In a recent civil penalty case, the ALJ rejected an air carrier’s argument that its use of an FAA-approved computerized recordkeeping system combined with the fact that the FAA found no violations of the flight, duty and rest time regulations in 14 C.F.R. Part 121, subpart Qproves that it implemented the approved system properly. In the case In the matter of: Trans States Airlines, Inc., Trans States’ Principal Operations Inspector performed an inspection of the carrier’s flight and duty time records contained in the carrier’s Bornemann computerized software system. During that inspection, the POI determined that the records contained in the system did not accurately detail the flight and duty times for the Trans States’ management and instructor personnel. As a result, the FAA sought to impose a $35,000 civil penalty for the carrier’s failure to maintain current and accurate records, as required by 14 C.F.R. § 121.683.
At the hearing, Trans States argued that it had complied because it used an approved computerized software system and none of the management/instructor personnel had violated the flight, duty and rest time regulations in 14 C.F.R. §§ 121.470 and 121.471. The ALJ rejected this argument holding that the carrier had to make sure that the records contained in its Bornemann system were accurate for all flight personnel, even those who were in compliance with the flight, duty and rest regulations.
The ALJ noted that “neither the carrier nor the FAA inspector could determine whether these pilots were in compliance with the flight, duty and rest time regulations, without investing considerable time to contact the individual pilots and/or cross-check the computerized records against other types of records” in spite of the fact that [a]n ordinary person would have known that the flight, duty and rest records were not current and could not be used to determine whether these pilots were in compliance with the flight and duty limitations and rest requirement, and therefore, did not meet the requirement of Section 121.683(a)(1).” He also felt the $35,000 civil penalty sought by the FAA was too high and reduced it to $25,000.
Computers are great, but they can only do so much. If the human interaction is not what it should be, the computer’s effectiveness will be limited. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind. This seems like a “no-brainer” to me, as I think it did to the ALJ. However, Trans States has filed a petition for review with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and which is still pending. I will be curious to see how the 8th Circuit views Trans States’ arguments and whether they are familiar with the “garbage in, garbage out” theory.