WASHINGTON — What started out as a controversial landing on a closed runway in south Texas has resulted in a legislative victory for Sen. Jim Inhofe, who secured passage last week of a bill to give pilots more legal avenues in disputes with the federal government.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said his bill, called the Pilots' Bill of Rights, “ensures that pilots are, like everyone else, treated in a fair and equitable manner by the justice system.”
The legislation, which was sponsored by two-thirds of the Senate, passed without a roll-call vote on Friday. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House but has not been considered.
Inhofe wrote the bill after his own dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration. Inhofe, a pilot for more than 50 years, was required to take remedial training in 2010 to avoid legal action from the FAA after an incident in Port Isabel, Texas, in October of that year.
Inhofe landed his 1978 Cessna on a runway that was marked closed and was under construction. According to an FAA report, there were construction workers on the runway. Witnesses on the scene, including an air traffic controller, told the FAA that workers scattered to dodge Inhofe's plane, according to recordings obtained by The Smoking Gun website.
Inhofe has repeatedly denied being at fault in the incident. On the Senate floor last month, Inhofe said he didn't see the “X” on the runway denoting its closure and that he had not seen a pilot notification about the runway before flying to the airport.
Inhofe blamed people that didn't like him for generating publicity about the incident and said he could have lost his license because of it. He said he was denied access to information that was going to be used against him in the investigation.
“When I told them that I was cleared to land by the controller, it took me, a U.S. senator, four months to get the voice recording to prove I was right,” he said.