Justia Aviation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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The city of Scottsdale, Arizona filed a petition challenging the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of certain east-bound flight paths out of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, claiming the flights resulted in injury to the city because planes flying along those routes produce noise and pollution on property that the city owns.The D.C. Circuit denied Scottsdale's petition, holding that, while this is the type of harm that could confer standing, Scottsdale was unable to identify evidence proving the city suffered actual harm. The City presented no evidence of increased noise or pollution. View "City of Scottsdale, Arizona v. FAA" 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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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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The DC Circuit dismissed petitions for review of several Federal Aviation Administration actions related to the proposed expansion of the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction because none of petitioners' challenges involves an ongoing case or controversy. In this case, petitioners lack standing to pursue their challenge to the FAA's decision to withdraw its concurrence in GDOT's written reevaluation, because petitioners' injuries are not fairly traceable to the challenged action. Furthermore, petitioners' remaining challenges concerning the FAA's concurrence in GDOT's written re-evaluation, the FAA's denial of reconsideration of that concurrence, and the FAA's withdrawal of the airport expansion from the then-pending commercial service environmental assessment are all moot. View "Louie v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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The Great Lakes Pilotage Act requires foreign vessels and American vessels participating in foreign trade to hire an American or Canadian maritime pilot to assist in navigating the difficult waters of the Great Lakes. Shippers challenged the pilot rates for the 2016 commercial shipping season under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Shippers claimed that the 2016 Rule set an artificially inflated pilot rate that caused significant harm to the industry.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's decision upholding parts of the 2016 Rule setting higher compensation targets for the pilots. The court also affirmed the district court's holding that several parts of the rule are unsupported by the administrative record. The court held that, although remand without vacatur is the exception rather than the rule, the district court acted within its discretion here, given the disruption likely to occur from reallocating rates paid several years ago. View "American Great Lakes Ports Ass'n v. Schultz" on Justia Law

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FlyersRights claimed that airlines were not giving passengers sufficient notice of their right to compensation for delays in flights and urged the Department to issue regulations requiring the airlines to print written summaries of passengers' rights on all international airline tickets, including information about how passengers suffering from flight delays might be compensated.The DC Circuit held that FlyersRights has at least one member with independent standing to sue the Department and therefore FlyersRights has associational standing to sue on behalf of its members. On the merits, the court denied FlyersRights' petition for review of the Department's denial of its request for rulemaking as arbitrary and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court held that the Department adequately explained why it denied the request for rulemaking, and the Department's finding that there was insufficient evidence of consumer confusion to warrant a rulemaking was also supported. View "Flyers Rights Education Fund v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law