The NTSB has denied an appeal filed by pilot and YouTuber Trent Palmer related to a suspension of his private pilot certificate. As previously reported by AVweb, the suspension arose from a flight on Nov. 24, 2019, when Palmer conducted a low inspection pass in preparation for a possible landing at a private airstrip used for remote controlled (RC) airplanes on a friend’s property. A neighbor filed a complaint with the FAA, stating that the aircraft flew dangerously close to himself, his family and several structures on his property, and provided the agency with security camera footage.
The FAA held that Palmer violated 14 CFR 91.13 prohibiting careless and reckless operation of an aircraft and 14 CFR 91.119(a) and (c), which cover minimum safe altitudes, including allowing for an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property if a power unit fails and not operating an aircraft closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure except when necessary for takeoff or landing. Palmer maintained that the inspection pass was a necessary part of a safe landing procedure as outlined in the FAA’s off airport ops guide and that he had the ability to conduct an emergency landing during the entire flight. The matter went to an NTSB administrative law judge (ALJ), who issued an oral decision in April 2022 in favor of the FAA but reduced the requested suspension from 120 to 60 days. Both sides appealed the decision.
Palmer’s appeal was denied in its entirety on March 30, 2023. Following the initial decision, he expressed concerns that the ruling would set a precedent that conducting an inspection pass would require a pilot to land at the intended spot for it to not be a violation if there was a chance that they had flown within 500 feet of a vehicle, vessel, person, or structure. In the appeal ruling, the NTSB disagreed with that interpretation, stating that the “Respondent [Palmer] posits that the law judge misinterpreted § 91.119 in finding that a low inspection pass is not necessary for an off-airport landing, but the law judge did not issue such a finding. Rather, the law judge determined that respondent did not prove his affirmative defense that he met the prefatory clause – that his low inspection pass was necessary for landing during the November 24th flight.”
In response to the appeal from the FAA, the NTSB found that the “judge erred in reducing respondent’s sanction from a 120-day suspension to a 60-day suspension” and reinstated the 120-day suspension. The NTSB noted that the appeal was granted given that the FAA “provided a reasonable explanation for determining that respondent’s conduct fell within the high severity category, citing respondent’s testimony regarding his flight experience, the level of risk posed, and his prior warnings from the FAA regarding his conduct.” At the time of the incident, Palmer reportedly had about 900 hours as pilot in command of the aircraft he flew that day and had previously received a warning notification from the FAA for carrying passengers and “water-skiing” by dragging the airplane’s tires on the water on Lake Tahoe.
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