Technical Difficulties

Pilots are rarely thrilled to hear from the FAA. Whether it’s a voicemail from an inspector or a letter in your mailbox, common reactions range from a mild sense of anxiety to outright panic. While it’s true that many of these contacts are initiated because the FAA is investigating a possible pilot deviation such as an airspace or runway incursion, a fair number of them turn out to be about something else entirely.

A common example involves ADS-B equipment. As the January 1, 2020 deadline for ADS-B Out equipage nears, the FAA’s ADS-B Focus Team is stepping up efforts to contact aircraft owners whose ADS-B Out systems are not operating correctly. In these cases, the Focus Team will typically try to contact the owner by phone or email first, and then will send a letter if these methods are not available or successful. The letter will indicate that the system output is not in compliance with FAR § 91.227 and invite the individual to contact the FAA inspector for additional information.

Pilots and aircraft owners are often nervous about responding to FAA inquiries, but they are generally not required to do so. However, in our experience, the inspectors have been helpful in explaining the ADS-B Out discrepancies to the owners, and they have been satisfied once an avionics shop has fixed the issue. While the initial letter will include the details of the noncompliance (and owners can request an ADS-B performance report themselves for free at any time from, the output and details can be rather technical. Therefore, it may be beneficial to have an open line of communication with the inspector in order to better understand the issue and confirm when it has been remedied.

One final note on the topic of ADS-B Out discrepancies: some are serious enough to cause problems for controllers, and if left unresolved will lead to the FAA denying ADS-B services such as TIS-B traffic to problem aircraft. For more information, see the recent AOPA article “ADS-B: Bad Data, No Service.”

Being asked to contact someone because of a technical issue is not limited to ADS-B. For example, if ATC asks you to call a phone number after you land but does not advise you of a possible pilot deviation, then it could be to follow up on an anomaly in your transponder’s Mode C altitude reporting. Keep in mind that regardless of the event that triggers the inquiry, there is not a regulatory requirement to call ATC, and consider calling AOPA’s Legal Services Plan for guidance before making a decision on whether or not to call ATC or respond to a letter or a voicemail.

Chad Mayer
Legal Services Plan, Attorney
Chad Mayer is an in-house attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan who assists Plan members with a wide variety of aviation-related legal issues. He is also a Commercial Pilot, a Remote Pilot with sUAS Rating, and an Advanced/Instrument Ground Instructor. The AOPA Legal Services plan is offered as part of AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services.

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