The House of Representatives this week passed the Pilot’s Bill of Rights. The bill, S. 3268, was introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to reform the FAA enforcement process, the NOTAM system, and the medical certification process.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights apparently has its origin in a runway incursion in October 2010. Sen. Inhofe, a pilot with more than 10,000 hours and 50 years of experience, landed on a closed runway at Port Isabel, Tx. According to a report in the Tulsa World, Inhofe narrowly missed construction workers and equipment on the runway. He completed remedial training instead of receiving an enforcement action. The incident will stay on his record for two years. Inhofe admitted to the Tulsa World that he did not check NOTAMS before the flight in question.
According to Inhofe’s website, the bill requires FAA enforcement actions to comply with federal rules of evidence and civil law procedures as well as mandating that the FAA must provide timely notice to pilots and warn them that any response can be used as evidence against them. It also requires that the pilot be given all relevant evidence 30 days prior to a decision to proceed with an enforcement action. The bill also attempts to make NTSB reviews of FAA enforcement actions more than just a “rubber stamp” and allows the pilot to appeal the NTSB decision to federal district court.
With respect to NOTAMS, or notices to airmen, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights requires the FAA to improve and reform the notice system. NOTAMS provide pilots with information about airports and navigational facilities that could be critical to flight. The problem is that under the current system pilots are provided with too much information. NOTAMS for large airports can run several pages, most of which are not really applicable in most cases. Buried in the lists is important information like the runway closure at Port Isabel. The bill will require the FAA to change the system to make sure that pertinent information makes it to the pilots who need it.
The bill also requires the General Accounting Office to review the FAA’s medical certification process and offer recommendations for greater clarity and fewer misinterpretations of medical rules. The FAA is required to act on the GAO recommendations within one year. General aviation groups will form advisory panels to assist in the NOTAM and medical reforms.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights has now been passed by both houses of congress. It now goes to the White House to await the signature of President Obama to become law.