Siding with acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen, the NTSB Board has denied the appeal of Trent Palmer, not only upholding the suspension of his pilot certificate but also siding with the FAA, granting an appeal against the judge’s reduction of the initial suspension.
The case centers around a November 2019 flight where Palmer, a backcountry pilot with a large YouTube following, made a low-altitude inspection pass over a private airstrip near a friend’s home. In a video recapping the flight, as GlobalAir.com previously reported, Palmer said he aborted the landing because he could not identify the touchdown point, the intended centerline nor the intended direction for traffic on the runway.
According to NTSB documents, Palmer later told investigators that he solely made the pass to determine the condition of the runway. Both he and the property owner, who was not at home during the flight in question, stated that Palmer had been given permission to use the runway.
Security camera footage of the pass taken from a nearby home was submitted to the FAA, which led to inspectors meeting with Palmer.
During a five-day trial, FAA Technical Specialist Roy Speeg Jr., a pilot with a commercial transport rating as well as extensive experience with acquiring waivers for airshows and other low-altitude operations, estimated based on the evidence presented that Palmer’s plane was 78 feet in lateral distance and 50 feet above the ground when the neighboring homeowner spotted it near his house.
Speeg said, in his judgment, Palmer flew at altitudes that would not allow him to react in time in an emergency.
“He would have to first fly the airplane,” Speeg said, according to the NTSB ruling. “He would have to figure out where he was going to put the airplane down, and he would have to be able to do all of that without creating (an) undue hazard to the persons or property on the surface.
“I’m not sure that that could have been done from 30 to 50 feet above the ground in a steep bank, because if the engine quits in a steep bank, you’re going to have an immediate loss of width because the wings are sideways. They’re not level with the horizon. Whether they have STOL additions to the wing or not. But STOL additions to the wing are useless if they’re in, you know, six feet or more degrees of bank.”
Among the findings in the NTSB’s decision dated March 30, and affirmed by NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, Vic Chair Bruce Landsberg, and Board Members Michael Graham and Thomas Chapman were the following:
The judge did not err in denying Palmer’s motion to dismiss; did not misinterpret 14 C.F.R. § 91.119; and did not err in finding the intended landing site inappropriate.
Also, the board ruled the judge did not err in refusing to dismiss the proceedings as a result of the flaws in the FAA’s investigation and rejected arguments by Palmer that the judge “committed numerous and other prejudicial errors.”
In reversing the judge’s reduction in the suspension from 120 days to 60 days, the board wrote that the “judge did not explicitly invalidate the (FAA) Administrator’s conclusion that (Palmer’s) operation was reckless or intentional. We find that the Administrator’s finding that the conduct was reckless or intentional and that a sanction in the middle of the range for such conduct – a 90 to 150-day suspension – was justified in fact and warranted in law.”
After the initial ruling in April 2022, the AOPA tweeted in support of Palmer.
“We remain fully supportive of the rights of pilots to land on appropriate off-airport locations, or to execute a go-around at off-airport locations if conditions indicate a landing will not have a safe outcome,” the association stated then. “This applies to pilots of both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.”
An AOPA panel attorney supported Palmer’s case as part of the group’s pilot protection services.
Palmer, who remains active on social media, posted a video on YouTube on March 29, one day before the date of the NTSB decision, calling it “pretty ridiculous” that the case has not been settled after more than three years.
He has not commented since the appeal denial and restoration of the full 120-day suspension as of the publication time of this article.