FAA Legal Interpretations: Five Things You Need to Know

My last post talked about a (sort of) new FAA legal interpretation regarding Part 135 rest requirements. Many Part 135 operators are uncertain of the relevance of legal interpretations (also called Chief Counsel’s Opinions) to their operations. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Legal interpretations apply to the regulation in question, not a particular operator or individual.

Don’t dismiss a legal interpretation as being irrelevant to your operation simply because another company from a different FSDO in another region requested the interpretation. If you are subject to §135.267, the recent FAA interpretation regarding Part 135 rest applies to you, and so it goes with all legal interpretations.

  1. Legal interpretations are binding.

Some people believe compliance with a legal interpretation is optional. “I only have to do X if the regulations say so and the regulations don’t say I have to do X, so forget it.” An FAA legal interpretation is the FAA’s way of telling you what THEY think the regulations say. Their opinion is legally binding and you must comply.  (The only way a legal interpretation is not binding is if the NTSB determines an interpretation is “arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not according to law”. I am not aware of a single example of this type of determination relating to a legal interpretation. If you know of one, share with the class!)

  1. Legal interpretations establish precedent.

Because Chief Counsel’s Opinions are legally binding, they also establish precedent for how the FAA will (should) enforce regulations in the future.

  1. Anyone can request a legal interpretation by writing a letter to the FAA. But maybe you shouldn’t.

Please, think long and hard before you request a legal interpretation. A request for interpretation can be a very public, very official confession of your own sins. There’s a reason why so many legal interpretations are addressed to law firms, trade associations and other third parties. Consider asking your friendly aviation attorney or consultant to write the letter for you. Confession (at least in this manner) isn’t always good for the soul.

  1. A request for interpretation should include detailed information.

Specify the exact regulation or regulations about which you are requesting clarification. Include a detailed scenario as an example. From time to time a legal interpretation goes very wrong because the requestor is too vague in the request letter. Then we’ve got a legally binding (#2) precedent (#3) that applies to everyone (#1) and probably a very public confession (#4) based on bad information. Be specific.

But mostly, I refer you back to #4…

Visit or return to McFarren Aviation Consulting’s homepage. 

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