In a recent decision, the NTSB has affirmed the suspensions of six airmen’s certificates for violations of FAR 119.5(1) (air carrier aircraft must be operated in compliance with air carrier’s operating certificate, operating certificate, or appropriate operations specifications). The case, Administrator v. Donohue et al. arose from the FAA’s allegations that each airman had acted as pilot-in-command (PIC) of scheduled flights for an air carrier and did not file flight plans for the scheduled flights, even though the air carrier’s operations specifications required such flight plans. Based upon these allegations, the FAA issued orders suspending the airmen’s certificates for anywhere from 30 to 60 days.
After a hearing on the consolidated cases, the administrative law judge affirmed the FAA’s orders of suspension, but reduced the sanction for all but one of the airmen (one of the air carrier’s co-owners) to a two day suspension. The remaining airman was assessed a 60 day suspension. All of the airmen then appealed the ALJ’s decision to the full Board.
On appeal, the airmen argued they did not have the burden to prove that their failure to file flight plans was justified, because the air carrier’s operations manual and operations specifications did not require them to file flight plans at all. They argued that the air carrier’s use of flight locating was the company policy and replaced the flight plan requirement in the operations specifications. However, the Board rejected this argument.
The Board observed that an operator’s failure to adhere to the FAA’s requirements, even where such failure might be the result of a determination that the operator had a better, faster, or easier way of operating, still results in a violation of the regulations. It further noted that an air carrier’s failure to comply with established, approved procedures was unacceptable, even if the certificate holder believed the changes were an improvement. In this case, although the air carrier’s operations manual containing the flight locating policy supplemented the existing operations specifications, the policy did not replace the flight plan provisions of the operations specifications with a legitimate alternative to filing flight plans.
The moral of the story here is that you are obligated to comply with your operations specifications. If you think you have a better or safer method of doing something, then talk with your principal operations inspector and try to get your operations specifications amended or updated. Otherwise, as this case shows, any use of that method will be at your own peril.