Pilot Deviation Penalties

  • ON Oct 27, 2015
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  • BY Christopher Ison
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  • IN Pilot Law

Pilot deviation penalties can be stiff. What is a pilot deviation? A pilot deviation is an action of or by a pilot that results in a failure to comply with an ATC clearance and/or instruction. The penalties for pilot deviations can range anywhere from a FAA Administrative or Enforcement Action, a “709” ride requirement, or even death. Possibly the best (and worst) example of how disastrous a pilot deviation can be comes from the deadliest aviation accident in history…the Tenerife Airport disaster.

 

On March 22, 1977, at the Los Rodeos Airport (now Tenerife North Airport) in the Canary Islands, two Boeing 747s collided on the runway causing the death of 583 people. At the time of the accident, the Tenerife airport was under dense fog and the taxiways were congested with overflow traffic. Immediately after lining up, the Captain of KLM Flight 4805 advanced the throttles and the aircraft started to move forward. The First Officer advised the Captain that ATC clearance had not yet been given, to which Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten responded, “I know that. Go ahead, ask.” First Officer Meurs then radioed the tower that they were “ready for takeoff” and “waiting for our ATC clearance”. The KLM crew then received instructions which specified the route that the aircraft was to follow after takeoff. The instructions used the word “takeoff,” but did not include an explicit statement that the flight was “cleared for takeoff.”

 

First Officer Meurs read the flight clearance back to the controller, completing the read-back with the statement: “We are now at takeoff.” Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten interrupted the First Officer’s read-back with the comment, “We’re going.” The controller then immediately said “OK” followed by “stand by for takeoff, I will call you,” indicating that he had not intended the clearance to be interpreted as a takeoff clearance. Unbeknownst to the KLM crew, Pan Am Flight 1736 was not clear of the runway. As a result, the two 747s collided, causing the deadliest aviation accident in history.

 

Let’s use this disaster to learn more about pilot deviations and their associated penalties. As evidenced by the Tenerife collision, the most important thing to know is that pilot deviations can be deadly. Some pilots may be able to stomach a potential FAA Enforcement Action brought against their certificate, but there is not one pilot on this planet that could stomach the death of passengers, crew, and those on the ground. While it may be easy to think “ATC probably won’t notice my screw up if I fly at 25,000 feet instead of 24,700 feet,” or “the FAA won’t ding me for such a small deviation,” you MUST remember that a simple deviation such as that could be the difference between life and death.

 

However, let’s say for example that the two Boeing 747s at Tenerife managed to avoid collision. Maybe KLM Flight 4805 was able to prematurely rotate and get airborne before striking Pan Am Flight 1736. What would the penalty be for a deviation like this? There were no fatalities. There was no property damage. There was, however, potential for disaster…which is what the FAA is concerned about. In this scenario, the FAA would likely initiate investigation and potentially administrative or enforcement proceedings. There is a litany of Federal Aviation Regulations that the FAA would claim the crew violated, however 14 C.F.R. §91. 123 and 14 C.F.R. §91.13 are used most often. §91.123 speaks to compliance with ATC clearances and instructions and §91.13 speaks to careless and reckless operations. Note that the §91.13 “careless and reckless operation” card is one that the FAA regularly plays, ancillary to other FAR violations. The penalties to such violations could include no action, a warning notice or letter of correction, a “709” ride, certificate suspension, civil penalties, and even certificate revocation.

 

If you are the subject of a FAA investigation, administrative or enforcement action, or civil penalty, make sure you contact an aviation attorney to speak about your possible defenses. In most cases, filing a NASA report is a good idea if you deviated from ATC clearance or instruction. If you have any questions about pilot deviation penalties and defenses, call an aviation attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

Do I Need A Pilot’s License to Get a Section 333 Exemption?

  • ON Oct 22, 2015
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  • BY Christopher Ison
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  • IN Drone Law

The first question most people seem to have about getting a Section 333 Exemption, is “do I need a pilot’s license to get a Section 333 Exemption?” This is an especially good question for people that want to use their drone for things like photography, real estate surveillance, agriculture, and filmmaking, because these folks typically don’t have a pilot’s license and consequently, they don’t want to go spend $14,000 on a private pilot’s license just to operate their drone commercially. The answer to the question, however, is that you DO NOT need a pilot certificate in order to OBTAIN a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA.  Nonetheless, the FAA requires that the person operating a drone under your Section 333 Exemption have at the bare minimum a Sport Pilot Certificate and a valid U.S. Driver’s License. This means that if you don’t have a pilot’s license, you can still get your Section 333 Exemption and then hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate to operate your drone for you. The following will outline your options if you don’t have a pilot’s license but still want to get a Section 333 Exemption for your drone operation.

 

First, you have to look at the economic and utilitarian side of going out and getting a pilot’s license. Do you have three to five months that you can dedicate to studying course material, taking lessons, and learning a new skill? Do you have the funds to get the license? Would having your license be useful to you in your personal life or business (other than for operating your drone)? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” you may want to carefully consider getting a pilot’s certificate for your Section 333 Exemption. And remember, you don’t have to have your pilot’s certificate at the time you send your Section 333 Petition to the FAA. Rather, you just have to have the certificate by the time you go out to operate your UAV as pilot-in-command.

 

So, if you decide that you DO want to get your pilot’s certificate, what is the most cost effective and efficient way to go about it for Section 333 purposes? There is an old wives’ tale out there that getting a Lighter-Than-Air Certificate (i.e. blimps and hot-air-balloons) is the fastest and most cost effective way of getting a certificate for Section 333 purposes. The ideology behind this theory is supported by the fact that a Sport Pilot, Lighter-Than-Air, Balloon, Certificate only requires 7 hours of training. While in some worlds this theory could be true, you will likely find that it is more difficult to actually locate a facility that can give out these types of certificates, let alone cheaply and quickly.

 

Nonetheless, if all you want to do is be legal while operating your drone and you are afraid that you won’t be able to get a FAA Medical Certificate, your best route is to get a Sport Pilot Certificate. The Sport Pilot Certificate for airplanes and helicopters requires a minimum of 20 training hours. The Sport Pilot rule allows a pilot to fly light-sport aircraft without the need for an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver’s license in order to exercise this privilege. The caveat to obtaining a Sport Pilot Certificate is that there are a lot of restrictions placed upon operators with these certificates. In that, airmen with a Sport Pilot Certificate cannot go into certain airspaces, cannot fly at night, cannot carry more than one passenger, go faster than 87 knots, etc.

 

If you have a little more time to devote to training and a little more money to throw at the situation, you may be interested in obtaining a Private Pilot Certificate. The minimum number of training/solo hours required for this certificate is 40 hours and you will have to be able to pass the FAA Third Class Medical exam. While this process of obtaining this certificate is definitely more involved, there are significantly less restrictions placed upon you than those with a Sport Pilot Certificate. You can take passengers, fly into complex airspaces, go day or night, etc. Essentially, your wings aren’t clipped when you have a Private Pilot Certificate.

 

But what if you don’t have any desire in obtaining a pilot’s license but you still want to fly your drone for commercial purposes? As mentioned above, the best route for you is to either hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate or find a bored pilot down at your local airport to come fly for you. Some pilots may even be willing to fly your drone for free – just to have the thrill of flying a cool drone! But remember, you can still change your mind and decide to get your pilot’s license after getting your Section 333 Exemption, thus allowing you to operate your drone.

 

If you have any questions about this murky area of the Section 333 Exemption process, feel free to call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We can walk you through the process and help you develop a strategy that is best for you and your operation. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

FAA Drone Registration Rulemaking Process: Will They Make It In Time?

  • ON Oct 21, 2015
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  • BY Christopher Ison
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  • IN Drone Law

The FAA drone registration rulemaking process may be more involved than Anthony Foxx and Michael Huerta are letting on. On October 19, in a joint news conference, the two aviation “bigwigs” announced their proposal to develop a drone/UAV registration system. This, of course, is the government’s response to ever-happening incidents between drones and other aircraft in the National Airspace System. In order to do so, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration have put together a “task force” of drone industry leaders to develop the new registration “rules” by November 20, 2015. You read that correctly. The FAA thinks it can answer the National Airspace System’s drone problem in just one month. Beyond that, Foxx and Huerta expect to have these rules implemented “sometime in December.” Clearly, this is a knee-jerk reaction to the FAA’s expectation that close to a million drones will be sold over the course of the holiday season. There’s nothing like taking a relatively complex problem and finding a solution as quickly as possible (no matter how sloppy and poorly thought out the solution will be). Be that as it may, is it even possible for the FAA to hit the December deadline?

 

Let’s walk through how the FAA rulemaking process works and make a prediction as to whether or not the new drone regulations will be ready by December. Normally, the FAA will utilize what’s known as notice-and-comment rulemaking. In this situation, in order to create a new rule or Federal Aviation Regulation, the FAA must issue to the public a document known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”). The NPRM explains things such as the need, the source of authority, and the reasons for the proposed rule. Once the NPRM is issued, the FAA must allow a period of time for public comment upon the rule. For instance, if the FAA wanted to create a new rule on how to manage wildlife at an airport, they would have to release the NPRM and then give the public a period of time to comment on the potential rule. Who would comment? In this situation, maybe an airport director would comment that such a regulation is “impractical for day-to-day wildlife management” but an animal trapper might say “this is a useful regulation for trappers.” Nonetheless, anyone that cares to comment is allowed to do so. Most of the time, the comment period is shorter than the public would like (only 30 days), so the public will petition the FAA to have the comment period stay open for longer.

 

The Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the go-to text on administrative law, indicates that the notice-and-comment process allows for changes to be made to the proposed rule based on the public comments received. Nonetheless, the courts have required that any changes made in the final rule be of a type that could have been reasonably anticipated by the public – a logical outgrowth of the proposal. If a change is not a logical outgrowth of the proposal in the NPRM, an agency is required to provide the public with a further opportunity for comment.

 

Once this process is completed, the FAA then issues its Final Notice of Rule Making (“FNRM”). In doing so, the FAA Administrator will review and analyze the comments received and decide whether to proceed with the rulemaking proposed, issue a new or modified proposal, or take no action on the proposal. At this point, the final rule is published in the Federal Register and a copy is placed in the rulemaking docket. Essentially, anyone that disagrees with the final rules or accompanying analysis issued by the Administrator may file a petition for reconsideration explaining why they believe the administration is wrong. The Administrator will then issue an order granting or denying the petition. Alternatively, as long as the Administrator has addressed an issue, the parties who disagree with a rule that affects them may seek court review of the decision. We predict that there will definitely be some judicial review of the new UAV registration regulations.

 

The foregoing is the process that would be involved if the FAA were going about the drone registration regulation in the “normal” fashion. Seemingly, that is not what is happening here. Instead, the FAA and the DOT are treating drone registration as an emergency situation. It’s not as if they haven’t known for some time that they needed to come up with a solution for integrating drones/UAVs into the National Airspace System. Again, the best solution is rarely the solution that is developed in a month’s time.

 

Nonetheless, the APA permits a pseudo emergency rulemaking process, where the FAA can finalize rules without first publishing the proposed rules in the Federal Register. This exception, however, is limited to cases where the agency has “good cause” to find that the notice-and-comment process would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.” These situations usually include emergencies where problems must be addressed immediately to avert threats to public health and safety, minor technical amendments, and corrections where there is no substantive issues, and some instances where the FAA has no discretion to propose rules because Congress has already directed a specific regulatory outcome in a law. However, the FAA must state its reasoning for finding good cause in the preamble of the final rule, published in the Federal Register.

 

So what are our predictions? Will the FAA be able to get these regulations out by the December deadline? It’s hard to say. There are a few hurdles that the administration will have to get over. First, will the “task force” of drone industry leaders be able to come up with a palatable plan? This plan would have to account for the process of registering drones, how registered drones will be tracked, the consequences of not registering a drone…and the list goes on. Once the “task force” finally answers these hard hitting questions (in a month), will the FAA (a government agency) be able to efficiently and effectively administer and issue the new regulation by December? It remains to be seen. All that can be said right now is that the FAA knew that this was coming and they chose to wait until the last minute. Whether or not they will be able to come up with a quality regulation by December is going to be an interesting process to watch.

 

If you have any questions about the new UAV regulations, the FAA rulemaking process, how to obtain a Section 333 Exemption, or any other aviation law question, please contact a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

FAA Civil Penalties for Drone Operators – Everything You Need To Know

  • ON Oct 20, 2015
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  • BY Christopher Ison
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  • IN Drone Law

On October 19, 2015, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta revealed the news that essentially recreational drone pilots will need to register their drones with the government before the end of the year. These new registration requirements are largely in response to the numerous complaints of “close calls” with UAVs and other aircraft. Anthony Foxx said that “[r]egistration will reinforce the need for unmanned aircraft users, including consumers and hobbyists, to operate their drones safely. It’s hard to follow rules if you don’t know what the rules are…this will help us enforce the rules against those who operate unsafely by allowing the FAA to identify the operators of unmanned aircraft…we want to ramp up on enforcement.” The key words here are: we want to ramp up on enforcement. Essentially, enforcement means civil penalties. In other words, we are seeing that the FAA wants to make the skies safer AND they want to build up their bank account while they’re at it. So what does this mean for you?

 

The following is for commercial drone operators and hobbyists alike. In this article, you will learn:

1. What a FAA civil penalty is

2. What to do if you are the subject of a civil penalty

3. How to avoid civil penalties in the future

 

What is a FAA civil penalty? To answer this question, you must start with the broader term of “FAA enforcement action.” When the FAA believes that a certificate holder (i.e. an airman, air carrier, repair station or otherwise) has violated a Federal Aviation Regulation (“FAR”), it may pursue enforcement action against the offending party. At this point, an enforcement action essentially branches off into two subdivisions: certificate actions and civil penalties. A certificate action or proposed certificate action is usually when the FAA seeks to suspend or revoke a certificated person’s license, as a penalty for violating the FARs.

 

Alternatively, the FAA could also seek to impose a civil penalty upon a person or entity operating contrary to the FARs. Civil penalties are likely more appropriate for recreational drone operators because recreational drone operators typically don’t hold a certificate that can be revoked or suspended. As such, civil penalties are can be imposed against companies, entities, and individuals alike. How much are you looking at per violation? The FAA determines the amount of the civil penalty using a Sanction Guidance Table, which provides ranges for civil penalties based upon the type and size of the certificate holder, the type of alleged violation, and the number of alleged violations. A proposed civil penalty for anything over $50,000, leaves the FAA’s jurisdiction and is prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s office. But watch your clock! The FAA must bring the proposed civil penalty against you within 2 years of discovering an alleged violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

 

What do you do if you are the subject of a civil penalty? First, if the FAA believes that you violated a FAR, they will send you a “Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty.” In the notice, there will be a recitation of the relevant facts, which FARs you allegedly violated, and the cost of the proposed civil penalty. When you read the letter, your gut instinct will be to call the investigator of record and tell him or her why you should not have to pay the civil penalty. Don’t do this.

 

Have you ever watched the television program called COPS? Usually, a police officer will be arresting a suspect for selling drugs and while the police are putting him in handcuffs, the suspect says, “I shouldn’t be arrested; I use drugs but I don’t sell drugs!” All the while, you are sitting there, screaming at the TV, saying “anything you say can be held against you in a court of law!” Maybe you aren’t a nerd like we are while watching COPS. Nonetheless, your situation with the notice of proposed civil penalty is very much like the drug dealer’s situation on COPS. Anything you tell the FAA investigator, can and will be used against you during the course of your enforcement action. So, your first step should ALWAYS be to call your aviation attorney…let him or her respond to the FAA on your behalf.

 

That being said, you have roughly seven options when it comes to responding to the notice of proposed civil penalty. First, you can outright pay the civil penalty and be done with the whole situation. Beyond that, your attorney can send a letter showing that either you did not violate the FARs, you are not able to pay the proposed civil penalty, or that the penalty fee should be lowered. Ultimately, what you may consider doing is essentially fighting the penalty in a formal evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). If you chose to go this route, the ALJ will decide issues of fact and law and will determine whether, and in what amount, a civil penalty will be assessed against you. A formal hearing before an ALJ is very similar to a trial…like on Law & Order.

 

Every civil penalty is like a snowflake. Every case is different. Every drone operator is different. Every set of facts are different. Essentially, if you are sent a notice of proposed civil penalty, you should speak with your drone attorney about what the best way of moving forward with your case would be.

 

How can you avoid civil penalties in the future? The simple answer is: pay attention to the FARs and use common sense. A good rule of thumb would be that a drone that is flown strictly for hobby or recreational must be:

 

*operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

*limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

*operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft;

*not flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower…with prior notice of the operation;

*flown within visual line sight of the operator.

 

If you have questions about how to legally operate your drone, if you are the subject of a FAA civil penalty, looking to operate your drone commercially, or just want to chat, call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

“Pilot-In-Command” Insurance Exclusions

  • ON Oct 15, 2015
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  • BY Christopher Ison
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  • IN Pilot Law

 

Most prudent pilots know that accidents happen. Despite expensive training and exercising an abundance of caution, the unexpected can happen…which is one reason why pilots purchase accidental death and dismemberment insurance. Did you know, however, that sometimes your accidental death policy will exclude coverage for accidents occurring when you are acting as a “pilot or crewmember” of an aircraft involved in an accident? This means that if at the time of an aviation accident that causes your death, you are the pilot-in-command or crewmember of an aircraft, your loved ones will be denied the coverage offered under your policy.

 

But for general aviation pilots, there can be a fine line between when you’re acting as a “pilot or crewmember” and when you are just a passenger with a pilot’s license. For instance, what is one to do in the flight instructor/instrument student situation? If an aircraft requires only one pilot and there are two licensed pilots at the controls, how can an insurance company determine who was acting as a “pilot” or “crewmember” on that particular flight? Better yet, at what point during the flight will the insurance company base its determination of whether or not the insured is acting as “pilot?” State and federal courts alike have struggled to answer this question – as nearly every court has a different stance. Perhaps one of the “better” cases for pilots, and a position which every court should adopt, comes from the Federal Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, in Jordan v. Natl. Acc. Ins. Underwriters Inc., 922 F.2d 732 (11th Cir. 1991). The following will review the facts of this case and the court’s holding.

 

“James Jordan obtained his private pilot’s license in 1976 and his instrument rating in 1978. He accumulated over 600 hours of flight time in private aircraft and was part owner of a six-seat Cessna Centurion. This aircraft was equipped with dual controls so that it could be flown from either of the two front seats. The left front seat was designated the pilot’s seat and the right front seat the co-pilot’s or passenger’s seat. In November 1986 Jordan hired Jack Page, a professional flight instructor, to give him a refresher course in instrument flying. Page was a highly experienced pilot who had flown more than 9,000 hours in military and civilian aircraft.

 

On the day of the crash Jordan made arrangements for himself and Page to take his plane up for instrument practice. He called the FAA to obtain a weather briefing and file a flight plan. He performed a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, taxied to the runway, and took off. As Jordan and Page flew from Birmingham to Montgomery, Jordan sat in the pilot’s seat and handled all the flight controls without assistance from Page. After landing in Montgomery the two men took off again to practice instrument approaches. Again, Jordan performed all of the pre-flight procedures, sat in the pilot’s seat, and handled all the flight controls alone. As he maneuvered the plane on the practice landing approach he wore “floggles,” which allowed him to see only the aircraft’s instruments.

 

The plane suddenly lost power while it was on final approach. Page immediately engaged his set of flight controls and took over the throttle and the control wheel. He instructed Jordan to switch fuel tanks and engage the fuel pump boost as part of the emergency procedures for a loss of power. Page attempted to guide the plane back to the Montgomery airport, but it struck power lines and crashed. Page survived the crash but Jordan was killed. Approximately 30 seconds elapsed from the time that Page took control of the aircraft until impact. Page did not operate any of the flight controls that day outside of that 30 second period.”

 

In this case, Jordan’s estate sued because accidental death and dismemberment benefits were denied based on the following exclusions in Jordan’s policy:

 

“SECTION II DESCRIPTION OF COVERAGE: Subject to the conditions, limitations and exclusions of the policy, the insurance granted hereunder shall apply to the injuries sustained by an Insured Person anywhere in the world provided that aviation coverage shall be limited to riding as a passenger (and not as a pilot or member of the crew) in any previously tried, tested and approved aircraft. (emphasis added).

SECTION IV EXCLUSIONS: The policy does not cover an Insured Person for any loss caused by, contributing to or resulting from…injury sustained while, or in consequence of, riding as a passenger or otherwise, in…any vehicle or device for aerial navigation other than as provided by Section II, Coverage.”

 

The Insurance Company advanced two principal contentions relating to interpretation of the policy on summary judgment and at trial: (1) the policy required that the status of an insured person as passenger, pilot or crew member be established at some point during the flight before the death or injury occurred (i.e. before the so-called moment of impact); and (2) even if the insured person’s status was to be determined at the moment of impact, Jordan’s actions during the flight nevertheless established that he was a pilot or crew member and therefore was not entitled to coverage.

 

The district court, applying Alabama law, rejected each of these contentions and ruled for Jordan. First, the court held that the policy was ambiguous, and, construing it against its drafter as required by Alabama law, it determined that an insured’s status must be determined at the moment of impact. Secondly, the court held that Reliable had not met its burden of proving that Jordan was a pilot or crew member at the moment of impact and that therefore the policy covered him at the time of his death.

 

Some courts in the United States have held that the determination of whether the insured was acting as a “pilot” or “crewmember” must be determined by the tasks that the insured had while on the flight. For instance, if the insured gathered weather information, talked on the radios, did the preflight check, etc., he or she may have been the “pilot” on that flight. Keyser v. Connecticut Gen. Life Ins. Co., 617 F. Supp. 1406, 1413 (N.D. Ill. 1985). In Jordan v. Natl. Acc. Ins. Underwriters Inc., however, the Court says that the insurance company could have limited coverage by defining the key terms in the policy so as to expressly rule out the moment of impact test. It could have defined “pilot” as “any person who operates any flight control at any time during the flight in question,” but it did not. As a result, the Court etched out the moment-of-impact rule, where the insurance company must determine “pilot” or “crewmember” status at the time of the accident.

 

What does all this mean for you? First, know what your accidental death and dismemberment policy says. What are the exclusions? How does it define “pilot” or “crewmember?” Secondly, know what the state of the law is on this issue in your state. An aviation accident is a very unfortunate occurrence; however, it can be much worse for your family if they have to wrestle with insurance companies after you are gone. If you have any questions, feel free to contact an aviation attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

 

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