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When a pilot gets grounded by the FAA, is there a specific procedure that happens?

I have heard of situations where the pilot is recommended or told to ground themselves. Is this the same as if the FAA were to do it or does the pilot just say "I'm not going to fly today"?

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  • $\begingroup$ This site thepilotlawyer.com/faa-emergency-orders talks about emergency revocations. Bob Hoover was subject to one fo these that was eventually overturned. “The FAA has the authority to suspend or revoke an airman’s certificates whenever the Administrator determines that the public interest and safety in air transportation or air commerce requires so.” $\endgroup$ – JScarry Nov 30 '18 at 22:34
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It depends on how/why you are grounded and who does the grounding.

The FAA can legally ground you if your license gets suspended (or in rare cases completely revoked) there are formal proceedings the FAA has in place. You can find the AC that covers it here.

AME's can can deny you a medical certificate which can prevent you from flying. In this case you are also legally grounded as you may no longer comply with FAA regulations.

AME's may also make grounding recommendations. Say you start taking a new medication that is legal on the FAA's list. The general advisory is to "see how the medication effects you" prior to getting back to flying. Often this is subjective and there is not really any hard guidance on time limits for every medication. These groundings should be self imposed by the pilot.

You can be practically grounded by say a flight school or insurance company. This falls more into the "not fit to fly" category. Technically you are legal to fly but other practical limitations may prevent you from flying. Lets say you show up to rent a plane and you are clearly sick. You say you "feel fine" but the flight school is under no obligation to rent to you and may chose not to if they feel you are not fit to fly.

Every pilot is responsible for a self assessment prior to making any flight to ensure they are fit to fly. Ultimately an infraction could fall under 91.13 Careless or Reckless Operation. In this case you may or may not be legal to fly but its up to you to make that self assessment and not fly.

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It depends what you mean by "grounded". In the case of suspending or revoking a license, I think it requires a civil case in front of an Administrative Law Judge--unless the pilot voluntarily surrendered it, of course. This would most likely happen after there was an accident or incident investigated by the NTSB, or possibly a serious deviation reported by ATC (and not self-reported to ASRS).

Less formally, if an employer, fellow crew member, instructor, etc. has serious doubts about whether a pilot is fit to fly, then given the risk-averse nature of the field, it's expected that the pilot would voluntarily ground himself as a precaution until he could resolve those concerns.

FWIW, I ran across this recording where ATC declared a pilot a "risk to aviation safety" and ordered her to land immediately--literally grounding her. I suspect FSDO took a serious interest in that afterward, but I don't know what the final result was.

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