Pilot Counsel

Miscellaneous regulations

March 1, 2007

Commercial pilot John S. Yodice is a graduate of the George Washington School of Law.

As many of you know, my practice in this column over the years has been to try to cover all of the major operating and flight rules of the federal aviation regulations that generally apply to pilots and aircraft owners. I have especially concentrated on the rules that cause the most problems. A drawback to this approach is that I don't ordinarily cover the rules that get less notoriety, but are still important. Here are a few miscellaneous ones about which you might enjoy being reminded.

Interference with crewmembers. Here is one that you might be able to use to control an unruly passenger. Let the passenger know that FAR 91.11 prohibits any person from "assaulting," "threatening," "intimidating," or otherwise "interfering" with a crewmember, including a pilot, in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft. It is a provision that is frequently invoked in airline operations, especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it applies equally to general aviation operations. It is triggered by a complaint to the FAA. The FAA will prosecute serious cases of interference.

An example of how the FAA will prosecute under this rule involved a pilot who, while flying his helicopter, shouted obscenities over the radio at another pilot. The other pilot was on the ground preparing to take off in another helicopter. We don't know what the dispute was about, but the pilot then landed his helicopter, got out, went over to the other helicopter, and punched the pilot. Using this rule, the FAA suspended the punching pilot's certificate for a period of 30 days.

What about interfering passengers who are not pilots? The FAA can impose other penalties, including fines, for violation of this rule.

Dropping objects. Did you remember that there is a rule about dropping objects from an aircraft? It is FAR 91.15. Subject to a very important proviso, a pilot is permitted to drop things from his or her aircraft, and may permit others to drop things from the aircraft — provided it does not create a hazard to persons or property. Specifically, the rule says, "This section does not prohibit the dropping of an object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property." Some of the obvious applications are parachute jumping and flour-bombing contests.

Carriage of illegal drugs. FAR 91.19 prohibits the operation of an aircraft within the United States with knowledge that unlawful narcotic drugs, marijuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances are carried in the aircraft. As you would expect, this section does not apply to properly authorized drugs or operations.

What a pilot should particularly note is that the drugs do not have to be in the possession of the pilot to constitute a violation. The substances could be in the possession of a passenger or in a baggage compartment. "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 when a pilot claims he didn't have "knowledge." Know your passengers and whatever you may be carrying as an accommodation to others.

Portable electronic devices. According to FAR 91.21, a pilot operating an aircraft IFR may not operate, or permit anyone on board to operate, a portable electronic device, such as an MP3 player. That is, unless the pilot first determines that it will not cause interference with the navigation or communication systems of the aircraft. Specifically excepted from the rule are portable voice recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers, and electric shavers.

Malfunction reports. Any malfunctions of navigational, approach, or communications equipment occurring in an aircraft being operated under IFR must be reported to air traffic control as soon as practical, according to FAR 91.187.

Change of address. Section 61.60 of the federal aviation regulations requires a pilot (or flight instructor or ground instructor) to give written notification to the FAA of any change in permanent mailing address. What pilots particularly need to be alert to is that, after a 30-day grace period, if this notification is not given, the pilot may not exercise the privileges of his or her certificate until the required notification is given.

Does a change of address noted on an FAA medical application form or on an FAA application form for a pilot certificate/rating meet this requirement? The FAA does ordinarily change a pilot's mailing address if a new one is given on such an application form. However, the unofficial response to this question is no, changing an address on an FAA application form doesn't satisfy the specific requirement of the regulation. So, you should technically comply with the requirement by notifying the FAA Airman Certification Branch, Post Office Box 25082, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73125, by letter or online. Along with your new address, include your date of birth and your airman certificate number. If the mailing address includes a post office box number, then the current physical address also must be given.

The FAA will not issue another airman certificate with the new address printed on it unless you specifically request a new certificate and enclose a check for $2 payable to the FAA.