An appeals court has overturned an order by the Department of Transportation that fined First American Bank of Virginia $30,000 last year for the bank's alleged mishandling of deposits by a Northern Virginia travel agency.

The ruling last week by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "completely vindicates" First American, said Chairman Milton L. Drewer.

In a case dating back to 1982, the Department of Transportation fined First American $30,000, claiming that the subsidiary of Washington's First American Bankshares Inc. had not properly monitored deposits made by Davis Travel Agency Inc. of Arlington.

Davis, which operated charter flights between the United States and Europe, had established escrow accounts at First American for travel agency customer deposits for charter flights. Civil Aeronautics Board regulations required charter operators to protect passenger funds against default or cancellation of a charter. (The CAB has since been abolished and some of its regulatory functions have been taken over by the DOT.)

A CAB enforcement division had recommended that First American be fined $500,000 for alleged violations of federal rules in handling the Davis accounts. An eventual order imposing the $30,000 fine last August reversed the finding of a CAB administrative law judge who had recommended that the agency drop charges against First American. The administrative law judge had determined that the bank had complied with all CAB regulations.

In overturning the CAB fine, the appeals court said it believed the bank "acted with greater diligence than the CAB's charter regulations demand and with greater vigilance than state law demands."

The CAB had filed civil complaints against the Davis travel agency and the bank after receiving complaints from customers who said they had not received refunds for cancelled flights. The travel agency agreed in 1983 to refund more than $250,000 owed to vacationers whose charter flights never left the ground. Davis also agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty to settle a CAB complaint.