What does it mean to be “pilot in command”? We, as pilots, are familiar with the term, but do we really understand the responsibilities it conveys? I’m afraid that over the years I’ve come to believe that most of us haven’t a clue. Let me explain.
The FAR/AIM defines “pilot in command” thusly:
“§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.”
It is the most important regulation in that entire mound of gobbledygook that the gu’mint forces down our throats. You are “directly responsible for, and (are) the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft”. Consider that for a moment. Consider the profound responsibilities that demands.
When you choose to launch an airplane into the sky, YOU are solely responsible for all that happens during that flight and YOU are solely responsible for its safe return to the earth. Ponder that.
If something goes wrong, it’s your responsibility to fix it. If an emergency occurs, your federal government tells you that you can violate any of its rules to solve the problem. Period.
It does not say that you can cry like an infant and blame the problem on: a) the airplane; b) the weather; c) your instructor; d) the controller; e) your girlfriend; f) your Mommy.
You chose to launch. Something bad happened. You didn’t resolve the problem. It’s YOUR fault.
It’s important to understand this. You’d be astonished to learn how many of your fellow club members don’t. As a member of the Board of Directors for much of the last decade, I’m consistently amazed at how many pilots come before the Board with the same refrain: “It wasn’t my fault.”
If “It wasn’t my fault,” then what the heck are you doing standing before the Board. Something bad happened to an airplane. You were the pilot in command. Regardless of the circumstances, it WAS your fault. You chose to launch and you couldn’t resolve the problem(s) that occurred and something bad happened to the airplane. Whose fault was it? Mommy’s?
Let me illuminate. Without going into the details that would expose someone to ridicule, a while back an instructor had to appear before the Board because something had happened to an airplane in which that instructor was providing instruction – acting as pilot in command. That instructor told the Board, “It wasn’t my fault.” That instructor is no longer a member of the club.
A while back I was instructing a primary student who hadn’t flown in nearly four weeks. We were practicing landings on 26L at Brown Field, the wind was about ten to twelve knots and swirling from the south to the southwest. On one of the landings, the student bounced it in, then hauled back on the yoke to keep the nose wheel from banging too hard on the runway. Instead of banging the nose wheel, the student banged the tail tie down. I didn’t think it was a big enough bang to worry about and we continued the practice session. When we returned to the airport, we discovered that the tail tie down was missing.
Whose fault was it?
It was mine. I should have been paying more attention. I should have been quicker to the controls. What did I do? I called the owner and told him what had happened, told the operations manager and the safety officer what had happened, and offered to make it right.
That’s what the pilot in command does. If he can’t fix a problem, and something happens, he acknowledges that it was his fault and accepts the consequences.
Flying is a constant joy. Those of us who fly are only truly happy when we are in the sky. But sometimes we forget that flying is a privilege that demands certain responsibilities. Flying is also a calculated risk, it can be dangerous and is “ … terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”
Next time you decide to launch, remember your pilot in command responsibilities.