The FAA just dropped a little “Happy Friday”-gram on one of our colleagues, proposing a $150,000 civil penalty against a Part 135 air carrier for allegedly violating Federal Aviation Regulations by allowing four pilots to fly without proper training or examinations.
The FAA alleges three of the pilots did not undergo recurrent training or receive competency flight checks within the required periods of time. The agency alleges the fourth pilot’s initial training was conducted by an unqualified person. As a result, none of the pilots were qualified to fly the charter carrier’s Hawker 4000 aircraft.
The FAA alleges that collectively, the pilots flew at least 64 times between October 23, 2011 and July 9, 2012 while they were unqualified to serve as on-demand flight crew members.
The operator has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency.
I’m not particularly familiar with this air carrier so I can’t/won’t weigh in on the likelihood the FAA’s allegations are true, nor do I know how the operator will respond. It’s common for operators to appeal enforcement actions like this one. Sometimes the allegations are true, sometimes they aren’t exactly as the original enforcement letter portrays (although the FAA doesn’t typically issue enforcement letters without a detailed investigation). Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances that can eliminate or reduce fines. Sometimes the operator just signs the check. The problem with civil penalties related to training is the fines add up exponentially. They aren’t typically a one-time training penalty. The operator also gets fined for each and every non-compliant flight conducted after the inadequate or non-compliant training event.
In any case, I think it’s important for other operators to watch FAA enforcement actions. Enforcement actions on other air carriers give the rest of us an idea of the agency’s current focus and sometimes the agency’s motivations. We shouldn’t be surprised the FAA is looking for instances of training non-compliance, given the multi-year saga of Part 135/142 training issues we as an industry have been working through. But this does serve as a reminder to take a good, hard look at your own training compliance.
I conduct pilot training record reviews as part of various safety and operations audits and sometimes as a separate initiative requested by the air carrier. It’s possible (hypothetically, allegedly…) that I’ve never come out of a pilot training record review without findings. In some cases it’s as simple as missing records that are eventually produced from the training center or found in someone else’s file. In other cases the findings are more much serious and after some advice from the air carrier’s attorney, the operator files a voluntary disclosure with the FAA and we work out a plan to ensure no future violations. If the FAA comes digging through your records, you might not like their findings.
Are you SURE – absolutely sure – you’re compliant? And not just because your POI said you’re good or your long-term Director of Operations or Chief Pilot said you’re compliant? (I’m sure they’re both competent, wonderful people but mistakes happen.) Training compliance isn’t a “close enough” game – we’re not talking horseshoes or hand grenades. You are either compliant or you’re paying the piper.
Would you bet $150,000 on it?