Pilot in Command Responsibility

FAA FAR Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules

If Drones are considered to be Aircraft by the FAA, there are important considerations for anyone operating them. The Federal Aviation Regulations or FARs for short are the rules ALL PILOTS must follow. They carry the full force of Federal Law, and violating a FAR means you are breaking Federal Law. FAA Part 91 governs the operation of all aircraft within the United States. When the new drone regulations come into being they will be under FAR Part 107, however Part 107 will most likely be based and affected by Part 91. Anyone contemplating operating a Drone needs to be aware of Part 91 and its legal impact on your flying.

So where do you start. FAR Part 91 is one of the biggest single chapters in the FAR/AIM, a bible thick book that covers the Federal Aviation Regulations in full. You can also access the FARs from the FAA Website, which is recommended as the latest changes to the Regulations are regularly updated there, whereas a book version is only current to its date of publication.

The best place to start any dissertation on the FARs is Part 91, section 3, which governs Pilot in Command Responsibility. Here is the relevant section.

ยง91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) 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.

Right here, Part 91.3 clearly states that the Pilot in Command of ANY AIRCRAFT is directly responsibility for and is the FINAL AUTHORITY as to the operation of that Aircraft. The language in that regulation is highly specific. It is designed so there is no doubt that the Pilot in Command is responsible for the operation of the aircraft. On a deeper level anyone flying an aircraft needs to understand that this responsibility transcends just flying the plane.

Lets say you are flying a plane or drone, and there is a maintenance issue. If an FAA inspector shows up and finds something wrong with the aircraft, and you happen to be flying the thing, you can be in violation of the Federal Aviation regulations. It is your responsibility as Pilot in Command to verify ALL required maintenance has been performed and that the aircraft is legal to fly. If you don’t verify this information, and the FAA Inspector finds something amiss, it isn’t the owner or operator who is responsible, it is YOU. This also pertains to weather, where you operate, and how you operate. No matter what your boss or company may say, if they order you to do something illegal, and an FAA inspector finds out, you are the responsible party, not your boss or company.

I cannot state strongly enough how important this regulation is to anyone operating any type of aircraft. We live and die by Pilot in Command Responsibility. If something goes wrong, it is up to us as pilots to do everything we can to set things right. Even in Drone world, if you do something wrong, illegal, or have a drone crash into someone or something, you are responsible as Pilot in Command. What I want people reading this to understand is no matter what your boss or company may order you to do, you as Pilot in Command are the one responsible for whatever consequences may occur if you happen to violate the FARs. Break a rule, you are responsible. Even if you were ordered to do with the threat of being fired, you are in the cross hairs. So don’t break the rules, and don’t let ANYONE ever force you to do so.

More on this to follow, with specific examples and why this regulation came into being in the first place.