Senator takes on FAA on flight rules

Associated Press / July 11, 2011

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WASHINGTON - After Senator James Inhofe landed his small plane on a closed runway at a rural South Texas airport last October and sent workers on the ground scrambling, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered him to take remedial piloting lessons.

Now the Oklahoma Republican, who has been flying for 50 years, is sponsoring a bill to strengthen the position of pilots contesting FAA enforcement of safety rules in cases like his.

“With any bureaucracy that has the power to take action against an individual, it’s our job in Congress to ensure there are appropriate safeguards in place to prevent agency overreach,’’ Inhofe said.

Pilots sometimes are not given access to all the evidence that might help their case, he said. They can be punished for not following notices on safety conditions at specific airports even if the notices were not publicly available before the flights, he said.

Pilots can appeal FAA decisions to the National Transportation Safety Board, but the board usually “rubber stamps’’ the agency’s recommendations, Inhofe said.

“I was never fully appreciative of the feeling of desperation until it happened to me,’’ he said. “I did nothing wrong, but at any time I could have suffered a revocation of my license.’’

There were trucks and workers on the closed runway, which was marked with a giant yellow X. Inhofe said he did not see the workers until it was too late to safely abort the landing.

His bill is backed by private pilots groups.