In Trans States Airlines v. Federal Aviation Administration, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals deferred to the FAA’s interpretation of 14 C.F.R. § 121.683(a)(1) and affirmed a $25,000.00 civil penalty assessed against the carrier for its failure to maintain current flight, duty and rest time records for its pilots. At the hearing before the administrative law judge, Trans States argued that it had complied with the regulations because it used an approved computerized software system and none of the management/instructor personnel had violated the flight, duty and rest time regulations. Unfortunately, the ALJ rejected this argument holding that the carrier had to make sure that the records contained in its Bornemann system were accurate for all flight personnel, regardless of whether they were line or management pilots, and even for those who were in compliance with the flight, duty and rest regulations.
On appeal, the carrier argued that the FAA had construed the requirements of FAR 121.683(a)(1) too strictly. However, the Court held that it was required to defer to the FAA’s interpretation of the FAR’S and that the FAA had not abused its discretion in determining that Trans States’ records were not “current” within the plain language of the regulation. The Court also noted that “the FAA’s interpretation is not unconstitutionally vague, because an ordinary person would know what the regulation requires.”
Trans States further argued that the FAA should draw a distinction between management pilots, who would update their records prior to accepting any flight assignment, and line pilots, whose records would be kept up to date automatically by the computer. Based upon this distinction, the carrier argued that it satisfied its recordkeeping requirements. The Court disagreed, noting that the regulation did not make such a distinction and that it required that current records must be maintained for “each crewmember” regardless of whether they were classified as line or management pilots.
This case serves as a reminder that flight and duty time records must be maintained by an air carrier and the records, regardless of the form in which they are maintained, must be current and accurate. It also reiterates the deference that decisionmakers must give to the FAA’s interpretation of the FAR’s in enforcement proceedings.