So You Busted an FAR, What Happens Next? By Bo Kalabus

So you busted an FAR, what happens next….?


First and foremost, if a pilot is ever in doubt about violating an FAR, the pilot should file a ASRS/NASA report. The pilot has 10 days to file the ASRS report and can even file it online. It is also important that the pilot keep the receipt from filing the ASRS report. Without the receipt, the pilot cannot prove he or she filed it.

If a pilot violates a regulation in a way that attracts the interest of the FAA, the pilot will generally learn about it in the form of a registered letter from a FSDO–most investigations usually take place at the FSDO level. The letter from the FSDO, which may be sent a month to 6 weeks after the alleged violation, will spell out the details of the violation, aircraft involved, and indicate that the FAA is looking into the alleged violation. Of course the letter invites the pilot to respond within 10 days to give his/her side of the alleged violation, otherwise the letter warns the FAA will conclude its investigation on its own without pilot input.

STOP Right There!

Unfortunately, a lot of damage can be done when a pilot responds to the FAA in an off-the-cuff or poorly organized letter response. As a result, it’s in the pilot’s best interest to contact a lawyer to discuss the best way to respond to the FAA’s inquiry at this point.

Investigative Stage

As the FAA investigates the alleged violation, the next couple of things could happen:

(1) The FAA drops the charge–it does happen sometimes;
(2) Close the charge via an administrative disposition, where the pilot is issued a Warning Notice or Letter of Correction that would remain in the pilot’s file for a period of 2 years and then removed; or
(3) FSDO believes there is a violation and forwards its file and sanction recommendation to the attorneys at the regional level.

Regional Level

If the attorneys at the regional level pursue the violation, the pilot will learn about it when he/she receives “The Notice of Proposed Certificate Action” via registered mail. No point in trying to duck service of the letter because the FAA will fine the snot out the pilot that chooses to avoid picking up his or her register mail. In the letter, the FAA will detail the pilot’s ratings, the FARs violated, and sanctions the FAA proposes. The sanctions can be monetary, to suspension or revocation of the pilot’s certificate.

The Notice of Proposed Certification Action does allow the pilot some options:

(1) Accept the violation or penalty;
(2) Demand an administrative hearing before an NTSB judge; or
(3) Demand an informal conference with an FAA attorney to see if the violation can be resolved.

Informal Conference

The informal conference can be helpful in reaching a settlement. However, the FAA will not usually drop the violation at this point, but the pilot may be able to get the violation reduced. At this stage in the game, the FAA usually has its evidence lined up and it will be extremely difficult for a pilot to have the violation dropped–this why what the pilot writes in his or her initial response to the FAA is so important.


If the pilot’s matter is not resolved at the informal conference, the next step in the process is an administrative hearing before a NTSB judge. This hearing is conducted much like a civil trial proceeding, except the rules of evidence are much relaxed. Both sides will put on evidence and witnesses and at the conclusion of the trial the NTSB judge will issue a letter ruling.

Following the trial both the FAA and the pilot have the right to appeal the ruling to a full NTSB board. If either side wants to appeal the NTSB board ruling, the next step is appeal the case into the federal court system and then the Supreme Court if the Court accepts the case–to date no such cases have.




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