The 709 Ride
By Gregory J. Reigel
© March, 2007 All rights reserved.
What happens if you are involved in an incident in which your aircraft is damaged, but no one is injured, other than perhaps you and your pride? For example, you forgot to put the landing gear down and you landed your aircraft with the gear up or you didn’t put in enough wind correction and you and your aircraft ended up off the runway. Well, if the FAA finds out, you will quite possibly receive a letter demanding that you appear for the dreaded “709 ride” (formerly known as the “609 ride” under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958).
What Is The 709 Ride?
The 709 ride refers to the FAA’s authority to re-examine an airman holding a certificate (pilot, flight instructor, airframe and powerplant etc.) at any time pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 44709(a)
. The FAA issues a request for re-examination to an airman after it discovers evidence that leads it to question an airman’s qualifications to exercise the privileges of the airman’s certificate. Incidents such as the two examples above involve circumstances that very well may lead the FAA to question an airman’s qualifications.
But what if the accident or incident was not the airman’s fault. What if the accident or incident was caused by a mechanical failure? Unfortunately, unless the mechanical failure is obvious to the FAA as the sole cause of the incident, a request for re-examination is likely to be considered reasonable. Why? Because the FAA only has to show that a lack of competence “could have been a factor” and, if it was, the re-examination request is considered reasonable, without regard to the likelihood that a lack of competence had actually played a role in the event.
According to FAA Order 8700.1, Volume 2, Chapter 26
, “[t]here must be ample or probable cause for requesting the reexamination” including reliable reports, personal knowledge, or evidence obtained through an accident, incident, or enforcement investigation. Thus, the “lack of competence” has to be supported by the facts and circumstances in the case. However, as long as a basis for questioning an airman’s competence has been implicated, rather than actually demonstrated, the request is considered reasonable.
The Re-Examination Request
The procedures for the 709 ride are set out in Order 8700.1. The Flight Standards District Office (“FSDO”) responsible for the area within which the accident or incident occurred will send the airman a letter requesting re-examination, via certified mail, return receipt requested. The letter will include (1) the reasons for the re-examination; (2) the specific certificate and/or rating for which the re-examination is necessary; (3) the type of re-examination; (4) the category and class of aircraft required (if applicable); (5) the location of the re-examination; and (6) a time limit for accomplishing the re-examination.
After the airman receives the letter, the airman usually has 15 days within which to complete the re-examination, although this is not always the case. If an airman was injured in an accident and his or her physical condition precludes completion of the re-examination or if the airman needs more than 15 days within which to practice/prepare for the ride, the re-examination may be postponed. Under these circumstances the FAA will require that the airman surrender his or her airman certificate and the FAA will issue a 30-day temporary certificate for the airman to operate under until the re-examination.
If the FAA believes the airman will be operating commercially while carrying passengers, the FAA may demand that the re-examination occur within less than 15 days. In this situation, if the airman is unable or refuses to submit to the re-examination within the time specified, the airman may surrender his or her certificate and obtain dual instruction from a certificated flight instructor in preparation for the ride or, if the airman finds it necessary to conduct solo practice, the FAA may issue a temporary airman certificate, valid for 30 days instead of 120 days bearing all ratings previously held by the airman. However, in the latter situation, the ratings for which the airman is to be re-examined will have the limitation "For Student Pilot Purposes Only-Passenger Carrying Prohibited”.
It is important to note that an airman who wants to surrender his or her certificate should not simply show up at the FSDO and hand it over. If the certificate is to be surrendered, it should be accompanied by a letter in which the airman confirms that the certificate is only be surrendered on a temporary basis and that the airman reserves all privileges, rights and remedies with respect to the certificate and any potential adverse action the FAA may decide to take. An aviation attorney can help to draft this letter and/or assist with the logistics of the surrender.
The 709 ride does not necessarily have to be scheduled with the FSDO that issues the request. If the accident or incident occurred somewhere other than the airman’s home area, the airman can request that the re-examination be administered by the airman’s home FSDO. In this situation, the airman’s home FSDO would contact the FSDO issuing the letter requesting the re-examination and coordinate with that FSDO on the tasks to be re-examined and if any further enforcement action is necessary after the actual ride.
If the airman fails or refuses to submit to a reexamination within a reasonable period of time, the FAA will initiate emergency enforcement action to suspend the airman's certificate. Although the airman has the ability to respond to or appeal the emergency suspension, if the FAA has a reasonable basis for the request and the airman has no other defenses, the airman will likely end up with a suspension of his or her airman certificate pending submission to and successful completion of the re-examination.
What Happens During The 709 Ride?
The re-examination is similar to a check-ride, except that the airman is not typically subject to examination on all of the required tasks in the practical test standards (“PTS”) for the certificate upon which the airman is being re-examined. Rather, the re-examination involves the tasks that were called into question by the occurrence of the accident or incident and it is conducted in accordance with the PTS for the certificate or rating involved. The tasks may include components of the knowledge test, the skill or flight test, or both.
The inspector can fail the airman for any maneuver, procedure or knowledge deficiency in which the airman is found to be unqualified. This includes any of the specific task upon which the airman is being re-examined. Additionally, if the inspector observes any deficient areas other than those that are the subject of the re-examination at any time during the re-examination, those deficiencies could also be the basis for failure of the test.
If the airman successfully completes the re-examination, one of two things will happen: (1) if the airman's certificate was suspended pending completion of the re-examination, the inspector will issue a letter of results and may issue a temporary certificate that bears all ratings and limitations from the original certificate; or (2) if the airman's certificate was not suspended pending completion of the re-examination, the inspector will simply issue a letter of results and the airman may then continue to exercise the privileges of his or her certificate and/or ratings.
If the airman fails to successfully complete the re-examination, the inspector will inform the airman in detail of each deficiency. Additionally, if the airman's original certificate was surrendered in exchange for a temporary certificate and the term of the temporary certificate has time left on it, the inspector will decide whether to suspend the certificate or to extend the temporary certificate for an additional 30 days. In the latter instance, if the inspector believes the airman could successfully complete another re-examination if he or she obtained additional instruction, another 30-day temporary certificate will be issued with a limitation against carrying passengers. The airman will then have to submit to an additional re-examination within that 30-day period. In the first instance, when the inspector determines the airman is not qualified to hold the certificate or rating, the airman can expect to be the subject of enforcement action seeking revocation of his or her certificate and/or ratings.
If you are involved in an accident or incident in which pilot error is a possible cause of the accident or incident and the FAA finds out, don’t be surprised if you receive a certified letter requesting that you submit to re-examination. The first thing you need to do is review the scope of the re-examination request and objectively determine whether the FAA has a reasonable basis for making the request. Often, it will.
Next, you need to decide how you want to respond. Although the request for re-examination can be intimidating and frustrating, especially if it follows an accident or incident in which your aircraft and/or your pride has been damaged, it is possible to treat it as a positive experience and use it as an opportunity to improve your skills as an aviator. This is especially true if you take the ride with an inspector who approaches the situation from a similar perspective.
However, if you find yourself facing a 709 ride with an inspector who does not approach the ride from this perspective or if you have questions regarding the basis for the request or the procedures that should be followed, an aviation attorney can certainly assist you in the process. After all, you worked hard to obtain your certificate(s) and/or rating(s). Make sure you protect your ability to exercise those privileges and to fly safely.