28 Years of Handling Complex Aviation Law Cases
Plane Model and Gavel
William G. Harger & Associates, PLLC Oct. 10, 2023

The NTSB Trent Palmer Decision—The FAA Has Reached a Record Low for Enforcement Actions

The Problem

Trent Palmer is a pilot with a YouTube channel boasting more than 450,000 subscribers. However, his name is now widely associated with an incident that led to the suspension of his private pilot certificate in 2019. Following the incident, a nearly four-year-long legal battle ensued, holding significant implications for the aviation community.

On November 24, 2019, Palmer was flying to an unimproved dirt strip owned by a friend near Reno, Nevada, when he performed a low pass to inspect it. After the pass, Palmer decided not to land there due to safety concerns. 

A neighbor in the vicinity of the strip, using security camera video, lodged a complaint with the FAA, alleging that Palmer had flown dangerously close to him and his property. The FAA cited Palmer under 14 CFR 91.13 for the careless and reckless operation of his aircraft and issued him a 210-day suspension. 

After several legal proceedings, the suspension was reduced to 120 days. In April 2022, following a hearing by the NTSB, the suspension was further reduced to 60 days. Palmer appealed this decision, but in March 2023, his appeal was denied. His legal team is currently pursuing an appeal in federal court. 
Palmer’s Alleged Violations 

In addition to FAR 91.13(a), which prohibits operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner endangering life or property, the FAA also cited: 

  • FAR 91.119(a), which establishes altitude restrictions except for takeoff or landings! 

  • FAR 91.119(c), which sets altitude limitations over uncongested areas except for takeoffs and landings!

Palmer’s Response to the Allegations 

Palmer obviously contends that he did not violate any FARs because the precautionary low pass was conducted in preparation for a landing on a remote, unimproved strip of land. Regarding flying carelessly and recklessly, Palmer stated, "FAR 91.13 careless and reckless is the FAA rubber rule; they throw that at anything." 

During his 2022 hearing, Palmer explained that he was uncomfortable with his ability to locate the touchdown point and centerline of the runway, making him doubt the safety of landing on the rough strip of land. Consequently, he decided not to land for safety reasons. 

In his defense, Palmer referenced the FAA publication "Off Airport Ops," which advises pilots to make multiple inspection passes over unfamiliar runways to check for “cuts in gravel, rocks, dips, bumps, etc.” It states: “Each pass should result in you becoming more comfortable with your chosen landing area. If you are becoming less comfortable, abandon the site and seek a more suitable landing area.” 

Key Takeaways

Palmer should not have received any suspension, as his inspection pass did not violate any FAA regulations . Quite the opposit--the precautionary pass was a standard and necessary safety precaution recommended by the FAA.

Bottom Line

Palmer expressed his concern on his YouTube channel that pilots may now be reluctant to conduct inspection passes out of fear of facing similar violations and suspensions. In fact, with this suspension, the FAA is instructing pilots not to make safety passes over questionable terrain prior to landing on unimproved, remote strips. This is in direct and obvious opposition to other FAA guidelines, and will inevitably lead to more accidents. 

NTSB’s Verdict: A Turning Point in Aviation Compliance?

Palmer and his legal team continue to challenge the suspension and the FAA's interpretation of his actions, pursuing appeals through the court system. The issue may ultimately be decided by a federal appeals court, or even the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of what the courts say, one thing is undeniable: the FAA has reached a record low for enforcement actions. 

Attorney Bill Harger is a former professional pilot holding ATP and A&P certificates. He has been licensed since 1964. Located near Houston, Texas, his number one goal is to offer you first class legal counsel regarding aviation issues. If you as a pilot, aircraft owner or mechanic, FBO, or any other aviation business have any questions about legal issues concerning aviation-related matters, contact him at William G. Harger & Associates, PLLC.


Who's Liable After a Plane Crash?  -

As an aviation professional, you might be feeling extremely overwhelmed and emotional after a plane crash. The possibility of being held liable can easily haunt someone in this profession.

Read More
Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo: Is the FAA About to Lose Its Clout in NTSB Hearings?  -

The Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo case is a pivotal dispute where New England fisheries are challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service's interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Central to the case is the potential limitation or overruling of the Chevron doctrine, which currently permits federal agencies to interpret ambiguous statutes within their jurisdiction.

Read More
Does the FAA Investigate Accidents?  -

An aircraft accident is a serious and multifaceted event that requires thorough investigation. Among the entities that delve into these incidents is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a federal agency under the Department of Transportation.

Read More