How criminal is it to take off without authorization? [closed]

In the US, how would someone like the Seattle guy be punished (that is, plane heist without passengers, unauthorized take-off and midair stunts ) if he hypothetically had not died, but landed the plane intact?

Background story: Richard Russell, Who Stole Plane Near Seattle

• I'm sorry, but I don't see how this is on topic here. I'll wait for others, but my feeling is that this is a law.SE question.
– Federico
Aug 12 '18 at 15:30
• @Federico: the question could be read as 'how criminal is it to disregard ATC?' I think it will get a more detailed answer here, although yeah, I suppose only a small group of people would need to know an answer to this. Aug 12 '18 at 16:19
• Well, I see your point. Mine is that if you are asking "how criminal it is", you are not asking about FAA rules, since they are not part of criminal law, afaik. So if you are asking "what would happen if that guy would have ended up in court", we can't really answer that here. If the question is instead "what happens to your licence", well, see Ron's answer below.
– Federico
Aug 12 '18 at 19:49

The FAA has limited ability to enforce criminal actions for non-compliance with FAR's. Essentially the pilot (certificated or not) would be subject to either Informal Procedures/Settlements, Certificate Actions, or Civil Penalty.

The FAA's policies, procedures, and guidelines are located in the FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program, Order 2150.3B.

In the case of stealing an aircraft by a non-certificated individual, the only recourse the FAA would have is civil penalties. The authority for the FAA is located in 14 CFR 13.14 or 13.18. The FAA has the authority to issue civil penalties up to \$400,000 against "persons other than individuals and small business concerns" (aka large businesses) or for individuals and small businesses up to$50,000.

In the case of the stolen aircraft, the charges would probably be theft and whatever other federal/local charges could be levied, but the FAA would probably not intervene here.

It isn't strictly "illegal" to disobey an ATC "order". A PIC (supposing they are a licensed pilot) can disregard ATC if they feel that the safety of the flight would be in jeopardy if the order was followed. Specifically this is allowed by JO 7110.65W, page 3-3-1 and 14 CFR 91.123.

• I wonder if the EPA would also have something to say if you crashed an aircraft deliberately, and the National Parks administration if you crashed it into a national park of forest. The legal morass would be incredible, given the number of alphabet agencies that might get involved. Aug 13 '18 at 5:20
• @jwenting I doubt it, given that the perpetrator is deceased, pretty much for the same reason we don't drag deceased people through courts. With the situation that the OP posted I think this is just between the FBI and FAA, maybe with the NTSB assisting. I've never heard of the EPA getting involved in a crash even when a lot of fuel is dumped into the water. Aug 13 '18 at 18:11
• I was talking in general, not about this specific case. Though they could always go after the next of kin or the owners of he aircraft of course. In an accident I doubt anyone would try to sue over environmental damage, but this was a deliberate crash, who knows what someone with his head bolted on wrong comes up with? Aug 14 '18 at 10:32
• @jwenting Unless the person is a minor, the "next of kin" and aircraft owner can't be held liable for criminal acts of another individual unless they are legal guardians. It would be analogous to having your car stolen and then being involved in a crash, the other party can't hold you liable for that. Aug 14 '18 at 13:08
• the government often has powers far beyond what mere citizens have. I've been held responsible for the failure of my employer to pay taxes and social security premiums after that company folded for example. The banks they had loans with didn't get to claim a penny from me, nor did other companies they had outstanding bills with. Aug 15 '18 at 4:32