Start at the Hearing and Work Backward
How would it sound to the FAA?
A former ground school instructor of mine, Tom Pasquale, recently retired from American Airlines after a career of more than 45 years. An incredibly detail-oriented gentleman with salty wit and humor as dry as a dust storm in his native Texas, Pasquale's career spanned the most tumultuous years of the airline industry.
His specialty was regulations--in particular, approach and departure legality. He could spend an hour talking about an approach chart or an RVR conversion chart--and when he finished, you had more questions than when he'd started. His superior knowledge and understanding of the federal aviation regulations served a generation of American Airlines pilots well. If we encountered trouble in the conduct of our duties, we'd likely ignored his teachings. The American Airlines Flight Academy was "the schoolhouse" and those on "the line" he referred to as "my boys."
Rumors of his regulatory knowledge swirled out on the line. Some were apocryphal, perhaps, but fascinating nonetheless. There was the one about the captain circling above Oklahoma City fog waiting to get an answer from Pasquale about landing legality with a tailwind. Then there was the wide-body crew in an early morning holding pattern over Manchester, England, on a phone patch with Pasquale back in Texas (where it was still the middle of the night) discussing the finer points of landing legality with an inoperative rollout RVR transmissometer, to name a few.
He was most famous for his "Pasqualeisms." These salty one-liners would stick with you, providing amazingly clear guidance in making split-second decisions while moving at 600 knots. My favorite was, "When in doubt, start at the hearing and work backward." He was, of course, referring to the FAA or NTSB hearing to which an errant pilot would be invited following an FAR transgression, or worse yet, an incident or accident.
I've always carried that Pasqualeism with me as a CFI. FAR Part 61 is full of regulatory guidance, but do we follow it to the exact letter? A busy CFI may sign several logbooks every day without thinking too much of it. But each one can be a snake pit when viewed by a team of FAA attorneys or an NTSB administrative law judge after your student has encountered problems on a solo cross-country flight.
Pasquale's nuggets extend far beyond the rarefied world of airline operations. Those of us who eke out our living looking at altimeters set to something other than 29.92 would do well to take heed.
Too often, the logbook endorsement is a hurried afterthought at the completion of a lesson or flight. Think about the ramifications of an endorsement before you make it, particularly if it is one you infrequently make or is outside the bounds of a standard, "canned" endorsement. In his book FARs Explained, Kent Jackson says, "Complete records are the best evidence of what you did and didn't do. In enforcement actions and lawsuits, good records can often win your case for you. Always make sure that entries in the pilot's logbook and in your logbook clearly describe what instruction and/or endorsement was given."
In addition to an endorsement in a student's logbook, the description in your own logbook is every bit as important. Rather than keep separate records, use your own logbook to record everything you do. Take up an extra line or two if necessary. If you are backing up your paper logbook with an electronic logbook, space is not as much of a concern with electronic data storage. Take advantage of this and record as much as you feel is necessary. This serves two purposes: First, you have a record of everything you've done with the student and endorsements you've made. Second, you can quickly go back and see what areas you've covered with the student as you progress through a syllabus while preparing for a practical test.
I know an instructor whose newly minted private pilot student came to an untimely end in a density altitude-related accident. During the ensuing investigation, the instructor was asked to provide evidence that he had provided instruction in high density altitude operations. Thanks to his meticulous record keeping, he was able to provide time, place, and even temperature and pressure altitude for the particular instructional sessions he had conducted with the student, thus removing him from any court action. Extreme case? Maybe, but when you've been a CFI long enough, your actions are bound to be scrutinized at some point.
Our job as aviation educators demands a very high level of compliance with regulations and laws of physics. Any of them can sneak up and bite us when we're not vigilant. Always having to look back over one's shoulder is hardly a comfortable way to make a living. Fortunately, the methods for compliance with these elements are spelled out in detail. It's up to us as professionals to follow the rules. When making a logbook entry to document flight instruction you've given, think how it would look from the perspective of an FAA inspector or an NTSB administrative law judge and work backward from there.
Jonathan J. Greenway is chief flight instructor for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Formerly a captain and check airman with American Airlines, he has been an active CFI since 1980 and has approximately 13,400 hours.
By Jonathan J. Greenway