Five Questions For Kent S. Jackson Of Jetlaw
Founder & Managing Partner Jetlaw LLC, Washington.
Considering his family history, Jackson was predestined for a career in law. His great, great grandfather was a John Brown abolitionist who traveled west to Kansas to help combat pro-slavers in neighboring Missouri. He fought and was severely wounded in the Civil War and for that service was named a justice of the peace. His son went on to become attorney general of Kansas and then a congressman as a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. His son, in turn, became a member of the Kansas Supreme Court, and his son—Kent’s father—was a district court judge. “So, by that standard,” Kent says, “I’ve not really done much.” Oh? He’s a 7,000-hr. ATP and CFII, has flight-instructed, flown checks at night, owned a FAR Part 135 operation, built his own Lancair, competes in air races and is known nationally for his mastery of aviation legal matters. Accordingly, he is a sought-after speaker and heads an FAA rulemaking committee. Oh, and he’s been writing BCA’s Point of Law column since 1998.
Why aviation law? After all, it’s pretty specialized and narrow.
Jackson: When I was an infant, my parents went to a drive-in movie with me in the back seat. At one point, an airplane appeared on the screen, and I exclaimed, “Airplane!” Mom and Dad turned in amazement. It was my very first spoken word. As a kid, I knew I was going to be a fighter pilot. I was an Eagle Scout at 13, an Aviation Explorer at 14, soloed at 16, got my Private at 17 and drove to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to announce my availability. They were unimpressed, especially since I had 20/200 vision uncorrected. I was crushed. But my father said I could end up as chief counsel for TWA. Meanwhile, I was doing research for Dad during summers and came up with the idea for a book connecting statutes with aviation regulations, figuring no one had ever done such a thing. After all, by legal history, aviation law was essentially brand new.
Did you write it?
Jackson: Eventually. First, I completed bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Kansas, did an internship and staff work at the Kansas DOT and then joined Jim Cooling’s well-regarded practice in Kansas City. While there I finally wrote the book, which a legal publisher turned down, but suggested I approach Jeppesen. I really liked the idea and did just that. Well, although I was 29, I looked about 12 and they said I’d need a co-author with a bit more gravitas. I invited Joe Brennan, a friend and veteran FAA lawyer, to join me and that really worked out. Joe was not a pilot—in fact, he called all pilots “cowboys”—so I learned how non-pilots at the agency think, and how to combine operational reality with abstract regulation. The FAA purchased the entire 5,000-copy first printing of "FARs Explained" and more than 100,000 copies followed. It’s still in print and available electronically through Amazon. Its success helped spur me to open my own firm.
How did a tiny law practice in Kansas gain a national clientele?
Jackson: I flew to see my clients wherever they were. I can’t count how many times I crossed the Rockies or flew to Washington or other East Coast destinations. Business aviation made my practice, along with my flying experience and a lot of research.
What are the most common legal mistakes made by pilots?
Jackson: Remember, flying is a privilege, not a constitutional right. And if you fly for a living, you’re married to the FAA. So, be polite and respectful, but don’t say anything stupid. You have the right to remain silent, yet many pilots don’t have that ability and get themselves in trouble talking to inspectors, some even bragging about things they shouldn’t have done. And if someone lies on a federal form such as an FAA medical application, they could end up spending years in jail.
You ever going to win at Reno?
Jackson: Were it not for its cancellation because of the pandemic, I just know this would have been the year for my team to take the gold at Reno. The airplane was ready and we were ready. But I promise we’ll still be ready in 2021.