The NTSB recently affirmed the revocation of an airman’s certificates after an ALJ found that the airman had violated FARs 91.13(a)(careless and reckless) and 91.111(a)(operating an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard). In Administrator v. Schaffer, the FAA issued an emergency revocation of the airman’s certificates alleging that the airman had intentionally and deliberately operated a Piper Seminole in a manner that interfered with an Embraer ERJ-170-100LR turbo-jet aircraft performing multiple approaches to the Tamiami Airport (TMB).
At the hearing, the FAA presented testimony from the controller on duty, the manager of the TMB tower and the pilots in the Embraer. All of the testimony consistently alleged that the airman had maneuvered between the extended final approach courses of the two parallel runways at TMB in an apparent attempt to intentionally interfere with the Embraer jet. The Embraer pilots also testified that they had to take evasive actions in response to TCAS alerts triggered by the airman’s operation of the Seminole. The TMB tower manager further testified that the airman “telephoned him several days prior to the incident, on May 25th, to complain about the negative community effect the Embraer jet flight tests would have on a TMB runway expansion proposal.”
The airman did not testify at the hearing. Rather, he presented testimony from his radar and ATC expert who reviewed the radar data and concluded that it was the Embraer and not the Seminole that created the problems. The ALJ found that the FAA’s experts were more credible than the airman’s expert and affirmed the violations alleged by the FAA. The ALJ also affirmed the sanction of revocation finding that the airman’s deliberate conduct demonstrated that he lacked the care and judgment required of a certificate holder. The airman then appealed the ALJ’s decision arguing that the evidence did not support the decision and that the sanction was too extreme.
The Board rejected the airman’s arguments and held that sufficient reliable and probative evidence supported the ALJ’s determinations. Its decision also placed some emphasis on the fact that the airman did not testify or personally provide any explanation to counter the testimony of the FAA’s witnesses. The Board also found it significant that the ATC transcript contains the controller’s assertions to the airman that he had almost caused a midair each time he tried to block the Embraer, but the airman never argued with the characterization over the radio and never contacted the tower to dispute the charge after he landed. Finally, the Board affirmed the sanction of revocation based upon the obvious lack of qualification exhibited by the airman’s conduct.
This is a strange case. Based upon the record discussed in the NTSB’s opinion, you have to wonder what the airman was thinking when he acted as the ALJ found that he did. Why would you risk your airman certificates, not to mention a mid-air collision, simply because you believe a particular operation may jeopardize a runway expansion? As is often the case, I suspect that we don’t receive the full story in the NTSB’s opinion. However, it should be clear, if it isn’t already, that the type of behavior discussed in the opinion will, and should, have serious consequences.