Accident or incident? Don't be too quick to call the FAA

October 21, 2013

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Mike Yodice

  • Director of Legal Service Plans at Yodice Associates
  • Counsels LSP/PPS members on FAA compliance and enforcement
  • Regularly flies a Piper J-3 Cub and a Cherokee 180

Many pilots are surprised to learn that there is no requirement to call the FAA following an accident or incident. The relevant reporting rules are contained in 49 CFR Part 830 and they specify what needs to be reported to the NTSB, not the FAA. And certainly, not every mishap qualifies for a report. Making an unnecessary report to the FAA or NTSB may produce unwanted scrutiny. 

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Let’s say you inadvertently land gear-up at an airport without an operating control tower and the damage is limited to a prop strike and skin damage. What’s next? Do you need to call the FAA or the NTSB? The answers are "no" and "probably not." As established in Part 830 only aircraft accidents and certain serious incidents require reporting. The term “aircraft accident” is specifically defined in this part of the regulations and basically hinges on the existence of death, serious injury, or substantial damage to the aircraft. Part 830 also defines “serious injury” and “substantial damage." It’s notable that gear-up landings do not typically result in serious injury or substantial damage and, therefore, are not considered accidents for purposes of reporting them to anyone other than your insurance company. Unless the FAA learns of the occurrence through another source, you’re left with a busted airplane and a bruised ego, but you avoid having to explain yourself to the FAA.

On the other hand, if you land gear-up at an airport with an operating control tower or your local FAA inspector observes the mishap, what then? You can be assured that the FAA will want to talk to you. If the FAA inspector concludes that you simply failed to lower the gear (absent a mechanical malfunction), you can expect that the FAA will question your competency and require reexamination, otherwise known as a 709 ride.

It’s recommend that you thoroughly review and understand Part 830.  If you are involved in an accident or serious incident you are obliged to contact the NTSB. Calling the FAA or even the NTSB unnecessarily, however, will likely expose you to an investigation that can lead to FAA action.

Mike Yodice is the Director of Legal Services Plans at Yodice Associates and counsels LSP/Pilot Protection Services members on such issues as FAA compliance and enforcement. Mike is an active pilot and regularly flies a Piper J-3 Cub and Cherokee 180.