Yes, sigh... it's true. I received my very own FAA
Letter of Investigation. But... it was a long time ago. In fact, I don't even remember the year... but I DO
remember how I found out about it!
A Visit From The CEO
We were flying a trip in one of our DC3s from Battle Creek to Las Vegas and normally none of the pax come up to the cockpit to visit. Too busy "relaxing", you know. But this time came a knock at the cockpit door, and the First Officer opened it and the CEO of the company wanted to come up front and sit in the jump seat.
A bit unusual, but no problem at all. After exchanging a few pleasantries he handed me a letter (he was listed as the contact on all of the aircraft registrations.) It was an FAA Letter of Investigation claiming that another of our aircraft had landed at the Rochester, MN airport when the weather was below minimums. As Chief Pilot I was responsible for all aircraft operations, and as it turned out I happened to be the Pilot In Command for the flight in question. I was asked for an explanation in a not too friendly way, and simply told the CEO that I would investigate and get back to him.
You see, I was flying the trip from Battle Creek, MI to Minneapolis, MN - and the boss had asked us to make a quick stop in Rochester, MN so that he could visit a friend who was in the hospital there. As was typical at that time of the year fog was everywhere, and while the airport was reporting below minimums weather I decided we could at least take a look-see on our way to Minneapolis. No one had been able to get into the airport that morning due to heavy fog, and we expected that we would not be able to get in either.
The Rochester Approach
When we arrived in the vicinity of Rochester we were advised by Approach Control that the weather was up and down, and that at the present time it was below minimums. However, under Part 91 we could shoot the approach and, arriving at the Minimum Descent Altitude, were legal to land if we determined we had minimums. This was a Part 91 operation, flown by 2 pilots in the company aircraft. When I reviewed my log book and discussed the situation with the FO who flew with me that day, I recalled that I had executed 2 approaches that morning.
The first approach resulted in a miss, but on the second approach there was a large hole in the fog and most of the airport was visible when we reached MDA, so we proceeded to land. As it turned out we were the only aircraft to get into the airport that morning until the fog lifted later that day.
When I returned to home base from our trip to Las Vegas I went to see our corporate attorney. He was not a pilot, nor an aviation lawyer
, but he advised me to call the writer of the letter rather than respond in writing.
I called the investigator from the FAA in Minneapolis and discussed the situation with him. He maintained that we had violated the FARs by landing when the weather was below minimums. After a lot of conversation the investigator admitted that, as he was not in the aircraft at the time, there was no way he could know whether or not we were legal to land. His concern was that the aircraft who executed the approach just before my first approach also missed, and after I landed the next few aircraft also missed and could not land. Based upon this he decided that we had landed our aircraft when the weather was below minimums.
A few weeks later we received another letter which advised that the FAA investigator had decided to abandon his complaint that we landed below minimums; however, he now claimed that we had not filed an alternate airport in violation of the FARs. He advised that he was simply going to put a letter in my airman record to that effect, and that in 2 years it would be removed from my airman record and destroyed. I turned this letter over to our corporate attorney, and over the next few weeks we negotiated with no satisfactory resolution.
I then placed a call to Jackson Flight Service to ask them if they record weather briefings and flight plan filings. The FO had filed the flight plan, so I really did not know whether or not he had, in fact, given an alternate. It turned out that the FSS did not record the conversation when they gave the weather briefing and took our flight plan. Once again we maintained the FAA could not prove we had not filed an alternate, and I was unwilling to accept any documents in my airman record. In the end we wore him down and the case was dropped.
Moral Of The Story
Don't blindly accept what the FAA asserts. Don't respond to an FAA Letter of Investigation without consulting an aviation attorney
first. Most important, stand your ground and do not give in when you know you are correct, or that the FAA can't prove their allegation. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7
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