Suppose your best buddy wants to impress his latest girlfriend with a quick spin around the city in your airplane. You’ve flown with him a few times and feel confident in his ability. True, you’ve never loaned your aircraft to anyone before, but what’s the worst that could happen?
[Let the record show this as Mistake # 1.]
Three hours later, the lovebirds return and the airplane seems unscathed. You’ve been a good friend and all is well … until you receive a letter from your local FSDO proposing to suspend your airman’s certificate for 90 days and imposing a civil penalty of $10,000. They’d also like to speak with you about the observed unsafe operation of your aircraft. It seems that a group of picnickers seated on the shores of a local lake were treated to a private airshow. Your aircraft performed chandelles and figure-eights at or near the surface of the water — which wasn’t a problem. The low pass that led to the capsize of a small sailboat occupied by some children and the subsequent rescue operation which involved local law enforcement and fire personnel — that was a problem. Fortunately for everyone else, there were no serious injuries. Unfortunately for you, your N-number was forwarded to the local FSDO.
In spite of all this, you decide to stonewall the feds in order to protect your friend — who’s not exactly breaking his neck to come forward with the truth, anyway. Besides, even if no one could see who was flying, you can prove it wasn’t you and hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
[ … Mistake # 2.]
Enter FAR section 13.17: Any State or Federal law enforcement officer, or a Federal Aviation Safety inspector, authorized in an order of seizure issued by the Regional Administrator or Chief Counsel may summarily (that is, without a hearing or a chance to be heard) seize an aircraft that is involved in a violation. Further, a civil penalty may be imposed on the aircraft’s owner or operator. Only after the aircraft has been seized must the FAA send the owner notice of the seizure and include a description of the violations believed to have been committed. That notice will also tell you how much you owe.
Translation: The FAA can legally seize your airplane without notice, and if you don’t have the $10,000 necessary to get it out of hock, you’ll need at least enough money to hire a lawyer. Your representative will argue that, since the feds can’t prove it was you who committed the alleged violations, you can’t be fined or otherwise sanctioned — and your aircraft should be returned to you … and (s)he’d be right. Right?
To be continued… (read part two)