Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 5, 2017


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Ninth Circuit Holds:

Dismissal of Drug Charges Against Pilot Doesn’t Bar Yanking Aircraft Certificate


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Dismissal of drug charges against a pilot who transported marijuana in his aircraft does not affect the validity of the Federal Aviation Administration’s action in revoking his owner’s registration certificate, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday.

The decision affirms the National Transportation Safety Board’s approval of the FAA’s determination.

The pilot, Paul Connors of Temecula, in Riverside County, failed to convince the three-judge panel that his registration certificate must be reinstated in light of charges against him in New Mexico being dismissed with prejudice after a judge granted his suppression motion.

Connors was arrested after he landed at Portales Municipal Airport in 2012 and sheriff’s deputies, acting on a tip from U.S. border and customs agents, found on board his aircraft approximately 15 pounds of high-grade hydroponic marijuana, with a value of about $90,000.

He admitted to federal authorities knowledge that he was transporting the contraband.

Revocation is authorized under 49 U.S.C. §44106(b)(1)(A) where an “aircraft was used to carry out, or facilitate, an activity that is punishable” as a drug-related felony. Connors argued that in light of the dismissal of the drug charges, his conduct is no longer “punishable.”

Writing for the panel, Judge Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen said:

“The NTSB concluded that under the plain language of the statute, ‘punishable’ refers to the ‘proscribed activity’—not, as Connors would have it, a ‘person’ or his specific ‘act.’ Applying that concept to Connors, the agency noted that transporting marijuana, which Connors admitted he ‘knowingly’ did, was an ‘activity [that] carried with it the possibility of more than one year imprisonment’ under New Mexico law.

“We agree that § 44106(b)(1) plainly connects ‘punishable’ to the ‘activity,’ such that an aircraft certificate may be revoked regardless of whether the certificate holder could be convicted for ‘carry[ing] out’ or ‘facilitat[ing]’ the activity….Nothing in the statutory language ties the revocation of an aircraft’s registration certificate to the possibility of a successful criminal prosecution of the owner.

“Moreover, the statute provides an exception for acquittals that would be unnecessary if Connors’s inter­pretation were correct.”

The case is Connors v. National Transportation Safety Board, No. 15-70333.


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