One of the most difficult decisions a mechanic can make is when to talk to the FAA -- and when not to talk to the FAA. Good relations with the FAA are important to you and your company. Most interactions with the FAA are benign and present little peril to a mechanic. Even if the interaction involves a potential enforcement action, your attitude is important and may influence how harshly the FAA responds – the inspector has tremendous discretion on how to deal with a violation. So, what should you do if an FAA inspector wants to talk to you?
First the basics. If you receive a letter from the FAA, it is always best to get some assistance before responding. Once you respond and make statements to the FAA, they cannot be undone. A lot of harm can be done if you respond before understanding your legal rights and applicable regulations, and there is no way to "unring the bell" once you have responded in writing.
The more difficult scenario is when you are approached by the FAA in person. Please keep in mind that the FAA has an absolute right to inspect and test at any time or place to determine compliance with the FARs. Even a delay in allowing the FAA to test or inspect can be a regulatory violation. So, if the FAA wants to inspect something (your certificate, a log book, an aircraft or component), you must immediately cooperate with the inspection. There is not, however, a requirement that you engage in an ongoing dialog with the FAA.
In the end, you should use good judgment on whether to talk to the FAA. If an inspector suggests that there may be a problem and you are confident you can clear it up, do so. If you are in the middle of a job and have not signed it off, you should again talk to the inspector to see what the concern is so you can address it. If, however, you have already completed the work and sense there may be a problem, it is probably best to politely suggest that the inspector address his questions to your supervisor or otherwise end the conversation. Be polite, be cordial, but be careful not to volunteer harmful information.
Dentons US LLP
Please note that this column is for informational purposes only. No legal advice is being provided and you should consult a legal professional if you are in need of legal assistance.