Justia Aviation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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This case concerns rules and regulations issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governing two types of pilot credentials: airline transport pilot (ATP) certificates, which enable pilots to fly for airlines, and type ratings, which authorize pilots to command complex, “type-rated” aircraft. Flight Training International, Inc. (FTI), a provider of flight training courses, wants to offer a course that uses type-rated aircraft but culminates in the issuance of an ATP certificate without a type rating. A rule (Rule) issued by the FAA in 2020 prohibits it from doing that, so FTI petitioned us to set aside the rule. FTI argued that the rule effectively amends portions of 14 C.F.R. pt. 61, and, therefore, should have been promulgated only after notice and comment in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).   The Fifth Circuit agreed and granted the petition. The court explained that the Must-Issue Rule is a legislative rule, but it was not promulgated after notice and comment as required by the APA. Because the Rule was issued “without observance of procedure required by law,” FTI’s petition must be granted, and the Rule set aside. In light of this disposition, the court did not reach FTI’s alternative argument that the Rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” View "Flt Training Intl v. FAA" on Justia Law

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The two procedures at issue are the HARYS FOUR departure procedure at Van Nuys Airport, and the SLAPP TWO departure procedure at Burbank Airport. Petitioner contends that the FAA failed to sufficiently analyze the procedures, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the Administrative Procedure Act, and section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1996.   The key issue is the timeliness of Petitioner’s challenges. Petitions for review of FAA orders must be filed within 60 days after the order was issued, or where there are “reasonable grounds” to excuse a delay in filing. 49 U.S.C. Section 46110(a). The Ninth Circuit denied in part and dismissed in part the petition for review brought by an association of nearby residents challenging the FAA orders. The panel held that the statutory “reasonable grounds” exception did not apply. A petitioner’s own mistake cannot excuse its delay in filing. The panel further held that the FAA’s alleged violative conduct did not toll the statute of limitations for filing the petition. Petitioner cannot circumvent the strict time limits imposed by section 46110 simply by invoking the Administrative Procedure Act. The panel concluded that the petition of review of HARYS ONE and SLAPP ONE was untimely, and it dismissed the petition for review insofar as it challenged those orders. View "SAVE OUR SKIES LA V. FAA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Petitioner is an experienced airline pilot. When he was interviewing for a new position, he was asked to take a urine test. Unable to provide an adequate sample, Petitioner left the site. Under FAA guidelines, walking out before providing a drug test sample is considered a refusal. The potential employer reported Petitioner's refusal to the FAA. The FAA sought to revoke Petitioner's pilot and medical certifications. However, at a hearing in front of the National Safety Transportation Board, the Board agreed with the FAA in sustaining the refusal, but reduced Petitioner's sanction to a 180-suspension.The D.C. Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review, finding that by walking out before providing a sufficient urine sample, Petitioner's conduct was properly considered a refusal. In so holding, the court noted that the trial court credited the FAA witnesses while questioning the veracity of Petitioner's testimony.The D.C. Circuit also granted the FAA's cross-petition, finding that the Board was required to defer to the FAA under these circumstances. View "Ydil Pham v. NTSB" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit remanded to the FAA for it to consider the evidence petitioner provided and to make the explicit "why and wherefore" of its action. In this case, after petitioner, a commercial airline pilot with a diagnosed alcohol dependence, tested positive for alcohol, the FAA withdrew his medical certification required for flight. Petitioner requested reconsideration of the FAA's decision with documentation to demonstrate that the positive test was due to unknowing exposure to alcohol. View "Erwin v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Government, alleging violations of their Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the Administrative Procedure Act, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs' action stemmed from extensive and intrusive security screenings at domestic and international airports, and their belief that they were on a terrorist watchlist maintained by the U.S. Government. The district court granted the Government's motion to dismiss with prejudice on the ground that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing.The DC Circuit concluded that because plaintiffs plausibly allege that they will travel again soon and that they will again endure the alleged illegalities, they have established an imminent threat of future injury and have standing to pursue most of their claims for prospective relief. The court could easily infer from the family's travel history that they will soon fly again, particularly if they secure the relief they now seek. Furthermore, plaintiffs' uncontested factual allegations, combined with the reasonable inferences the court drew from them, plausibly indicate that the family likely appeared on a terrorist watchlist in 2018. The court also concluded that plaintiffs plausibly allege that the treatment they endured went well beyond what typical travelers reasonably expect during airport screenings. Finally, plaintiffs' factual allegations lead to the reasonable inference that the family's watchlist status remains the same today.However, the court held that plaintiffs lack standing to pursue prospective relief relating to certain actions taken by Government agents who detained them during their travel in 2018. In this case, plaintiffs claim that these actions violated established federal policies, but they lack standing because they have not plausibly alleged any impending or substantial risk of future harm. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, remanding for further proceedings. View "Jibril v. Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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United sought refunds, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 44940(g), from the TSA for payments it made to the TSA related to fees charged to airline passengers, and collected by airlines, that fund aviation security measures and are to be remitted monthly to the TSA. United contends that it erroneously remitted the security fees in two circumstances: (1) tickets associated with passengers who purchased their tickets from other airlines but who were later involuntarily transferred to United flights and (2) tickets for which, because of currency exchange rate fluctuations, the recorded and remitted fee amount deviated from the fee amount statutorily required.The DC Circuit upheld the TSA's decision denying United's refund request regarding the second set of tickets, but found that the TSA's denial of a refund for the first set arbitrary and capricious. The court concluded that the TSA's denial was arbitrary and capricious with respect to the involuntary transfer tickets where the court is confronted with a factual dispute with important implications for United's refund. On the one hand, United claims that it never transfers security fees—a practice that appears correct in view of the allocation of liability under 49 U.S.C. 44940—but failed to raise or support this assertion until oral argument. On the other hand, the TSA maintains that airlines might transfer security fees but does little to support this assertion in its denial letter, at least beyond bare conclusions and unsupported hypotheticals. The court vacated the TSA's decision with respect to the IT tickets and remanded to the TSA for reconsideration of the denial. The court otherwise affirmed the TSA's decision. View "United Airlines, Inc. v. Transportation Security Administration" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought review of the TSA's Mask Directives, issued in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that the TSA has no authority to issue the directives. Petitioner argued that TSA's authority under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act does not empower TSA to require face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.The DC Circuit found no merit in petitioner's claim and denied the petition for review. The court concluded that the COVID-19 global pandemic poses one of the greatest threats to the operational viability of the transportation system and the lives of those on it seen in decades. TSA, which is tasked with maintaining transportation safety and security, plainly has the authority to address such threats under both sections 114(f) and (g) of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. The court stated that the Mask Directives are reasonable and permissible regulations adopted by TSA to promote safety and security in the transportation system against threats posed by COVID-19. The Mask Directives are not ultra vires, and the court deferred to the agency's interpretation of the Act. View "Corbett v. Transportation Security Administration" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied Regency Air's petition for review challenging the FAA's decision affirming an ALJ's finding that Regency Air violated regulations requiring air carriers to test each employee for drug and alcohol misuse if performing a safety-sensitive function like plane maintenance.The panel concluded that Regency Air had adequate notice of the dispositive allegations against it, and thus it should have enrolled the first employee in its testing program but failed to do so. The panel also concluded that 14 C.F.R 120.35 and 120.39 are not unconstitutional as applied to the second employee where the employee's concurrent employment, while not addressed in the regulations, unambiguously falls within the regulations' plain text. The panel explained that the FAA chose to promulgate a general rule: if an employee works on an air carrier's planes, the air carrier must enroll the employee in its testing program. The FAA also identified only one narrow exception to this rule, inapplicable here. The panel further concluded that 49 C.F.R. 40.25 is not unconstitutionally vague as to whether Regency Air had to request the second employee's past testing records as an employee. The panel stated that, when an employer hires and becomes obligated to test an employee, it must request past testing records despite the employee's past work on the employer's planes in the scope of other employment. Finally, the panel concluded that the FAA acted within its discretion and established policy in seeking and imposing sanctions against Regency Air. View "Regency Air, LLC v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Until 2016, the FAA maintained a formal “slot control” system at Newark International Airport, requiring each airline to request a “slot” for each takeoff or landing. The FAA currently announces caps on takeoffs and landings for a given scheduling season. Each airline tells the FAA what flights it wants to operate during the upcoming season. The FAA may either approve an airline’s plan or request that it make changes in order to reduce congestion. An airline is not legally barred from operating unapproved flights/In 2010, the Department of Justice (DoJ) conditioned a merger on United’s transferring 36 slots to Southwest Airlines, a low-fare carrier, new to Newark. For five years, the DoJ resisted United’s attempts to acquire more slots. In 2015 the DoJ sued United for attempted monopolization but United remained Newark's dominant carrier. In 2019 Southwest announced it would pull out of Newark; 16 of its slots were in “peak hours.” Spirit Airlines requested five. The DoJ and the Port Authority cautioned the FAA against retiring Southwest’s slots, to preserve competition.The D.C. Circuit vacated the FAA’s decision to retire the slots. The decision was final because it prevented Spirit from operating as many peak-period flights as it would otherwise have done in Summer 2020 and was arbitrary and capricious because the agency disregarded warnings about the effect of its decision on competition at Newark. View "Spirit Airlines, Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case are two provisions of North Dakota Senate Bill 2231. The first prohibits air ambulance providers from directly billing out-of-network insured patients for any amount not paid for by their insurers (the payment provision). The second prohibits air ambulance providers or their agents from selling subscription agreements (the subscription provision).Guardian Flight filed a declaratory judgment action claiming that both provisions are preempted under the Airlines Deregulation Act (ADA). Defendants responded that, even if preempted, the provisions were saved under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. The district court concluded that although the ADA preempted both provisions, the McCarran-Ferguson Act saved the subscription provision.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court's ADA preemption analysis and concluded that the ADA preempts both the payment provision and the subscription provision. However, the court held that the McCarran-Ferguson Act does not apply because the provisions were not enacted "for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance." Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Guardian Flight LLC v. Godfread" on Justia Law