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Editorial: Who’s Boss?

By Ed Downs

It’s good to be the boss … right? Everyone does as you say, follows your orders, considers what will make you happy first, sees to it you get the best of everything and, in general, treats you like a king. Yep, it’s good to be the boss. Does anyone reading this live such a life? If you do, get a cat. You will soon be informed that we bi-pedal Homo Sapiens are notkings of the earth, but merely servants to strange furry aliens that came to our planet after discovering how dumb we are. But there is hope – that is, if your take federal law seriously. As a pilot in command (PIC), the great powers of the FAA have dubbed you “The Boss,” with a whole plethora of caveats and conditions thrown in just to keep you on the straight and narrow. 

Let’s take a quick look at some pertinent FAR’s and see where you stand on the “Boss” scale, with “10” being a High Potentate and “0” being how many feel in their every day jobs. But first, let’s get technically correct. While most of us refer to aviation regs as “the FAR’s,” that is technically wrong. The acronym “FAR” was given to another agency several years ago, to be replaced by the correct legal reference to aviation law, “Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.” Now, instead of referring to “FAR 91,” we should be saying “14 CFR Part 91.” Having abused the reader with that bit of legal trivia, let’s just follow the FAA website’s lead by ignoring those who make a living deciding who owns what acronym and just continue using the commonly accepted term for the rules we fly by. And if that upsets anyone … well … arrest me. That would make for another great editorial topic!

Back to being a boss and an exciting visit to FAR 91.3:

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.

So, there it is. According to the Fed’s, you are absolutely the boss when acting as a PIC and, in the event of an in-flight emergency, you are even being told that you may deviate from anyrule in Part 91 if that is what it takes to mitigate risk. In fact, failure to “break the law” as required to insure safety is a possible violation of FAR 91 (a). This is a serious responsibility which must always be considered. 

The AOPA Air Safety Institute recently created two videos that highlight the need to “be the boss.” In both cases, the aircraft were at busy airports, one a major GA field in Florida and the other at busy airline hub in Texas. Both pilots were flying advance technology airplanes, reasonably current and accustomed to busy airports. 

The Florida event involved loss of control in the traffic pattern as the pilot tried to satisfy local control request to make multiple pattern changes to accommodate other traffic. The Texas accident was similar loss of control, with local control making multiple request for the pilot to change runways and spacing so that airline traffic could be given priority. As is standard FAA procedure, the primary ILS runway was in use, with a tailwind of almost 10 KTS, a standard ATC procedure for which airline crews are trained and landing/take off distances adjusted, including load considerations. The tailwind was a possible factor in the Texas accident. 

The AOPA videos (now on U-Tube) are excellent, containing all radio transmissions and a summary of the NTSB accident investigation report. This writer watched the videos several times, listening carefully to the communication between the tower and the aircraft. I noted that both pilots sounded calm and in control over the radio and were trying their best to accommodate the tower’s request. But as the videos continue, this old CFI found himself almost yelling at the screen, “tell the tower to stick it and just land your plane.” 

Both pilots placed their own safety second to trying to accommodate ATC. One must remember, that a tower controller is evaluated by how efficiently they utilize the runway, how short the intervals are between take off and landings, and prevention of runway incursions. They will make any request necessary of a pilot to achieve their objectives. In 99 percent of arrivals and departures, controllers and pilots are on the same page. 

Both you and local control want to get you to the runway quickly and/or launch you into the system with minimum delay. In these two cases, the tower was locked into the pattern in play and placed demands upon the pilots that exceeded their abilities. It is interesting to note that the NTSB summary commented that both pilots failed to implement PIC authority and simply tell the tower what they wanted to do, and then do it.

In both cases, had the plot taken control of the situation, other aircraft would have needed to maneuver, probably make a missed approach. So, does that get one in trouble. Take a second look at FAR 91.3. You might be asked to file a written report that is it. This writer would suggest that one also file an ASR with NASA as a back-up. In these two cases, the pilots were criticized for nottelling ATC what to do with unreasonable request. This is only one example; others exist, like losing control of a plane in a crosswind landing when more favorable runway was available. 

Who cares if the runway in use is the primary ILS runway, simply advise the tower that you are choosing another, safer, runway. But moving beyond airport issues, being the “boss” also kicks in while in-route. Has poor judgment gotten you hemmed in by bad weather, being chased by thunderstorms? Okay, you goofed, so land the plane… anywhere. No airport, then pick a country road or smooth surface. 

By exercising PIC authority, you are not breaking any Federal laws, yes, perhaps some weird local ordnance. Maybe you get a ticket, certainly beats the option. Sure, you need to be a good aviator to execute an off-airport landing. Get some dual if you are not up to it. Shucks, back in the “good ole days” off airport landings were a regular part of private pilot training. To be sure, this writer is not trying to tell fellow pilots to argue with ATC or make unusual landing decisions. Good planning should prevent the need to for any such decisions, but as PIC, you must have the will to make the hard calls, and then the skill to carry out alternate plans. The responsibility, and authority, is yours. But it does come with some conditions. Let’s look at FAR 91.103

§91.103  Preflight action.

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include— 

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC; 

(b) For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information: 

(1) For civil aircraft for which an approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual containing takeoff and landing distance data is required, the takeoff and landing distance data contained therein; and

(2) For civil aircraft other than those specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, other reliable information appropriate to the aircraft, relating to aircraft performance under expected values of airport elevation and runway slope, aircraft gross weight, and wind and temperature. 

Note that the first expectation is that you “must become familiar with all available information.” Trust me, simply selecting “Direct To” does notmeet this requirement. Note the requirement for “alternatives available.” That does not mean just an alternate airport. It means you have carefully considered all aspects of the flight and if anythinggoes wrong, anywhere, you have a plan. Is that the way you fly? That is all a part of being the boss.

Electronic flight bags, tablet-based flight planning system and web-based programs are certainly taking over the old sectional chart on the kitchen table traditions, but can you explain how and why your automatic system made the decision it did? If not, you are clearly notthe boss, and the FAA will point that out if you fumble into problems. Of special note is checking for TFR’s. Sure, you may subscribe to a commercial program that will send TFR’s to your watch but remember FSS is the only official outlet for TFR information. In one case, a non-towered airport’s traffic pattern flew directly over a maximum-security prison. 

When a terrible riot broke out (gunfire and fatalities), a TFR was thrown over the airport to protect pilots from errant gunfire … good idea. A local pilot, with no knowledge of the riot, decided to pull his plane out of the hangar to get some touch and goes logged. Upon landing he was greeted by police and the FAA, with fines and a certificate action. A local chemical spill, police action, plane crash, railway accident, drone operations or many other events can cause a TFR to be implemented on a moments notice. This writer now gives FSS a quick call for an abbreviated briefing anytime I fly, even if just local. 

Also note the specific need for a review of performance information. Given a ramp check by the FAA, you will be expected to demonstrate your knowledge of the POH or explain how you arrive at performance numbers. No POH, maybe a classic plane or antique? Where do you get performance information from? Try the type clubs (use a web search engine), often a great source of information. Remember your Private Pilot check ride? Remember the preflight oral part of the test? It was all about planning, reading charts, airplane performance, aircraft systems and paperwork, like log books and documents on the plane. 

Now, take another look at FAR 91.3 and 91.103. Do you see where that part of the flight test came from? Having passed a flight test and earned your certificate dose notauthorize you to forget all that good stuff after your first flight as a PIC.

So, back to our rhetorical question. Are you the boss when commanding an aircraft in flight? You bet, so long as you keep these two basic regs in mind. You may not be a “10” (High Potentate), you probably are in there at a strong “9.” The main thing is to act like the boss, be in charge and take your PIC responsibilities seriously. Just one last thing to remember now that you have decided to be a real boss… don’t fly with a cat … lest you get hijacked to Area 51 to free the aliens kept there… really!


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