Recently, while covering the subject of Part 91 regulations with a crowd of general aviation enthusiasts, I posed this question: Let’s say you’re planning on making a day VFR flight from your local airport. You show up and preflight the airplane and everything looks great — except the attitude indicator isn’t working. Can you still make the flight?
It’s a good question because it forces us to make a decision based on specific information. We’ve got an inoperative instrument in our panel, we have an adequate ceiling and visibility, and we’re going to have to make a go/no-go decision based on that information. So what do you think? Is it a go, or a no-go?
It’s a go. Part 91 does not list the attitude indicator as a required flight instrument for daytime VFR, so the answer to this question is in the affirmative. Yeah, we can fly
Typically the discussion on this regulation is fairly straight-forward. But this time around I had an audience member disagree with me.
He believed that we could not make the flight because there was an inoperative instrument in the panel. As he explained, if equipment that was originally installed in the airplane was not working, no flights could be initiated until the instrument had been repaired.
For the record, that train of thought is not correct. It’s a perfectly reasonable personal limit one could set on themselves and their aircraft. It might even be a desirable personal minimum to establish and respect in the interest of safety.
But the discussion was on the topic of regulations, not personal preferences. That being the case, I reiterated that regulations would allow us to make the flight. I referenced the regulation in fact, and listed the required equipment for day VFR that we would have to have in working order to make the flight.
The gentleman continued to disagree with me. He was adamant in his belief the flight would be illegal. He was entrenched in his opinion and nothing, it seems, could shake him from that position.
I mention this because, like the gentleman in this story, I have opinions. You almost certainly have opinions too, and they probably extend across a wide range of topics.
That being the case, I’m perfectly comfortable with us disagreeing on whether the perfect white Christmas involves new fallen snow or sun-drenched beaches. While I will stand firm that strawberry rhubarb pie is the greatest pie ever invented, I can respect your perspective that favors pecan or peach or pumpkin.
It doesn’t really matter. Our opinions are personal, individualized, and largely immaterial to most of the population of the earth.
That’s not the case with regulations, or with the art and science of teaching. There is very little room for opinion there, and you will seldom find a good teacher placing opinion over fact.
In this case, we’re dealing with fact. The regulations are clear on this point. They’re written down. Anyone can flip to 14 CFR 91.205 and peruse the list of required day VFR equipment. In short order they’ll realize the attitude indicator is not among the items listed. Ergo, the flight posed by the question is legal and can be dispatched.
What we think should be required is immaterial. Our responsibility is to understand and accept the list the regs stipulate.
When we default to accepting our personal opinions over the factual material we’re presented with, we do so at our own peril. The real danger isn’t in this scenario, where the gentleman in the audience wished to be more conservative than he was mandated to be. The real risk lies in the other direction, when we become experimental in our actions because it suits us, or fits our opinion of the situation.
Consider something as basic as entering the traffic pattern at a non-towered airport. There is one way to accomplish this task. Just one. The Aeronautical Information Manual even includes a diagram of the FAA’s advised method of entry. Enter at pattern altitude, on a 45° angle to the downwind leg, at mid-field. From there fly the downwind, base, and final legs. That’s it.
That’s not what happens in real life, however. Too often pilots enter the pattern straight in, or on crosswind, or on base, or as I saw the other day, by flying over the field at pattern altitude and turning in to join the downwind at mid-field from the wrong side.
The four airplanes that were already in the pattern apparently made no impression on the errant pilot at all. He acted based on his opinion rather than by using the instructions all pilots are given. In the process he raised the risk factor of flying in the pattern immeasurably, and cut off two pilots who were flying the pattern in the prescribed manner.
Is my opinion, or yours, really so sacrosanct that we’re willing to kill someone in order to exercise our belief that we have the privilege of doing whatever our opinion tells us we can do?
There is a reason the FAA defines the proper, and predictable, entry to a traffic pattern at a non-towered airport.
If all pilots held themselves to the standard that safety trumped convenience, all pilots would perform the proper entry every time. But they don’t.
And general aviation suffers from an accident history that bears out the cost of defaulting to putting our own opinions ahead of the regulations and practices we’ve been encouraged to accept.
Let’s change that. Let’s make 2016 the safest, most enjoyable, best year in general aviation history. We can do it, you and I. All we have to do is draw a bright line of demarcation between our opinion of what the rules are, and what the rules actually are. That’s not as hard as it might sound.
Let’s commit ourselves to that goal. It’s a worthy one. But, of course, that’s just my opinion.