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Air East Inc. v. National Transportation Safety Board and Alexander P. Butterfield

decided as amended may 22 1975.: March 13, 1975.

AIR EAST, INC., D/B/A ALLEGHENY COMMUTER, AIR EAST, INC., CHARLES ALLAN MCKINNEY, JAMES AVERY TALLENT, JEFFREY H. WILKINSON, AND THOMAS REDDECLIFF,
v.
NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD AND ALEXANDER P. BUTTERFIELD, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENTS; AIR EAST, INC., ETC., ET AL., PETITIONERS IN NO. 74-1542 AIR EAST, INC. (REPAIR STATION), PETITIONER IN NO. 74-1914 CHARLES ALLAN MCKINNEY, PETITIONER IN NO. 74-1915 JAMES AVERY TALLENT, PETITIONER IN NO. 74-1916 JEFFREY H. WILKINSON, PETITIONER IN NO. 74-1917 THOMAS REDDECLIFF, PETITIONER IN NO. 74-1918



ON PETITIONS TO REVIEW ORDERS OF THE NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD.

Adams, Rosenn and Weis, Circuit Judge.

Author: Weis

Opinion OF THE COURT

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

In legislating on air travel safety, Congress has recognized that the duty of air carriers is to perform their services "with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest," 49 U.S.C. § 1421(b). With that standard as a backdrop, we consider these appeals from the revocations of certification of an air taxi line, several of its pilots, and its chief mechanic. A review of the record establishes to our satisfaction that the action of the National Transportation Safety Board is supported by substantial evidence, and we affirm.

Air East is a commuter airline authorized to furnish passenger and mail delivery service to a number of communities in western and central Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Altoona, Bradford, and DuBois. It was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration [F.A.A.] on August 29, 1969. Petitioners Charles Allan McKinney, James A. Tallent, and Jeffrey H. Wilkinson were senior pilots with Air East who held pilot's licenses issued by the F.A.A.*fn1 Additional petitioners are Air East (Repair Station), a separate corporation which operated an aircraft repair facility in Johnstown pursuant to a certificate issued on August 21, 1970, and Thomas Reddecliff, an F.A.A. certified mechanic who supervised the repair station operations.

Air East operated without mishap until the evening of January 6, 1974, when a flight originating in Pittsburgh crashed on its approach to the runway in Johnstown, killing twelve of the occupants. Although there had been prior anonymous complaints to the federal authorities about some of Air East's practices, the crash precipitated a general investigation*fn2 of the carrier's operation in addition to the inquiry specifically directed to the cause of the accident.*fn3 During the period from January 18 to March 4, 1974, the F.A.A. interviewed a number of witnesses, deposed twenty-five persons, including present and former Air East employees, and examined the company records of aircraft maintenance and pilots' operations. On March 7, 1974, the Administrator issued an "emergency" order revoking the air taxi certificate held by Air East d/b/a Allegheny Commuter, the repair station certificate, the pilot certificates of McKinney, Tallent, and Wilkinson, and the mechanic certificate of Reddecliff.*fn4

Petitioners immediately filed an appeal, and on March 21, 1974, a hearing commenced before an administrative law judge of the National Transportation Safety Board [N.T.S.B.]. After twenty-five days of testimony and argument, on April 24, 1974 the administrative law judge issued his oral decision, sustaining the revocation. The Board affirmed in an opinion issued on May 10, 1974,*fn5 and petitioners appealed to this court. 49 U.S.C. § 1486.

Petitioners were charged with the improper operation of aircraft, including, inter alia :

1. allowing overloaded planes to take off;

2. permitting planes to fly without certain instruments being in proper working order;

3. permitting planes to fly after improper repairs;

4. flying below minimum approach altitudes;

5. using approaches to the airports at Johnstown and Altoona which were not approved by the F.A.A.;

6. deviating from assigned altitudes without ...


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