U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


April 2001 




Thought for the month..... In the scramble to do and have, it is easy to forget to be.

No Option Authorized.... There are a couple of regulations in Part 91 that are so broad and all encompassing that they defy comprehension when read for the first time. One of them is 91.3 RESPONSIBILITY AND AUTHORITY OF THE PILOT IN COMMAND. "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft."

What that simple statement really says is that when we are the PIC, we become responsible for everything that occurs with respect to that flight. We are responsible for the airworthiness of the aircraft, the safety of the aircraft, the conduct of any crewmembers or passengers, the navigation and any radio transmissions made from the aircraft. If we follow a navigation instrument and it is wrong, we are responsible. If our co-pilot is handling the radios and makes an incorrect or improper transmission, we are responsible. If ATC puts us in a bad place, we are responsible. Everything that happens to that aircraft is the responsibility of the PIC. When viewed that way, the implication becomes enourmous.

Before everyone jumps up, turns-in their certificates, and swears-off ever flying again, it is important to differientate between responsibilities and consequences. An investigation of an incident may find that there are mitigating circumstances that should be considered. The piece of navigation equipment might have failed or the signal it received may have been corrupted, causing us to be someplace we shouldn't have been. However, the fact that we may have been found not at fault, does not change the fact that we are still responsible. We may not be to blame for following an inaccurate signal or complying with a bad ATC clearance, but we are always responsible. The regulation does not give us an option.

If that isn't dizzying enough, try §91.103 PREFLIGHT ACTION. "Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight." How can anyone become familiar with all the information available concerning a flight? Even on the simplest flight, there are so many things involved, we could never know all there was to know. Again from an enforcement point of view, we are held to a standard of what a reasonable and prudent pilot should know. If there is a question, we may not be at fault, but our responsibility is for "ALL". The regulation does not give us an option.

Everyone who flies will, at one time or another, get themselves in a situation where they are uncomfortably close to another aircraft. When it happens, we often find one pilot taking evasive action while the other flies merrily along, ignorant of the danger. If we're the one executing the evasive action we may have some pretty colorful expletives for the other aviator, but how many times have we been the one tooling along in ignorance?

A number of years ago I landed at a non-towered airport. Shortly after, another pilot approached me and said, in a non-accusing tone, "We got pretty close out there." I had no idea what he was talking about, but he had had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with my aircraft. We were both doing things correctly, except I failed to see his aircraft. No one was at fault, but I was responsible.

§91.111 OPERATING NEAR OTHER AIRCRAFT states: "No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard." It doesn't limit the responsibility to any category of aircraft, or specify civil or military aircraft. This regulation is followed-up by §91.113 RIGHT-OF-WAY RULES: EXCEPT WATER OPERATIONS. It says: "When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft."

The responsibility placed on pilots by these two regulations, simply stated, says that if we are operating an aircraft and can see outside, we are responsible for seeing and avoiding other aircraft. Although the regulation continues with the rules of right-of-way, the very first condition it imposes is the responsibility of seeing and avoiding. It does not give us an option.

When we investigate a midair or near midair, we often find that one of the pilots may have operated contrary to another rule such as entering the traffic pattern at a non-towered airport the wrong way, or not complying with the right-of-way rules. With respect to that, one person or another may be assigned blame or held at fault. In all cases however, all pilots involved are held accoutable for seeing and avoiding other aircraft. It's easy to point to others and hold them responsible for situations we find ourselves in. In the scramble to do and have, it is easy to forget to be.

Upcoming Events

May 5th
Poplar Bluff Airshow
Poplar Bluff, Missouri

May 10th
Creve Coeur Aviation
Creve Coeur Airport
Mountain Flying
7 to 9 pm

May 12th
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Youth Aviation Day
Click Here for more information.

May 31st
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Thunder Aviation Hangar
USPA Safety Seminar
7 to 9 pm

FRED P. Harms
Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835