The NTSB recently affirmed an order suspending an airman’s commercial pilot certificate for 120 days as a sanction for violations of FARs 91.119(a) (minimum safe altitudes) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless). In Administrator v. Garst the FAA alleged that the airman flew a Robinson R44 helicopter over a number of homes and businesses at an altitude of between approximately 100—300 feet and that, if the helicopter power unit failed during the low-altitude flight, the airman would not have been able to conduct an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface. The FAA issued an order of suspension which the airman appealed.
At the hearing, FAA witnesses testified that they observed the low flight and/or that the pilot had admitted at a local commission meeting that he flew the helicopter at a low altitude. The airman denied that he was the pilot for the low flights and stated that his statements to the commission were “not literally truthful.” However, based upon all of the evidence, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that the airman’s testimony was not credible and the ALJ affirmed the FAA’s suspension order.
On appeal to the full Board, the airman argued that the FAA’s witnesses’ testimony did not support the ALJ’s decision. After initially noting the deference it must give to the ALJ’s credibility determinations, the Board concluded that the airman’s testimony, in light of his admissions and the other evidence, was simply not credible. As a result, the Board affirmed the ALJ’s order of suspension.
The moral of the story: If you are violate the regulations, intentionally or otherwise, it is probably not a good idea to brag about it or admit it to a bunch of witnesses.