Quote from a 1986 enforcement case: “As Hogan Air Flight 816 taxied on Taxiway ‘C’ and passed by the Guard ramp area, the cadets observed you abandon your position in the left seat, stand up, remove your trousers, slide the window open and expose your buttocks.”

Among other things, the bare-butt pilot was charged with the FAA’s most-common allegation: FAR Part 91.13 — “No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” The pilot was also charged with one of the least-common allegations: “lack of good moral character.”

The FAA sought to revoke the pilot’s airline transport pilot certificate.

The administrative law judge for the case made an interesting comment: “I do not find that the act of mooning comes up to the level requiring the revocation of an ATP. We have not yet reached the point where stupidity alone is grounds for revocation of an ATP.” The judge reduced the pilot’s punishment from revocation to a 20-day suspension.

The FAA was unwilling to “turn the other cheek” and filed an appeal.

For a case involving a stupid prank, the NTSB devoted serious analysis to the elements of proving a careless or reckless violation: “Although respondent’s action in our view amounted to a form of ‘careless operation,’ the remaining and more difficult issue is whether his action created potential endangerment, the remaining element of a section [Part 91.13] violation. Considering all of the pertinent circumstances — respondent’s removing his seatbelt and standing up and turning sideways in a moving aircraft, the distraction of the copilot, and the blockage of the copilot’s view out the left cockpit window — the Board concludes, unlike the law judge, that a potential endangerment was created that is not so remote as to remove the incident from the coverage of the regulation. The Board therefore deems the violation of section [Part 91.13] to be established by a preponderance of the evidence.”

So, note that the FAA didn’t have to prove that anyone was actually endangered by the mooning. The NTSB will affirm a violation if the FAA can show the potential for endangerment.

Lawyers love to debate “potential endangerment,” but pilots continue to find new ways to “endanger.” In a 2013 case, a Learjet pilot who was upset with a Cessna 172 pilot turned his jet blast on the Cessna. The Learjet allegedly left a 75-ft. skid mark on the taxiway and had flat-spotted tires, but the Cessna pilot managed to keep his airplane from flipping over in the blast. The Learjet pilot received a 90-day suspension.

The most-common Part 91.13 cases are “buzz jobs.” Older cases involved lengthy discussions about witness testimony and whether or not the aircraft’s N-number could be observed by the naked eye. In today’s world, video evidence is more tantalizing than witness testimony. The most-extreme example in recent years involved a flight where the pilots of a Gulfstream II made two low passes just off the shore of a beach, and a low pass down a runway with gear and flaps retracted. Low flights near a beach: a common violation. With a Gulfstream? Not so common. But here is the quote from the NTSB decision that sets this case apart: “Respondent’s maneuvers, as depicted in the video and testified to by the administrator’s witnesses, were clearly reckless and apparently intended to provide exciting footage for the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ film crew.” The pilot was suspended for 150 days.

The FAA adds a violation of Part 91.13 to almost any other violation: Case law refers to it as a “residual” violation. In the majority of cases, the additional charge under Part 91.13 does not increase the length of the pilot’s certificate suspension. However, when the pilot is truly “reckless” and not merely “careless,” sanctions range from 180 days suspension to complete revocation.

A Robinson R44 helicopter pilot decided to “self-train” to be a rescue pilot by repeatedly picking up swimmers from a lake with the skids of his helicopter, taking them up 20-30 ft. in the air, and letting them jump off the skids. The case began when an angry witness sent a video of the event to an FAA inspector. Neither the FAA nor the NTSB bought his “self-training” defense. He received a 180-day suspension.

In a case where a check airman failed to report that engine temperatures were exceeded during a stall recovery and subsequently flew the aircraft on to several other destinations, the NTSB agreed with the FAA that revocation was appropriate. Why revocation? The stall occurred during an airline flight, and the hearing included this testimony from an Air Jamaica captain riding in the cabin: “The poor passengers — I’m sorry — the passengers — they were — they were — they were crying, they were praying, they were screaming, and they were cursing. . . .”

Using the search terms “screaming” and FAR Part 91.13 produces too many results. The line between merely stupid and truly reckless is often determined by whether people are screaming in the cabin or on the ground. B&CA