AOPA, Pilot Regulations, and the Criminal law

Criminal Law and PilotingLast month I attended the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) fly-in at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. The day before the fly-in, AOPA sponsored a Continuing Legal Education program for attorneys who are members of the AOPA legal defense panel, or people like me who are applying to join the legal defense panel.

The six-hour program featured presentations by experts in the field of FAA regulatory actions, and civil and criminal prosecutions of pilots and organizations, such as flight schools, that violate FAA rules. One of the four administrative law judges and a representative from the FAA also talked to the 30 or so lawyers gathered from around the country at the CLE.

Since starting my private pilot training last August and buying my plane last October, I’ve gotten to know some of the laws and administrative code governing general aviation and commercial aviation in the United States. The CLE introduced me to a more comprehensive analysis of the law and administrative code (also known as Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR))

These regulations are fairly complex, and are in many cases strict liability type requirements that can be invoked even if the owner of the aircraft or pilot-in-command had no intention of violating the law. Where there’s an intentional violation of the code or the law, a criminal sanction is much more likely.

FAA regulations govern the airworthiness of the aircraft flown, the legal documents necessary to operate the aircraft, the weather conditions in which the pilot may operate the aircraft, the circumstances in which the pilot can receive compensation for providing pilot services, and the circumstances in which the pilot can or cannot carry passengers. In addition, these regulations govern the rules of the road: airspace restrictions or requirements, interactions with Air Traffic Control, interactions with other aircraft or people, accidents or incidents, and events that result in damage to property or injury to persons.

General aviation pilots – light sport pilots, private pilots (VFR and IFR) – can also find their airman certificates or privileges to pilot in jeopardy if they violate non-FAR laws, such as DWI, drug possession, or other criminal offenses, and those violations become known to the FAA. In addition, failure to report violations may result in FAA action.

Posted in

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.