Pilot Counsel

Unusual regs

August 1, 1998

Faithful readers of this column know that from time to time we have attempted to cover all of the major flight rules governing a pilot in the operation of a typical general aviation aircraft. For a change, I thought it might be interesting to cover a number of provisions in these rules that govern situations that most pilots don't normally encounter. Pilots are still expected to know these rules, and in some instances may want to know. Here is a selection. How many do you remember?

Interference with crewmembers

Here is one that needs dusting off. You may be able to use it to control an unruly passenger in an appropriate situation.

FAR 91.11 prohibits any person from "assaulting," "threatening," "intimidating," or even just "interfering" with a pilot in the performance of piloting duties aboard an aircraft. It is a provision that has been used most often in airline situations, but it applies equally to general aviation. Potential violators should be made aware that the FAA will prosecute such cases.

Here is an example of how the FAA will apply this rule. A dispute arose and a pilot shouted obscenities over his helicopter's radio at another pilot who was on the ground preparing to take off in a helicopter. Then, he landed his helicopter, got out, went over to the other helicopter, and punched the pilot. The FAA suspended his airman certificate for 30 days for violation of the rule.

Dropping objects

What about dropping objects from an aircraft? Subject to a very important proviso, a pilot may drop things from his or her aircraft and permit things to be dropped - so long as it does not create a hazard to persons or property. Some obvious applications are parachute jumping, water bombing contests, and the like. According to FAR 91.15, "This section does not prohibit the dropping of an object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property."

Carriage of illegal drugs

Here is a rare one that has gotten otherwise innocent pilots in trouble. FAR 91.19 prohibits the operation of an aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marijuana, or any illegal depressant or stimulant drugs are on board. Here is the kicker. The drugs do not have to be in the possession of the pilot to constitute a violation. They could be in the possession of a passenger or in a baggage compartment, etc. "Knowledge" on the part of the pilot is all that is needed to establish a violation. You can imagine the skepticism of law enforcement authorities to a pilot's plea of ignorance.

This section does not apply to properly authorized drugs or operations.

Portable electronic devices

According to FAR 91.21, a pilot operating an aircraft IFR may not operate, or permit anyone onboard to operate, a portable electronic device. That is, unless the pilot first determines that it will not cause interference with the navigation or communication systems of the aircraft. As you would guess, specifically excepted from the rule are portable voice recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers, and electric shavers.

Safety pilot

If you are out there meeting your recent instrument experience requirement in simulated instrument flight - as, for example, shooting instrument approaches under the hood - common sense and the rule tell you that you need a safety pilot. What qualifications and capabilities must the safety pilot have?

According to FAR 91.109(b), the safety pilot must possess at least a private pilot certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown.

What about an instrument rating? The safety pilot does not have to be instrument-rated if you are operating VFR. But if you are operating IFR, the pilot in command must be instrument-rated. If the safety pilot is PIC, the safety pilot must have an instrument rating.

The safety pilot must hold a medical certificate because, according to an FAA interpretation, a safety pilot is a required flight crew member.

The aircraft must have fully functioning dual controls (exception for throw-over yokes), and the safety pilot must have adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft (this may be compensated for by a competent observer).

We mentioned "category and class," so let's name them. The five categories of aircraft are: aircraft, rotorcraft, glider, lighter-than-air, and powered-lift. The four classes within the aircraft category are: single-engine land, single-engine sea, multiengine land, and multiengine sea. In the rotorcraft category are the helicopter class and the gyroplane class. The safety pilot must have a class rating appropriate to the aircraft being flown.

Checking notams

You could be held responsible for compliance with "temporary flight restrictions," "emergency air traffic rules," and other temporary rules that are published as notices to airmen (notams). Unless you have actual knowledge of the situation, you could run afoul of these if you don't check notams.

"Temporary flight restrictions" are issued under FAR 91.137. They impose restrictions to flight in a designated area, usually associated with some incident on the surface. Major disasters on the ground are prime examples. As you would expect, there are exceptions for aircraft participating in disaster relief, law enforcement, carrying newspeople, and the like.

"Emergency air traffic rules" are also issued through a notam. They are issued under FAR 91.139 and usually result from some emergency affecting the FAA's ability to operate the air traffic control system safely. Older pilots will remember the air traffic controller strike in August 1981 that led to such an emergency rule.

Temporary notams will also be issued to protect space flight operations, and to protect the travel of the president, vice president, and other public figures. These are covered under FARs 91.141 and 91.143.

Malfunction reports

Here is one I know lots of pilots miss. Any malfunctions of navigational, approach, or communications equipment occurring in IFR flight must be reported to air traffic control as soon as practicable, according to FAR 91.187.

Logging preventive maintenance

Many pilots who are not aircraft mechanics or repairmen do minor work on their aircraft. FAR Part 43 and Appendix A authorize a pilot to perform myriad "preventive maintenance" items - such things as changing engine oil and filters; changing tires; replacing bulbs, batteries, and seat belts; and many other minor maintenance items listed in the Appendix.

It is easy for a pilot to miss the paperwork requirements that go along with doing preventive maintenance, especially for a pilot who does such things infrequently. For one thing, a pilot is required to log each item of preventive maintenance he or she performs, in the maintenance records of the aircraft, in the detail required by FAR 43.9(a). More easily missed is the requirement of FAR 91.407(a) that the pilot sign a logbook entry approving the aircraft for return to service after the preventive maintenance.

This is a selection of the rules governing situations not normally encountered by most pilots. I hope that you found at least some of these items interesting and informative. For more detail, consult the regulatory references cited.