In a recent opinion, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) reversed an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision to suspend a mechanic’s airframe and powerplant certificate. In Administrator v. Roberts the FAA alleged that the mechanic performed maintenance on a Gulfstream II and then returned the aircraft to service as airworthy when the aircraft was not in an airworthy condition because it had fuel leaks that were not repaired in an acceptable manner. The FAA also alleged that the mechanic failed to adequately describe the maintenance he performed in his entry in the aircraft’s logbook
The FAA ordered a 120–day suspension of the mechanic’s certificate for violations of FARs 43.13(a) (requiring that each person performing maintenance, alteration, or preventive maintenance on an aircraft to use the methods, techniques, and practices prescribed in the current manufacturer’s maintenance manual, or other methods, techniques, and practices acceptable to the Administrator) and 43.9(a)(1) (requiring persons maintaining, performing preventative maintenance, rebuilding, or altering an aircraft to make entries in the maintenance record that contain a description of the work performed).
The mechanic appealed the FAA’s order to the NTSB and, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing, the ALJ determined that the mechanic failed to make a logbook entry documenting fuel leaks that the FAA alleged existed at the time of his inspection. However, the ALJ refused to find the aircraft unairworthy because the FAA did not prove the leaks that were later repaired, or the leaks the FAA alleged were present during the mechanic’s inspection of the aircraft, exceeded the limits contained in the Gulfstream Maintenance Manual (“GMM”). As a result, the ALJ concluded the FAA presented sufficient evidence to prove respondent violated FARs 43.13(a) and 43.9(a)(1), but he reduced the sanction from a 120–day to a 60–day suspension because the FAA failed to prove the aircraft was unairworthy when the mechanic returned it to service.
On appeal, the Board reversed the ALJ’s decision. The Board observed that neither of the FAA inspectors who testified at the hearing were present during the mechanic’s inspection and, as a result, they did not observe the aircraft leaking on that date nor did they measure the rate of any leak under the requirements of the GMM. Accordingly, the Board held that the FAA did not meet its burden of proving that any maintenance or logbook entry was required or that the aircraft was unairworthy when the mechanic returned it to service.
This is one of those cases where the FAA should have known better than to pursue the case. However, the FAA’s actions make some sense when you know some of the background that isn’t discussed in the opinion. The mechanic in this case was employed by Darby Aviation, one of the companies involved in the 2005 Teterboro Challenger accident and subsequent enforcement actions and criminal prosecutions which instigated the FAA’s current “operational control” rampage. And this isn’t the first case in which the FAA has initiated enforcement action against Darby Aviation and lost.
Maybe now, with another loss under its belt, the FAA will do a little better job of selecting which enforcement cases to pursue. Wishful thinking, I know.