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Old 08-10-2008, 10:34 AM   #1  
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Default PIC Obligations and Authority

This hypothetical came to me privately, but I thought it has enough general interest for me to post here, scrubbed of personal references. It may have made an appearance in a different part of the forum, however, I did not check for that.

First, some assumptions (I wouldn't be a good lawyer if I did not make certain assumptions about things ;)). The scenario involves the PIC of a business jet, not a commercial airline. The passengers in the back begin to do things such as snorting cocaine, planning a terrorist attack, plying underage kids with beer and liquor, or drinking themselves to oblivion.

Does the PIC, assuming he becomes aware of the situation, have a legal obligation to investigate and stop the illegal activity? What is the basis for this authority? How far should and can the PIC go in averting further bad behavior? Should he land the plane at the nearest airport? What, if any, consequences may he suffer if he does nothing? Would your answer change if the behavior in the back was different (e.g., the boss was having sex with his mistress?) Would the PIC have some liability if the drunk passengers later on were driving to their hotel and struck another car killing the passengers of that other car? How far does this chain of culpability go?

It would be interesting to know the FAA position on this, whether the company has considered these types of possibilities and have a policy to deal with it, and what the courts have said about it. Tort law is full of hypotheticals and real cases of the bar tender being held liable if he did not stop a patron from drinking more and/or getting into his car while obviously drunk. It would be a slippery slope indeed if the PIC is held liable for events far down the chain.
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Old 08-10-2008, 10:39 AM   #2  
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"Does the PIC, assuming he becomes aware of the situation, have a legal obligation to investigate and stop the illegal activity?"

I think not, unless the PIC feels the safety of flight is compromised. You could make the argument that a bunch of drunks in the back is unsafe, I guess. But pilots aren't LEO's. I'd report it, but I don't see the legal obligation to stop it.
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Old 08-10-2008, 12:49 PM   #3  
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I'm not a Fed or a lawyer; nor do I play either on TV. I read a LOT of Federal Regulations as part of my political science program, so here's my best shot at it, plus the various conversations, ground instruction, and so forth that I've had.

Quote:
How far does this chain of culpability go?
I would presume it starts after passengers are onboard and ends after they are off the airplane. From boarding to deplaning - while the aircraft is being operated.

A selection of pertinent Federal Regulations:

14 CFR 91.3 states that the pilot-in-command is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of an aircraft. Command means just that: you are it, from the student on a solo to the Captain of an Airbus 380-800. The legal authority and responsibility are the same.

(The regulations really illustrate that some smart lawyers work(ed) at the FAA. The above regulation is sufficiently vague such that, in most circumstances, if you have to exercise your authority you are legal to do so. It also means that the FAA can call you on the carpet to 'splain yourself. The vague nature of the regulation is there to give both you and the Feds considerable latitude.)

Carriage of marijuana, depressant, stimulant, or other narcotic drugs, aboard an aircraft, is prohibited (91.19).

Carriage of "a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence" is prohibited. (91.13) The way I understand it, the pilot-in-command shall refuse to carry such individuals. It doesn't matter who owns or pays for the aircraft.

Passengers getting intoxicated on board the aircraft is not specifically mentioned in Part 91, although I would imagine 91.11 - Prohibition on interference with crewmembers might come into play, and the above part about not carrying drunk people applies. Part 121 and 135 air carriers must stop serving passengers who appear to be intoxicated or otherwise demonstrate that they are intoxicated.
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Old 08-10-2008, 05:56 PM   #4  
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In general the PIC has an obligation to enforce some safety regs, but not others.

For example, pax are required to wear their seatbelt at certain times, and the PIC is required to inform them of this...but he is not required to FORCE them to comply, or to terminate the flight if they fail to do so.

The PIC can also get in special trouble if the airplane is used to do certain things which are specifically addressed in aviation regs, like drug transport. He can lose his licenses even if criminal charges are not brought to bear (admin law).

For other non-safety and non-aviation related illegal activity, the PIC has the same obligation as any other citizen confronted with illegal activity...he could be an accessory, especially if transportation across state lines is involved.

In the event of a post-flight DUI incident...an airline CA might be held responsible (or at least sued) because he is in charge of the bar, so to speak. It would be hard to prove, because the CA's duties do not involve supervision of alcohol distribution, and his flight duties actually preclude him from doing any such supervision (he cannot hang out in the cabin post 9/11)Actually there has been at least one such case, but I recall the airline, not the pilots getting sued.

A corporate pilot could probably not get sued successfully unless he personally served the booze. Normally a flight attendant does that, and the pilot and FA both work for the owner...if the owner says "give me another beer" to the FA, the pilot is pretty much out of that loop.
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Old 08-24-2008, 08:15 PM   #5  
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I wouldn't put up with child molesters or prohibited drugs that I could see going on from my vantage point of looking over my shoulder from up front.

However, flying owners that are big drinkers, flying their mistresses or picking up hookers. Those situations don't seem like too big a deal. The line will have to be drawn somewhere. Its not just black and white in the real world.
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Old 08-24-2008, 08:27 PM   #6  
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Under which part does the FAA prohibit pilots from picking up hookers and flying mistresses? That one is black and white - go for it!
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Old 08-24-2008, 08:29 PM   #7  
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Originally Posted by cl601pilot View Post
I wouldn't put up with child molesters or prohibited drugs that I could see going on from my vantage point of looking over my shoulder from up front.

However, flying owners that are big drinkers, flying their mistresses or picking up hookers. Those situations don't seem like too big a deal. The line will have to be drawn somewhere. Its not just black and white in the real world.
Exactly - and isn't that line drawn pretty easily in your post above. The first two are ILLEGAL and the last three might be MORALLY in question but not against the law.

Someone mentioned earlier the question about liability if the big drinker was hitting the sauce hard and then got behind the wheel of a car and was involved in an accident. If someone is throwing a party or a bartender can be held responsible - I'm not sure I understand how the PIC (who is responsible for everything that happens on his airplane) or the company is not held liable also.

It seems that the simplest (and maybe most conservative answer) is that illegal activities are not allowed on the aircraft. Again - if a company is willing to let illegal activites occur on their aircraft then maybe it isn't a company that I should be working for.

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Old 08-24-2008, 09:40 PM   #8  
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The concept that a bartender can be held responsible further down the chain of events comes from tort law. A victim filed suit against the drunk driver and in civil procedure, law students learn "to sue everybody." A lot has to do with the legal concept of "proximate cause."

The PIC's job is the control and safety of the aircraft. Is it also his job to draw the line as to which activity or behavior is illegal and which is immoral? The legal one is easier to analyze, but whose morals are we talking about? This issue becomes increasingly murky if the PIC flies the private jet of the Big Wig who is in the back fooling around with his mistress. Is it his job to get out of his seat and investigate who the boss is rolling around with back there? Does he send the other pilot? Ring up the stewardess and ask her to check? What if he finds out that BW is doing both illegal and immoral acts? What if the act is neither illegal or immoral, but the PIC finds it personally offensive?
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Old 08-24-2008, 11:38 PM   #9  
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Quote:
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The concept that a bartender can be held responsible further down the chain of events comes from tort law. A victim filed suit against the drunk driver and in civil procedure, law students learn "to sue everybody." A lot has to do with the legal concept of "proximate cause."

The PIC's job is the control and safety of the aircraft. Is it also his job to draw the line as to which activity or behavior is illegal and which is immoral? The legal one is easier to analyze, but whose morals are we talking about? This issue becomes increasingly murky if the PIC flies the private jet of the Big Wig who is in the back fooling around with his mistress. Is it his job to get out of his seat and investigate who the boss is rolling around with back there? Does he send the other pilot? Ring up the stewardess and ask her to check? What if he finds out that BW is doing both illegal and immoral acts? What if the act is neither illegal or immoral, but the PIC finds it personally offensive?
Again - this part seems pretty easy. If it is against the law (eg doing cocaine) then he has to stop it or report it appropriately; if the married BW is fooling around with the FA then the PIC might not approve but he isn't doing anything against the law - so the privacy issue win out.

Now Vagabond - if you start saying stuff like tort Law - I'm going to start talking in aviation terms again! So....in plain english terms - what are you saying is the difference again between the PIC on the airplane (or the company) and the bartender or host of a party?

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Old 08-25-2008, 09:31 AM   #10  
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The big difference is that the bartender/party-thrower is the host. He can also reasonably assume that his revelers drove to the party.

A corporate pilot is not the host, he is the driver...effectively, he just works there. A corporate pilot can reasonably assume that his passengers will be picked up by a hired car as opposed to driving themselves (unless he made the arrangements!). The big-wig who owns the airplane is the host...effectively he is drinking in his own abode. You can't really hold the housekeeper responsible if the homeowner drinks and then drives.

The PIC is clearly responsible under FAR's for flight-safety issues on his aircraft, but he is not automatically responsible for illegal acts which occur after the flight ends.

An airline CA would be more at risk I think, since he (representing his airline) is the host, not a mere employee.

Of course this is all just speculation until it's put to the acid test...
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