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Training Tip: Dings and don'tsTraining Tip: Dings and don'ts

You show up at the airport to fly on a cold winter morning and behold an airplane crumpled against a hangar and a dejected owner explaining to those present how he tried to hand-prop the reluctant airplane to life so he could taxi it over to the gas pumps.

Photo by Mike Fizer

It’s clear at a glance that the aircraft’s condition likely meets the definition of “substantial damage” that the National Transportation Safety Board requires for an aircraft accident report: Is the airplane’s structural strength affected? Yes. Would its flight characteristics be compromised? Certainly. Will it need major repair? No doubt.

Is this a reportable accident? No.

If a mishap occurs when the pilot did not intend to fly the aircraft—for example while taxiing from the hangar to the fuel pumps—it isn’t subject to the NTSB notification and reporting regulations, explained Timothy LeBaron, the NTSB’s deputy director for regional operations, in a February 2018 presentation to AOPA staff.

Under those regulations, an aircraft accident “means an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.” 

The first of two key takeaways for a student pilot from the disheartening scenario posed above is that hand-propping, perhaps tempting on a cold day when the airplane won’t start, is extremely dicey business—and as the AOPA Air Safety Institute's Propeller Safety Safety Advisor notes, is entirely inappropriate for many airplanes and individuals.

The second takeaway is that as you prepare for your private pilot practical test, be sure to brush up on the NTSB’s accident reporting requirements—a mandatory aeronautical knowledge element listed for the pilot privileges you are seeking. Note that compliance is required not just for accidents, but also for “serious incidents” including flight control system malfunction or failure, an in-flight fire, a required flight crewmember’s inability “to perform normal flight duties as a result of injury or illness,” and several others listed.

Does the definition of an aircraft accident include unmanned aircraft? Answer: Yes.

See the NTSB regulation for other definitions; initial notification requirements; details of report filing; and the preservation of aircraft wreckage, records, and other items that are the responsibility of the operator of the aircraft involved in an accident or incident.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Accident, Technique, Flight Training
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