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In a car, when you speed, you get pulled over, probably get a ticket, and you might get points added to your license.

How are air traffic rules enforced? Are there patrol planes that make sure no one is going over the speed limit? I have always been curious about that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Radar is a bit more widespread (eg can hit more than just 1 vehicle) in controlled airspace. $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 10 '14 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ Ok... what do you mean? $\endgroup$ – flyingfisch Feb 10 '14 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ In a car, when you speed, you get pulled over...where I come from, in a car when you speed, 99% of the time, you get to where you're going faster. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Feb 10 '14 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ Speed will seldomly be a problem. Restricted and/or controlled airspace violations are much more relevant. $\endgroup$ – yankeekilo Feb 10 '14 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ @flyingfisch - rather than having to be close to you, actually on the road, checking their radar, in the air, the radar is omnidirectional and with a much greater range. Plus, they can hit multiple aircraft at once with radar $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 10 '14 at 11:31
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When you break the rules while flying, it falls into one of two categories:

  • Only you know about it
  • The FAA knows about it

In either case, the very first thing you do is file a NASA ASRS form. You might ask, why does NASA care about airplanes? They are acting as an uninterested 3rd party to your actions, and collate statistics from this information. If the FAA becomes aware of your actions, the presence of an ASRS form in many cases limits the action the FAA can take against you. It is always worth filling out and I have filled out a few myself.

In the case the FAA knows about it, how do they know about it? This typically happens when you are in radar control and do something wrong or are on the ground and do something wrong.

Some examples of this are:

  • Flight plan in the FMS is incorrect and you make a turn off of your cleared course. The controller will see this.
  • You taxi incorrectly
  • Runway incursion
  • Climb / descend through your cleared altitude

In most of these cases, the controller will just correct you. In cases that result in a loss of separation or a runway incursion, you may get a phone number from the controller to call when you land.

Less commonly, something you do may be witnessed by an FAA inspector -- you buzzed the tower when he was on the ramp watching you. Or perhaps he watched you get into a plane and fly off without performing a pre-flight inspection. Perhaps you were ramp checked and something wasn't right with you or the airplane.

In all of the above cases, if you are able to file an ASRS form, do it. If you do something that may be severe and are a member of AOPA, call their legal team and discuss the situation.

If the FAA responds to something they know about, it can range from a controller talking to you over the phone up to certificate action (suspension, revoked) to the infamous "709 ride", in which the FSDO administers a checkride and decides which, if any, ratings you keep and which you lose.

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    $\begingroup$ It is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is a good observation though that many people think NASA is only about space. $\endgroup$ – p1l0t Feb 10 '14 at 17:52
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Did you get caught? If yes, you face enforcement action. Maybe a fine, maybe a revocaation or suspension of your certificate for a while, maybe jail time. If no, you might feel guilty enough to send in an ASRS form. This greatly decreases your chances of getting punished later if someone finds out, unless they also find out you intentionally broke the rules.

Honestly, there are a ton of rules in aviation but they're enforced by a fairly small agency who isn't even that vigilant when it comes to the little guys. Kind of the opposite of the police on the ground. But in all, it's pretty easy to do almost whatever you want and not even break a rule. Use common sense to stay safe and usually you're within the law in the air.

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