U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation
Administration



St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

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

 

March 2004 

 

AVIATION SAFETY NEWSLETTER

www.faa.gov/fsdo/stlfsdo

Thought for the month..... Success is not just the end result,
but the process of achieving it as well.

Bring 'em back.... With the engine sputtering and leaving a trail of smoke behind, the steely-eyed courageous pilot nurses his gasping aircraft the last few miles to the airport. The useless radio having long since been fried to a crisp, still gives off acrid fumes from the burnt wires. With the electrical system gone, the pilot flys with one hand and manually pumps the gear down with the other. Touching down without flaps, the pilot makes the last turn-off and rolls onto the taxiway as the prop stutters to a stop. The crowd spews out of the FBO and lifts the pilot to their shoulders as they triumphantly carry him back to the hangar. But, the celebration comes to an abrubt halt as an FAA inspector, who had been lurking in the shadows, steps forward and says to the pilot: "Could I see you a moment?" As the two walk away from the throng, one reveler whispers to another; "They wouldn't violate him for that would they? He's a hero!"

Whether the FAA will consider the pilot a "hero" will depend on a number of things. Fortunately, we aren't often required to deal with such serious problems. Unfortunately, we don't always treat less serious problems with the respect they deserve. Any one of us who has been flying for awhile, can probably relate a tale about dealing with inflight problems, some serious enough to have got us looking at the emergency procedures. What we do after that will determine how our actions are viewed by the FAA.

There are at least two regulations that always come to play when a problem develops:

§91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.
(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

§91.7 Civil aircraft airworthiness.
(a) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition.
(b) The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

The obvious question that needs to be addressed is how well we exercised our responsibility and authority as pilot in command.

Let's assume that I takeoff from Podunk Airport on a cross country flight, and about 45 minutes into it I see some smoke coming from behind the instrument panel. I smell electrical insulation burning and I think I have the beginnings of an electrical fire. I refer to the emergency checklist and complete the procedure. It seems to have resolved the immediate problem, but obviously, things aren't right so I'm taking this bird back to the nest. Unfortuately, about half way home I find out that the emergency procedure didn't correct the defect and I once again have smoke in the cockpit. This is a serious situation and it's time to make an emergency landing. I select a suitable field, but there's a drainage ditch in the middle that wipes out the nose gear when I hit it.

After things calm down a bit, an FAA inspector shows-up to find out what happened. After relating the story, the inspector observes that I overflew two airports trying to get back to Podunk. How come? What I'm being asked to do is to justify my decision in light of what the regulation says (The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur). Clearly, 91.3 authorizes me to deal with an emergency (In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency) but if I had elected to land at one of those airports, I wouldn't have had an off-airport landing and an accident.

"I was flying back to Podunk where I was going to discontinue the flight." "The airplane is based at Podunk." "My car was there and it would have been inconvenient to land elsewhere." "The airplane was scheduled out again in the morning so I wanted to get it back so that it could be fixed." "I would have had to pay the FBO to fly out and pick me up." "If I didn't bring it back they would never have rented to me again." "I determined that the airplane was safe for flight so I decided to bring it back." Do any of those answers adequately defend my decision to not discontinue the flight? The last answer almost sounds like it does, except for the fact that "airworthy" requires two things - the aircraft meets its type design AND it is safe for flight. It's a good bet that the original type design did not include a self-igniting electrical system.

I'm not necessarily implying that any of the answers above would mean that a violation would follow. It's just that they don't support the idea that I used good aeronautical decision making. What kind of answers might have worked? "Both those airports have sod runways and it has rained so much lately that a duck couldn't have landed there without sinking." "This emergency occurred after dark and Podunk was the closest airport with lighting." The responsibility placed on me by 91.3 as pilot in command, means that I will know what is required of me by the regulations and I will use good judgment and airmanship if I exercise my authority to deviate from the rules. If I bring it back and nothing bad happens, I'm happy, the FBO is happy, and I have a neat story to tell at Blaney's on Friday. It also means that, buoyed by my success, if a similar event occurs in the future, I'll bring it back again. If it were possible to ask the crew and passengers of the Alaska Airlines jet that experienced elevator control problems and eventually crashed in the ocean, whether this is a wise course of action to follow, they might have a different opinion about it. Success is not just the end result, but the process of achieving it as well.

 

Upcoming Events

April 3
Skyline Aeronautics
Spirit of St. Louis
The Successful Cross Country
8:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M.

April 27
Florissant Valley College
AOPA Air Safety Foundation
Maneuvering Flight
7 to 9 P.M.


FRED P. HARMS
Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835
Fred.Harms@faa.gov