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July 30, 2010

FAA Issues Final Rule Requiring Aircraft Re-Registration And Renewal

On July 20, 2010 the FAA published a Final Rule amending the FAA's regulations regarding aircraft registration. Effective October 1, 2010, if you own a U.S. registered aircraft, you are going to have to "re-register" the aircraft with the FAA Registry and then renew that registration every three years thereafter. For an explanation of the Final Rule and the re-registration/renewal processes and procedures, please read my latest article on the topic here.

Posted by Greg

July 23, 2010

Pilot Sentenced For Falsification Of Medical Application

According to a Summary by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General ("OIG"), a pilot has been sentenced to 12 months of probation and payment of a $1,000 fine for falsifying 5 FAA medical certificate applications. According to the OIG, the pilot admitted that he failed to report that he suffered from insomnia, depression, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue and memory difficulties (conditions that may individually, or most certainly all together, would have disqualified the pilot from being issued a medical certificate). Apparently the pilot was receiving disability benefits from both the Social Security Administration ("SSA") and the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") based upon a psychiatric diagnosis, which led to discovery by the FAA.

Seems like a light sentence considering that the pilot omitted the disability information on 5 consecutive applications. However, the pilot's airman certificates were also almost certainly revoked long before the pilot's sentencing. Additionally, although the summary doesn't disclose whether this pilot was discovered during the Operation Safe Pilot investigation, my guess is that this pilot was one of the 40 pilot prosecuted after the FAA and SSA compared their databases during that investigation. Of course, with the consent to share information among agencies provided in the new medical application Form 8500-8 GG, rather than the previous "FF" version, the FAA no longer needs to conduct such an investigation. Rather, it can simply cross-check information with the SSA and VA as needed.

Posted by Greg

July 14, 2010

How Long Does An Aircraft Mechanic's Lien Last?

I was recently asked the question "what happens to an aircraft mechanic's lien that isn't foreclosed upon within a certain period of time?" This person had been researching aircraft records at the FAA Registry and found several aircraft with liens that were recorded against the aircraft over 15 years ago. Not surprisingly, this made him wonder how long an aircraft mechanic's lien lasts.

Since aircraft mechanic's liens are creatures of state statutes, the applicable state statute will govern the validity of and rights associated with an aircraft mechanic's lien. All but 7 states have aircraft mechanic's lien statutes. Those state laws dictate the requirements for "perfecting" a mechanic's lien against an aircraft and, once perfected, for enforcing the lien against the aircraft.

As long as the lien claim or lien statement contains the required information (e.g. name, address, description of work performed, last date of work and amount) and was filed within the time period allowed by the applicable state statute, the FAA Registry will record the lien and the title company will disclose the recorded lien as an encumbrance against the aircraft. At that point, the lien claim is "perfected." Unfortunately, neither the FAA Registry nor any aircraft title company will take a position regarding the validity/enforceability of an aircraft mechanic's lien once that lien is perfected.

Once perfected, the lien claimant will have to file a lawsuit to foreclose upon the lien within the time allowed by the applicable state statute. If that does not happen, the lien claimant will no longer be able to enforce the lien against the aircraft. The lien claimant may still have a claim against the aircraft owner, but the lien claimant would not be able to enforce that claim against the aircraft unless the lien claimant obtained a judgment against the aircraft owner for the amount owed and then recorded that judgment with the FAA Registry.

However, simply because a lien claim is no longer enforceable against the aircraft under the applicable state law, that does not mean that the lien recorded at the FAA Registry is removed. The aircraft will only be released from the recorded lien at the FAA Registry in one of two ways: (1) if the lien claimant signs a release of the lien and the release is recorded with the FAA Registry; or (2) if a court order is obtained declaring the lien as either invalid or unenforceable and that order is then recorded with the FAA Registry. Thus, once recorded, a lien claim, whether enforceable under state law or not, remains an encumbrance against aircraft until affirmatively released.

So, the short, and not particularly precise, answer is: an aircraft mechanic's lien could be a problem for an aircraft for a very long time.

Posted by Greg

July 08, 2010

FAA May Relax Prohibition On Company Reimbursement For Part 91 Flights By Officers/Employees

In a Proposed Interpretation published today, the FAA states that it is "considering revising its broad prohibition on pro rata reimbursement for the cost of owning, operating and maintaining a company aircraft when used for routine personal travel by senior company officials and employees under certain conditions." According to the proposed interpretation, the FAA has tentatively determined that under FAR 91.501(b)5 "a company could be reimbursed for the pro rata cost of owning, operating, and maintaining the aircraft when used for routine personal travel by an individual whose position merits such a high level of company interference into his or her personal travel plans." However, all personal travel would not meet these conditions. For example, flights that would not qualify include emergency circumstances and personal travel that is unlikely to be altered or cancelled such as a wedding, funeral of a close family member or necessary surgery or other medical treatment.

In order to qualify, the FAA indicates that a company "should maintain and regularly update a list of individuals whose position within the company require him or her to routinely change travel plans within a very short period of time" and that list would need to be shared with the FAA upon request. Also, the company's board, or equivalent governing body, would need to determine which employees meet the criteria for inclusion on the list and would need to document their determination that the flight in question was of a routine personal nature.

It is important to note that FAR 91.501(b)5 applies to "large airplanes of U.S. registry, turbojet-powered multiengine civil airplanes of U.S. registry, and fractional ownership program aircraft of U.S. registry that are operating under subpart K of this part in operations not involving common carriage." However, companies operating other aircraft may be able to take advantage of the regulation under the National Business Aviation Association's (NBAA) Exemption 7897, as amended. The NBAA's Small Aircraft Exemption, as it is called by NBAA, allows NBAA Members to operate small civil airplanes and helicopters of U.S. registry under the operating rules of FARs 91.503 through 91.535.

This is certainly good news for business aviation. I would expect that any comments to the proposed interpretation, due no later than August 9, 2010, may focus on the need for further explanation/clarification regarding the types of personal travel that the FAA believes would not qualify and also the specific type/quality of documentation that will need to be maintained in connection with qualifying personal flights.

If you have questions regarding the proposed interpretation or would like further information, you may contact Rebecca B. MacPherson, Assistant Chief Counsel, Regulations Division, Office of the Chief Counsel, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20591; telephone: (202) 267-3073.

Posted by Greg

July 01, 2010

Pilot Sentenced To 8 Months In Jail For Crashing Ultralight While Drunk

According to an AP Article, the pilot of an ultralight aircraft was sentenced to 8 months in jail for crashing his ultralight aircraft into a lake while he was drunk. The accident occurred a year ago on Gull Lake in northern Minnesota. The pilot's passenger in the ultralight was injured. When the pilot was arrested 20 minutes after the accident, he had a blood alcohol concentration of .24 (three times the .08 legal limit in MN). Although the pilot claimed he only consumed alcohol on the rescue boat and on shore after the crash, the prosecution's toxicologist testified that the pilot would have had to consume 11 shots of 100-proof alcohol to have a .24 blood alcohol concentration between the time of the crash and when officers arrived. Quite unlikely.

Interestingly, the article also indicates that the pilot had six prior "driving while intoxicated incidents," although it is unclear whether the pilot was actually convicted of DWI six times. So, was the FAA involved? Hard to say. However, if we assume that the pilot held an airman certificate at the time of the crash (even though not required for operation of an ultralight aircraft), it is almost certain that the FAA revoked the pilot's airman certificate under FARs 91.17(a) (no person may act as a crewmember of an aircraft while under the influence) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless).

Additionally, it is quite likely that the airman probably did not have a medical certificate at the time of the accident. Since the six "incidents" were likely all reportable under FAR 61.15(e), once the FAA learned of at least two, and certainly if it knew about three, of the "incidents" the FAA would have revoked the pilot's medical certificate under FAR 67.307(a) (substance dependence or substance abuse disqualifies a person from holding a third-class medical certificate). After all, as far as the FAA is concerned, three DWI's in a lifetime are considered alcoholism unless proven otherwise.

Of course, we don't know whether my assumptions are correct since the article does not discuss these issues. However, it is safe to say that this case is yet another example of how an airman may be exposed to criminal liability in addition to any FAA enforcement action he or she may face for improper operation of an aircraft.

Posted by Greg

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