What are my Legal Rights and Obligations if the FAA Comes Knocking – PART 4

Our series on The FAA and Drones answers your questions about your legal rights as a pilot and as a business owner with subcontractor or employee pilots. We reached out to aviation attorneys Kathy Yodice and Loretta Alkalay for their perspectives to your questions.  We will feature Kathy and Loretta’s responses in a ongoing series to help you understand the FAA and your rights as a pilot and/or business owner.

Question:

I really want to do the right thing and do whatever I can to be safe when I’m flying my drone, and I want to make sure I’m following the FAA’s rules and regulations.  But, I’m worried that I could make a mistake and I don’t want to lose my remote pilot certificate or my ability to make a living.  How can I mitigate the potential impact of a regulatory violation?

Answer:

File a NASA/ASRS report.  The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) is a joint program of the FAA and NASA that is designed to collect data from the users in the aviation community who are encouraged to identify and report deficiencies and discrepancies in the system that affect the safety or efficiency of flight operations.  In order to encourage reports to ASRS, the FAA adopted a program that will allow for the waiver of punitive sanction (certificate suspension or civil penalty) in an FAA enforcement action if the person timely filed a report of the event with NASA.  The reports to NASA are confidential and cannot be used by the FAA in its enforcement action, but the strip evidencing that you filed a report is not confidential and it may be shown to the FAA in an enforcement action to get immunity from the sanction being sought by the FAA for the alleged violations.  Even if the FAA were to get a hold of a report you filed – some people innocently give a copy of the report to the FAA mistakenly believing it will help their cause – the FAA is prohibited from using any information in these reports in the enforcement action.  There are eligibility requirements and exceptions to the program.  That is, 1) the report must be filed within 10 days of the violation, or within 10 days of becoming aware of the violation, 2) the violation was inadvertent and not deliberate, 3) the violation did not involve criminal conduct or an accident, 4) the conduct does not disclose a lack of competency or qualifications, and 5) the person has not been found to have violated the regulations in another matter within the preceding 5 years.  You can file the report electronically at http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/report/electronic.html or you can download, print, and mail in the paper form available at http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/report/mail.html.

To date, the FAA has not taken many enforcement actions involving drone operators but it has taken some significant civil penalty actions and at least one emergency revocation of a private pilot certificate.  Knowing your rights if the FAA ever does come knocking will help you deal with what is usually a stressful situation.

Have a question for Kathy and Loretta?  Click to Contact Us to submit your question.

Kathleen A. Yodice is an aviation lawyer practicing in the Washington, DC area representing the interests of drone operators, pilots, mechanics, commercial entities, airports, and aircraft owners in aviation law and corporate matters nationwide.  Ms. Yodice started her legal career with the FAA in 1986, before going into private practice in 1998.

 

 

 

Loretta Alkalay is an aviation attorney and consultant based in the New York City area and is an adjunct professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology where she teaches a course in Drone Law.  Ms. Alkalay retired from the FAA in 2009, after 30 years with the FAA as the agency’s Eastern Regional Counsel.

 

 

“Expert Insight” is the independent views and opinions of the submitting named authors of this article.

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