Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Andrzejewski v. FAA (9th Cir. - Dec. 3, 2008)

Melissa Andrzejewski may only be 22 years old (actually, 24 or 25 now), but she's a better pilot than you are. (Cuter, too, apparently.) Moreover, at least in a high-performance Zivco Edge 540, she may well be a better pilot than the people who watched her take off from the Butler County Airport in 2006. Two of whom thought she was hot-dogging it on takeoff, and the FAA on that basis revoked her license.

The ALJ reinstated the license, the NTSB reversed, and the Ninth Circuit reverses the reversal. In a decision that seems entirely right, and gives appropriate deference to the ALJ.

Mind you, do I think she was hot-dogging it? Honestly, probably yes. She was showing off her new high-performance aircraft to her family. Based purely upon what I've read, and upon what I might reasonably intuit about 22-year old pilots who perform in air shows and competitions and who are showing off a new airplane, I think it highly likely that she indeed did a couple of "wing wags" to her parents. Sure, she was able to muster a lot of friends and acrobatic pilots to testify "Well, no, in high-performance aircraft, what you thought you saw might actually be normal. You pedestrian plebes are simply not used to our fancy planes." But come on. I think I know full well what you did.

Still, I admit it seems harsh to revoke your license, albeit for a technically dangerous maneuver on takeoff. More importantly, Judge Bea is entirely right that you gotta give deference to the ALJ, who decided that the witnesses for Melissa were more persuasive than those of the FAA.

That's what factfinding is all about. Even when we think it's wrong, we defer. Maybe in particular cases that results in error, but that's the price of an otherwise good system.

So I agree with the reversal here. Though I hope Melissa is, at this point, a bit more circumspect. At least outside of air shows.

P.S. - Hot financee too!

P.P.S. - On a whim, I read the briefs. Which mention, inter alia, Melissa's prior license revocation (the year before this incident) for an illegal low-level flyby at a friend's wedding, the undisputed fact that she deployed air show smoke for her grandmother during the relevant events here, the testimony about the 80 degree (!) banking of the aircraft and rapid 45 degree ascention, etc. Sure, I read how Melissa's friends testified too. But oh my. (Again; nonetheless, Judge Bea gets it right.)