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Occurrence Investigations

You lined up on the runway at a towered airport following your full preflight inspection. As you applied full throttle, something didn’t feel right. 

Even though the instruments and gauges were within acceptable ranges, you decided to abort the takeoff out of an abundance of caution and advised ATC that you wanted to taxi back to the ramp. This was not an “incident,” and certainly not an “accident,” so you are shocked when you receive a letter from an FAA inspector a couple of weeks later stating that she is “investigating an occurrence.”

If you find yourself the subject of an FAA occurrence investigation, it does not necessarily mean that you did anything wrong. In Order 8020.11C, the FAA defines occurrence as an event, other than an accident or incident, that requires investigation by the Flight Standards Service for its potential impact on safety. This can include aborted takeoffs, turn-backs, or diversions for reasons other than weather. Furthermore, aborted takeoffs are often subject to mandatory occurrence reports by ATC.

During these investigations, the FAA frequently requests documents similar to what would be requested during a ramp check. For example, they may request copies of logbooks, pilot certificates, and medical certificates. The FAA is entitled to see any of this documentation regardless of the circumstances. Although the FAA may not be investigating a pilot deviation, its inquiries often uncover unrelated issues such as expired medicals, lapsed currency, or overdue annual inspections.

If the occurrence was caused by a mechanical failure, the inspector will want to know if there were any indications of a problem before the flight, what happened during the occurrence, and what steps you took after the occurrence. As always, you should have a certificated A&P mechanic inspect the plane before returning it to service, and ensure that the inspection and any accompanying repairs are logged appropriately. If it’s necessary to relocate the aircraft before the repairs are made, you should first obtain a special flight permit (“ferry permit”), which is done through the local FSDO.

As long as your certificates are valid, you possessed the necessary currency for the flight, and you were not aware before the flight of any mechanical issues that could affect the airworthiness of the aircraft, then the investigation should close quickly. If you have any concerns about the inspector’s requests or your rights, call the AOPA Legal Services Plan at 1-800-872-2672.

Ray Carver

Legal Services Plan, Attorney
Ray is a staff attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan. He counsels participating AOPA members on aviation-related legal matters. Ray is also a private pilot.
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