In a footnote to a recent decision, the NTSB partially addresses a distinction that can be made between “careless” and “reckless” under FAR 91.13. The case, Administrator v. Hatch, involved allegations by the FAA that an airman had operated an aircraft when it was unairworthy and that his operation of the aircraft under the circumstances was “careless or reckless so as to endanger the life or property of another” in violation of FAR 91.13(a). After a hearing, Judge Geraghty affirmed the violations as alleged by the FAA. The airman then appealed the decision to the NTSB Board.
On appeal, the airman argued that Judge Geraghty erred in finding that the airman had operated the aircraft “recklessly” rather than finding that the operation was simply “careless”. However, the airman did not appear to contest the finding that he had violated FAR 91.13(a).
In response, the Board noted that the airman presented “no argument regarding sanction, which, in light of the disjunctive language of the proscription within FAR section 91.13(a) –- i.e., careless or reckless –- appears to us to be the only reason why any distinction between careless or reckless is relevant to this administrative safety proceeding.” It went on to find that, regardless of the airman’s recklessness argument or even whether the airman was appealing the FAR 91.13(a) violation, the evidence was more than sufficient to, at a minimum, support a finding that the airman’s operation of the aircraft was careless.
Although this decision seems to be saying that, for purposes of determining whether FAR 91.13(a) was violated, it does not matter whether the conduct alleged was “careless” or “reckless”, so long as it was at least “careless,” this would be contrary to Board precedent. According to Board precedent, a distinction is made: A finding of recklessness carries with it a considerably greater burden of proof than does a finding of carelessness and can be equated to gross negligence.
It appears that the inconsistency here may be the result of situations in which the FAA’s complaint charges just “careless” or just “reckless” exclusive of one another, as opposed to arguing “careless” or “reckless” together, but in the alternative. In this case, both “careless” and “reckless” were alleged. At a minimum, it is clear from this case, and Board precedent, that a distinction between “careless” as opposed to “reckless” conduct is relevant in the context of determining the appropriate sanction for a violation of FAR 91.13(a).