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Offenses and Penalties

Federal offences related to aviation are specified in the Federal Aviation Act and other federal statutes.

The Federal Aviation Act provides that a person who knowingly and willfully violates any provisions of the Act, a regulation prescribed or order issued by the Secretary of Transportation, or any term of a certificate or permit issued under the Act will be punishable[i].

Pursuant to the Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Act, transporting aircraft in interstate or foreign commerce, knowing the same to have been stolen, is an offense[ii].

Besides the offenses specified in the federal statutes, various state or local government may make certain acts or omissions, concerning aircraft or their operation, criminal offenses.  Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities is also a federal crime.

In Ward v. State, 280 Md. 485 (Md. 1977), the court held that in any proceeding charging careless or reckless operation of aircraft, the court determining whether the operation was careless or reckless will consider the standards for safe operation of aircraft prescribed by federal statutes or regulations governing aeronautics.

However, all crimes committed by or against an airman or passenger while in flight over the state will be governed by the laws of the state[iii].  A state legislature may adopt the regulatory and statutory standards of the federal government so long as those standards are in existence at the time of the enactment of the statute[iv].

State statutes provide that it is unlawful to operate an aircraft in the air or on the ground while under the influence of alcoholic beverages or in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another[v].

State statutes also make it a crime to operate an airport without a license duly required by rule or regulation[vi].

Apart from the above offences, if an individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S. commits any act violating aviation statutes, s/he will be punished[vii].

The special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S. includes[viii]:

  • a civil aircraft of the U.S.
  • an aircraft of the armed forces of the U.S.
  • another aircraft in the U.S.
  • another aircraft outside the U.S, that has its next scheduled destination in U.S.
  • any other aircraft leased without crew to a lessee whose principal place of business is in the U.S. or, if the lessee does not have a principal place of business, whose permanent residence is in the U.S.


[i] 49 USCS § 46316.

[ii] 18 USCS § 2312.

[iii] Ward v. State, 280 Md. 485 (Md. 1977).

[iv] State v. Carswell, 557 So. 2d 183 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1990).

[v] Hughes v. State, 943 So. 2d 176 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 2006).

[vi] State v. Hatley, 48 Ore. App. 541 (Or. Ct. App. 1980).

[vii] 49 USCS § 46506.

[viii] 49 USCS § 46501.

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