Denial of Due Process
Allow me to share a story seven and a half years in the making of the failure of the NTSB to provide due process for an aircraft mechanic.
This story involves Anthony Jack Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1989 as an aircraft mechanic, flight engineer, and line chief on C-130s. After his military career, he worked as an aircraft mechanic and inspector, holding an A&P and Inspection Authorization until 2016 when this matter started.
In 2016, the FAA alleged that Mr. Hawkins had performed deficient annual inspections on three single engine Cessna aircraft in 2015 and improper jump door modifications on two of those aircraft in 2011 and 2015. The Administrator issued an Emergency Order of Revocation on March 22, 2016 as to Hawkins' FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certificates and Inspection Authorization. On March 24, 2016, Mr. Hawkins timely filed a Notice of Appeal via electronic delivery and simultaneously served the Administrator also via electronic delivery in accordance with Rule §821.52. 4.
The trial of this matter took place in Denver, CO on March 28, 2017 through March 31, 2017 -- a year after the revocation!
At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge announced the following: I was not going to issue an oral initial decision on the record. Given the volume of the evidence and the length of the proceeding, I needed some time to review all of that and prepare my decision. My intent is still to do an oral initial decision, but to do that essentially by teleconference. I'll arrange for a court reporter to be present, and I'll issue my decision orally during the conference call. Because the conference call never occurred, on April 28, 2017, counsel for the parties sent an email providing available dates in May and June for purposes of scheduling the teleconference for announcement of the Judge’s oral initial decision. Again, no teleconference was ever scheduled. On August 31, 2017, five months after the conclusion of the trial, counsel’s office for Mr. Hawkins sent an email pleading for resolution in this matter.
On June 25, 2018, a year and three months after the conclusion of the trial, counsel for the Administrator sent an email requesting an update on the status of this matter. That correspondence read: “I am following up to inquire about the pending initial oral decision from Judge Woody in this case.” On June 26, 2018 and in response to that email, the parties were told that “Judge Woody would like to advise the parties that he is presently working on the decision and we will be in touch once it is complete, which he anticipates will be in the not too distant future. Thanks.” Id.
As of April of this year, more than six and a half years after the trial, the parties were still awaiting a decision in this matter. On April 12, attorneys representing Hawkins filed a motion with the NTSB seeking to dismiss the emergency revocation without prejudice based on a denial of due process. The motion said that after invoking that appeal process and putting on significant evidence in support of his defense of the Administrator’s allegations at the trial in this matter, Mr. Hawkins was then entitled to receive the “initial decision orally at the close of the hearing, or in writing at a later date.” Not only was Mr. Hawkins entitled to that decision, but he was also entitled to an initial decision that included “findings and conclusions upon all material issues of fact, credibility of witnesses, law and discretion presented on the record, together with a statement of the reasons therefor.”
In response to the motion to dismiss, the FAA asked the NTSB to deny the motion, saying in part, "The Administrator has no control over the NTSB’s ability to issue an initial decision after the hearing and should not be reprimanded or sanctioned because a delay has occurred with the issuance of the initial decision. Indeed, the Administrator has tried to contact the NTSB on multiple occasions to receive an update on the status of the initial decision and never received a definitive answer from the Board. Like the Respondent, the Administrator was informed that the Board would be in touch when the initial decision was complete. To date, the Administrator has not received an update on the status of the initial decision or provided a definitive date for the issuance of the initial decision."
On September 25, the NTSB agreed with Mr. Hawkins' counsel and issued a ruling granting the motion to dismiss the complaint, thereby reinstating Mr. Hawkins A&P and Inspection Authorization without prejudice.
In the end, Mr. Hawkins was unable to exercise the privileges of his FAA certificates for seven and a half years!
If that isn't a denial of due process, I don't know what is!
Thanks for reading,