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Aviate, navigate ... don’t ever stop aviatingAviate, navigate ... don’t ever stop aviating


Regularly dealing with aircraft accidents is where I noted one simple pattern. Every pilot who survives to talk to me followed the adage and kept aviating through the events of his or her accident. I’ve heard crazy stories like popping out of a cloud to be confronted with a snow-covered meadow between steep canyon walls (I’ve actually heard that one several times). But the stories end with some variation of, “so I quickly did a gear-up landing in the snow to stop before hitting the side of the mountain.” Landing the aircraft, flying the airplane all the way to the ground, is a requirement of a safe flight.

You might think that popping out of the clouds only to see cliff faces is probably evidence of a violation. Not necessarily. The first time I heard the story it was unforecast, unforeseeable icing, leading to rapid altitude loss in rising terrain. The pilot’s quick decision making, including the decision to quickly perform a gear-up landing in the snow, was not only a safe decision, but entirely appropriate to meet that emergency. He certainly wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing relating to his decision to land the airplane quickly in an unconventional configuration.

I have yet to talk to a pilot who, after an accident, said, “I knew I was going to crash, so I just gave up and let go.” Aviating becomes a prerequisite for communicating: Aviate, navigate, communicate.

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Talbot Martin, associate and CFI at Yodice Associates, regularly counsels members of AOPA’s Legal Services Plan on a variety of issues including FAA enforcement aircraft accidents.

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As one of the counselors working daily with members of the Legal Services Plan, I see certain patterns emerge. In addition to patterns, I see where law, policy, and flying skills meet safety. One of the most important patterns I have seen emerge relates to that old adage, “Aviate, navigate, communicate.” Your first duty is to fly the airplane, and that is codified in federal aviation regulation 91.3, “the pilot in command is directly responsible for … the operation of that aircraft.” This not only has legal ramifications, but safety ones as well.


Talbot Martin

  • Associate and CFI at Yodice Associates, and regularly counsels members of AOPA’s Legal Services Plan on a variety of issues including FAA enforcement aircraft accidents.

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