On November 14, 2011, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) issued a Consent Order pursuant to new rules found in 14 C.F.R. § 259.4. These rules explain that commercial airlines must implement, and adhere to contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays at each large and medium hub U.S. airport at which they operate scheduled or public charter air service. Under this rule, U.S. air carriers operating scheduled domestic flights using any aircraft with a design capacity of 30 or more passenger seats, may not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane. Failure to comply with the assurances required by Part 259 and those found in an air carrier’s contingency plan for lengthy tarmac delays can subject a carrier to civil penalties of up to $27,500 per violation.
DOT issued its Consent Order because American Eagle Airlines (“American Eagle”) failed to adhere to the assurances in its contingency plan. On May 29, 2011, as a result of these failures, 608 passengers were delayed on the tarmac on 15 inbound American Eagle flights at ORD for more than three hours. Through the course of its investigation the Enforcement Office took the position that a separate violation occurred for each passenger forced to remain on board an aircraft for longer than three hours without the opportunity to deplane.
Consequently, the Enforcement Office directed American Eagle to cease and desist from future such violations of 14 C.F.R. § 259.4 and 49 U.S.C. § 41712 and assessed the carrier $900,000 in civil penalties. DOT believes that the penalty is appropriate and serves the public interest by representing an adequate deterrent to future noncompliance by American Eagle, as well as by other carriers.