, but the guess is that the fuel iced up.) It could have crashed anywhere. It was only by God’s grace that they crashed at Heathrow.)

    So in the extreme, one could be fined for “Careless & Reckless” just for flying a plane. Or flying a single engine plane at night. Or a SE at night over mountains. Or a SE in IMC, at night, over mountains. Some pilots today consider any of the latter to be unacceptable risks. For them. But that doesn’t automatically equate to careless & reckless.

    My point is that, as it goes to “Careless & Reckless,” the rule is (unconstitutionally?) vague. And not consistent. No one can know for certain what the “contours” for violating this rule is. (Which, in criminal matters, has been grounds for acquittal.)

    In the violation that I cited, I don’t think that practicing approaches to an “unsuitable” airport is careless or reckless. Especially since there was no incident/crash. (I wonder today if the whole thing wasn’t political.)

    Case in point: (And I hadn’t thought of this when I replied to you at first (and so I was not laying a trap)) – But here in the Phoenix area there is Luke (AFB) Aux 1, a closed, abandoned, airfield.

    Since I don’t instruct anymore, I don’t know if it still has an operational ILS. But when I was a CFI-I, it had an ILS and the fighters based at Luke AFB used it for practice approaches (with never the intent to land). And when the Military Controllers weren’t busy with the fighters, they would talk civilians down the ILS. My instructor even had them give me some GCA’s when I was practicing for my ATP! With never the intent to land.

    Luke even “published” and disseminated an unofficial plate for the ILS. And our local FSDO knew about it, recommended it to us as a reliever for Sky Harbor, knew we all used it. etc. with never anyone being violated for C & R for shooting approaches to a closed airport.

    And I have shot a lot of practice ILS’s to 200′ at open airports, with no intent to land, where persons/property were nearby.

    So if none of the above has been considered careless & reckless here, I don’t see why doing the same would be considered careless & reckless anywhere else.

    • Since the Alaska case is so old, I guess we’ll never know what the circumstances were and not knowing that I don’t see how we could use that case to apply to another case. In general, I think the exception from the minimum altitude regulation is being taken out of context. The altitude exception in 91.119 generally applies to airport traffic patterns for takeoffs and landings and other maneuvers necessary for pilot proficiency such as practice approaches, low approaches, and go-arounds (see Anderson Legal Interpretation). I would think that the approaches at Luke are a fully approved exception – all parties as you said were involved. In the Palmer case, he appears to be relying on that FAA publication which describes how to perform a low altitude inspection of the landing area. I’m wondering if that applies to his situation. The Ops Guide was written by the Alaskan Region FAASTeam and it includes in the general considerations of the guide “transporting people and gear to locations that would be difficult or impossible to reach in any other way”. What do you think – is that the correct guide for landing in someone’s back yard by invitation? I guess we’ll see.

      As far as the 777 at Heathrow, it was a problem with fuel icing resulting in a modification made to the fuel-oil heat exchanger of each engine. The pilots were hailed as heroes – there was no loss of life.

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