You are climbing through 2,000 feet in a left turn after takeoff when two large birds pass in front of your aircraft. This is going to be a close call—and sure enough, there’s an impact at the left wingtip.
Instead of contacting departure as instructed, you stay with the tower and advise you will return for landing.
The engine is making power, the airplane is under control, and there’s apparently no reason why you can’t make a normal landing approach. However, the impact has ripped open the wing’s leading edge, and part of the wingtip panel is flapping in the wind.
A typical group of pilots considering this scenario will form two factions: one for declaring an emergency, the other group reluctant to do so from unwillingness to disrupt airport traffic, file a report, or become a local news story.
When choosing a side, consider a key definition. According to the Pilot/Controller Glossary, an emergency is “a distress or an urgency condition.”
As far as the pilot in the bird strike scenario knows, there is no need to violate a rule to cope with the situation, so it’s unlikely that regulatory language that deters some pilots from declaring an emergency will be triggered: “Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.”
On the other hand, some in-flight glitches don’t reveal their full effect on an aircraft’s controllability right away. Now as you maneuver back to the airport, you find yourself working hard to counteract a strong yawing tendency of the airplane toward the damaged, drag-producing wingtip. On short final—not a great time for surprises—you see airspeed indications that are all wrong. (Fortunately, your training taught you to use known power settings and specific pitch attitudes to produce your final-approach airspeeds—didn’t it?)
Suppose you spoke the E word, were cleared to land on any runway, touched down safely, and on inspecting the airplane you realize that the damage wasn’t as bad as it seemed right after impact. How do you feel about your decision now?
The verdict from the pilot who shared this real-world scenario was that declaring an emergency and returning to land was “the right decision.”
How say you?