U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

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


April 2002 




Thought for the month....
PIC is a responsibility, not a position.

I've written on numerous occasions about the responsibility placed upon the pilot in command of a flight. The regulations allow for a situation where a person may be the pilot in command, and not be the pilot flying the aircraft. If the pilot actually doing the flying is qualified in the aircraft, that person may log PIC for the time he or she is the sole manipulator of the flight controls, but another person may actually be responsible for the flight.

Flying with another pilot can be an uncomfortable event if certain things aren't understood right from the start. Even though two people may be flying the aircraft, only one person is the bottom line responsible individual. That person is the one who decides who will fly and when. The responsibility of the second pilot is to acknowledge that authority, particularly if the second pilot has or is perceived to have, more experience.

Several years ago I participated in an investigation which involved a light twin landing short of the runway resulting in damage that qualified as an accident. The aircraft owner was flying the airplane at the time, but he wasn't the PIC. The owner often flew the airplane under Part 91. During those flights he was the PIC in all respects. However, he also put the aircraft under a Part 135 air taxi certificate as a business, and hired a pilot to fly the airplane at those times.

Another business the owner was dealing with hired the aircraft for a flight, and invited the owner to fly along. Since it was his airplane, the owner elected to occupy a pilot seat and act as copilot, a position he was not legally authorized to hold since he was not listed on the 135 certificate as a pilot and had not received the training required under 135. As the flight progressed, the owner and the PIC began to have a disagreement regarding certain techniques for flying the twin. The owner took the flight controls and proceeded to show the PIC the way he wanted his airplane flown. He was flying the aircraft when it landed short of the runway.

You can probably see where this is going. The PIC, not the owner, was charged with the accident and received certificate action, for relinquishing his command to an unqualified pilot. The owner, who was president of the 135 company, was also violated because his company failed to comply with its own operating procedures and allowed an unnamed and unqualified second in command to fly as a crewmember. Everyone lost on this deal, but it underscores the importance to recognizing and acknowledging who's in charge.

Whenever I give a checkride I always spend some time talking with the applicant and reminding them that they are the PIC and totally responsible for the conduct of the flight. Particularly during initial CFI evaluations, there are times when I need to fly and evaluate the applicant's ability to teach a maneuver. As much as possible, we try to determine prior to the flight, what the order of business is going to be, and who will be the pilot flying at various times. Sometimes, as part of an evaluation, it is necessary to initiate certain actions that a PIC would never let anyone do, such as reducing power on an engine to simulate an engine failure. I don't do it without the PIC's permission either. Prior to flight we discuss the necessity of performing the task, the conditions under which it will be performed, and procedures the PIC wants me to use to do it. Having agreed on the conditions, the PIC grants me permission to perform the task during the flight.

Like many pilots, I've taken checkrides where the evaluator wanted to show me something and reached out and took the flight controls without asking, or got into some unbriefed mischief playing with switches or circuit breakers to find out how I would react. Also like many pilots I kept my mouth shut because whatever was done didn't put the aircraft in danger, and I wanted to pass the checkride. On the other hand, I did walk away from a job acceptance ride that I was taking from the owner of a helicopter business. The last thing he did was to snap the mags off to see how I would handle an actual engine failure. He was happy with my performance but I wasn't happy with his. I wished him good luck with his business and walked back to my car.

Human factors studies in judgmental and operational errors have shown that there is a substantial increase in serious or life-threatening miscues and errors on flights where there are two pilots who have not flown together recently. Good cockpit resource management advocates that the pilot in command use all the resources available to him, but in all cases the PIC is the final authority on the conduct of the flight. That fact must not only be firmly embedded in the mind of the PIC, but also in the mind of any copilot who my be flying along. PIC is a responsibility, not a position.

Upcoming Events

April 2nd
Pilot & Aircraft Courtesy Evaluation - PACE
Parks College Hangar at St. Louis Downtown Airport
8 AM to 12 PM

May 23rd
Working CFI Safety Seminar
Meramec Community College
Lecture Hall 101
6:30 to 9:30 PM

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835