Pilot Re-examination by FAA By Jay C. White

When and under what conditions is a pilot required to submit to a flight test reexamination?

When and under what conditions is a pilot required to submit to a flight test reexamination?

A pilot holding a private pilot certificate with instrument rating was notified by FAA that he should undergo an instrument flight test reexamination. The pilot had departed an airport into instrument meteorological conditions without first having received a takeoff clearance. The FAA contended that this conduct raised an issue as to the pilot’s instrument flight proficiency.

The pilot refused to submit to reexamination, arguing that reexamination was not warranted because he fully understood that a takeoff clearance was required. He believed mistakenly that such a clearance had been issued for the takeoff in question. He argued that there was no relationship between this communications mistake and his instrument flight proficiency. The FAA disagreed and issued an emergency order suspending the pilot’s certificate pending satisfactory completion of a flight test reexamination.

The pilot requested a hearing before a law judge of the National Transportation Safety Board. At the hearing, the FAA attorney argued that a reexamination could be required if there was a reasonable basis for believing that pilot competence could have been a factor in the violation. The judge agreed, stating that the FAA “was obligated to show only that the respondent took off in his aircraft without a clearance, for there is no doubt that a reexamination would be appropriate for a pilot who did not know that he should have obtained a clearance. So long as lack of competence could have caused the incident the FAA could require reexamination.” The judge upheld the FAA suspension order.

Comment : Whenever the FAA requests that a pilot undergo reexamination, e.g., a flight test, the pilot is usually well advised to do so rather than contest the FAA’s decision. The FAA has broad authority to require that a pilot demonstrate competency if there any evidence that the pilot may not be qualified to hold a certificate or a rating. If a pilot refuses to undergo a reexamination when requested, the FAA can issue an order suspending the pilot’s certificate. As a practical matter, usually a pilot is better served by obtaining refresher training that will assure a satisfactory competency check ride. While this may be costly and inconvenient, it is preferable over the alternative of challenging the FAA in court.