The weather forecast for the weekend looks great and you would love to log some flight time. So you call the fixed based operator and reserve a Cessna Skylane to rent for a mid-morning flight. The fuel costs are absurd, but that remains the price of being a pilot. It is two hours of solid enjoyment. Everything goes smoothly and you have gained some additional confidence in your flight skills.
Two months later you receive a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action from the Federal Aviation Administration proposing to suspend your pilot certificate for 30 days. How can this be? The charge is essentially that you operated an aircraft without an annual inspection. In particular you may have violated Federal Aviation Regulation 91.409(a)(1), which states in part “…that no person may operate an aircraft unless, within the preceding 12 calendar months, it has had an annual inspection…” But isn’t the fixed-based operator responsible for annual inspections of its rented aircraft? Yes, but the pilot-in-command should check the maintenance logbooks to ensure that the aircraft’s annual inspection is current before he or she operates it.
In fact an NTSB Judge stated that “…the pilot-in-command is ultimately responsible for conducting the flight in accordance with applicable regulations, one of which prohibits the operation of an aircraft that has not received an annual inspection within the past 12 months.” And therefore a pilot should not rely on the fixed based operator to ensure that the aircraft’s annual inspection is current. Rather it remains incumbent on the pilot to check the maintenance logbooks to ensure that the aircraft annual inspection is current. Otherwise the pilot takes the risk of operating an out-of-annual aircraft that will likely result in a certificate suspension.
If a pilot receives a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action, then he or she should consult with an attorney to help navigate the FAA enforcement process.