Oftentimes when talking with pilots facing FAA enforcement actions, I hear them say that they have a “right” to fly because they have earned an airman certificate. Unfortunately, that statement isn’t entirely accurate, at least from a legal perspective. Here’s why:
The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee individuals the right to fly an aircraft. Flying isn’t considered an inalienable right such as the right to freedom of speech or the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Rather, flying is considered a privilege that is earned. And, unlike those inalienable rights, that privilege can be taken away. If an airman does not comply with the rules and regulations that govern the exercise of that privilege, the FAA can take away his or her privilege to fly.
Fortunately, that privilege can only be taken away if due process requirements are met. Although an airman isn’t entitled to Miranda warnings as he or she would be in a criminal case (e.g. the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney etc.), due process requires that the airman receive notice as to the basis for any action taken against his or her privilege to fly (e.g. airman certificate). The airman also has to be provided with an opportunity to be heard on the matter where the FAA bears the burden of proving its case against the airman.
Some pilots take the privilege of flying for granted or they believe that once the privilege is earned, they are entitled to continue to fly regardless of how they act. Unfortunately, neither approach is correct. Flying should never be taken for granted. It is a privilege earned through hard work that opens the door to a world that the majority of people will never experience. The privilege of flight should be revered. Airmen should also preserve this privilege by understanding and complying with the rules and regulations that govern their ability to fly aircraft. If they don’t, their privilege to fly may be taken away.