The FAA’s revocation of an airman’s certificate for violation of FAR 61.15(a) (disqualification based upon conviction of drug offense) was recently affirmed by the NTSB. In Administrator v. Robertson, the FAA issued an order revoking the airman’s private pilot certificate after the airman was convicted of two federal drug offenses. The airman appealed the order to the NTSB and requested a hearing.
Prior to a hearing, the FAA moved for summary judgment and, in response, the airman argued that he no longer lacked the qualification to hold an airman certificate because he was rehabilitated as a result of his experience with the U.S. Parole Commission. Before issuing a decision on the FAA’s motion, the ALJ issued an order that he would first hold a hearing to determine whether the airman’s alleged rehabilitation rebutted the FAA’s claim that he lacked the qualification to hold an airman certificate. However, the airman failed to attend the scheduled hearing. As a result, the ALJ granted the FAA’s motion and entered an order affirming the order of revocation. The airman then appealed the ALJ’s decision to the full Board.
One of the airman’s contentions on appeal was that the FAA did not establish that, at the time the FAA issued its order of revocation, he lacked the qualifications necessary to hold a certificate. He argued that his military record and past career as a Federal prosecutor and municipal judge, as well as his post-incarceration volunteer work and employment established his rehabilitation. In rejecting this argument, the Board observed that the airman’s federal conviction for violating two criminal statutes regarding controlled substances, and the fact that he remained on supervised release, were undisputed and did not counteract the airman’s criminal convictions.
This case isn’t noteworthy for the Board’s decision upholding the FAA’s order of revocation. Rather, it is interesting because the ALJ granted the airman a hearing on the issue of whether the airman’s claim of rehabilitation rebutted the presumption of lack of qualification under FAR 61.l5(a). Thus, it appears that the presumption of lack of qualification may be rebuttable. Unfortunately, the case doesn’t provide any clear guidance on what evidence would be sufficient to rebut the lack of qualification presumption. However, suffice it to say that the airman’s burden of establishing his qualification is likely quite high. At a minimum, an airman’s arguments of rehabilitation will certainly have to be more substantial and persuasive than they were in this case.