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FAA Suspends Backcountry Aviator Trent Palmer’s Certificate

The decision seems to rest on some extremely problematic assumptions.

FAA Suspends Trent Palmer’s Certificate
A screenshot from Trent Palmer’s video explaining the FAA’s decision to suspend his pilot’s certificate

The FAA has suspended popular backcountry aviator Trent Palmer’s certificate for 60 days after he made what he calls an “inspection pass” of a friend’s would-be landing strip in rural northern Nevada. In a YouTube video that Palmer released on Thursday evening, he explained the suspension dates back to late 2019 when he made the low pass and ultimately chose not to land at the friend’s potential landing site—it is not an airport, Palmer said. 

The low pass was captured on a surveillance cam, and, presumably, a homeowner in the sparsely populated desert area alerted the FAA, which started an investigation. After a meeting with Palmer, that inspector chose to suspend the pilot’s Private Pilot certificate for seven months, the administrative charges being, in part, that Palmer flew too close (closer than 500 feet) to people or structures or vehicles while not landing. Essentially, it’s the rule that prohibits buzzing without saying as much. 

After Palmer got legal representation, the case ultimately went before an administrative law judge, who again ruled against Palmer but reduced the suspension to 60 days. Palmer is again appealing the decision.

The problem, as Palmer points out, is the logic the judge used. He claimed that the low pass wasn’t an inspection pass because the approach wasn’t necessary for landing, as evidenced by Palmer not landing there. Palmer,  a popular and prolific YouTuber, is on record for stressing the critical importance of such passes to check the safety and suitability of the intended landing site. In fact, the FAA in advisory documents agrees with the importance of this as well. 

In his YouTube video going public with the news, Palmer suggested that the judge’s logic might mean that all such inspection passes that don’t end in a landing could be legally construed as merely a buzz job (our term). 

While Palmer stresses that a 60-day suspension won’t be that big a deal to him—he flies for the fun of it, he said—the precedent is important to him and potentially to other aviators, so he is hoping that the judge’s argument that a balked landing is in many cases is roughly equivalent to a buzz job will be seen as faulty. It should be noted that Palmer had been able to continue flying while he appeals the suspension.

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The video, like all of Palmer’s work, is first-rate even though, sadly, in this case, there isn’t any flying in it.

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