Empire Aviation - Learn To Fly
Instructors Corner

articles and news from empire aviation’s flight instructors

Flight School

obtain a pilot’s license, advance rating or take a discovery flight


Cessna 152, Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee

Solos & Checkrides

students from empire aviation’s flight school

Henderson-Oxford Airport

KHNZ in Oxford, NC is the ideal setting for flying lessons

Print This Page
Home » John E. McLain

Pilot and Instructor Responsibility: Always be sure to ask for the FDC NOTAMs

By John E. McLain (November 2001)

The events of Sept. 11 were not only tragic, but they put a tremendous burden on the entire general aviation community. Severe restrictions on flight activities and some poor and inaccurate press about the flight training received by the alleged hijackers were the two most obvious. There were others and we can, unfortunately, expect to see more government actions that will affect aviation, especially general aviation, which will place an extremely high level of responsibility on general aviation pilots. It is this responsibility that I would like to discuss here.

An excellent place to begin is with the events following Sept. 11. Immediately after the event, unless a pilot lived in a total vacuum, he or she probably was aware that all civilian airplanes were grounded. In the following days, restrictions were gradually lifted. That is when problems began. The only official source concerning restrictions to general aviation aircraft is the Flight Data Center (FDC) NOTAMs.

I do not intend to explain the entire Notam system here, but I suggest that all pilots review section 5-1-3 of the AIM. The point I do want to emphasize is that FDC NOTAMs are regulatory in nature. The rub here is that the Flight Service Stations are not always required to give FDC NOTAMs in a briefing. A pilot should always request FDC NOTAMs in a briefing. This also applies to Duat briefings. FDC NOTAMs should be specifically requested.

Unfortunately, many information sources such as the news media, various pilot organizations and even the FAA Flight Service Stations, put out incorrect information either because they misread a NOTAM or got information from sources which were not totally accurate.

I will admit that the applicable NOTAMs were extremely confusing and difficult to understand. Nevertheless, it is the pilot’s responsibility to assure having the latest information.

Shortly after we were allowed to start training flights again, I conducted a flight test at a local airport. Several pilots were standing around, and I took the opportunity to conduct a little quiz. I asked three of them what restrictions still applied to general aviation VFR flights. None of them thought there were any restrictions. At that time there were three major restrictions, all of which still exist at the time I am writing this article. The restrictions were no VFR flights in enhanced class B airspace, no flights below 3,000 feet AGL within three miles of a professional or collegiate sporting event or any other major open air assembly, and monitor 121.5 if able. These were contained in an FDC NOTAM that included many other flight precautions and warnings. One of the pilots I talked to was a CFI, planning to fly with a student that day. The airplane he was to use was equipped with dual communication radios. He freely admitted that he would not have monitored 121.5,and graciously thanked me for bringing this to his attention.

There are many lessons to be learned from this, but to me the most important was that many pilots, flight instructors, flight school operators and fixed base operators were derelict in recognizing their responsibilities to the aviation community.

The flip side of this situation was another local airport where responsibilities were recognized. Responsible individuals there had actually posted the entire NOTAM, with the significant sections highlighted. They then required all renters, students and instructors to read it before flying one of their airplanes. Here was a situation where responsibilities were recognized and acted upon. Fortunately, many other airports followed a similar routine. Unfortunately, I am aware of three instances where pilots received violations for ignoring the restrictions in the NOTAM. I hope none of them did it deliberately, but simply out of ignorance. Nevertheless, these pilots shirked their responsibilities. One of them was a student, and to me his instructor should share in his blame.

In my opinion, much of the lack of responsibility among pilots starts with their initial training. Too many instructors allow their students to become totally dependent on the instructor. By placing responsibilities on the student early, a good instructor begins the development of responsible actions. Let me give you a few examples.

How many student pilots are introduced to FAR 91.3 (Preflight Action) early in their flying careers? Every new student pilot should be required to read and understand this regulation early in training. The instructor should emphasize that every pilot, including students, is responsible for compliance with this as well as other regulations. The instructor should then tell the student how to comply with this regulation to the extent that, for each instructional and/or solo flight, the student can, without the aid of the instructor, assure that the requirements of the regulation have been met. The advantages of such actions are obvious. The student is quickly introduced to such important subjects as aircraft performance, weight and balance, and weather factors. Most important is the fact that student and instructor are jointly responsible for the safety of the flight.

As the time for solo approaches, the instructor should require the student to review all the requirements for solo flight in FAR 61. The student should not be led to believe that the instructor will assure that all such requirements have been met. It is a joint responsibility and the student should understand this. It should be made clear that if a student flies solo when not meeting the requirements for solo flight, FAA enforcement action could result in a fine and/or suspension or revocation of the student’s license. Of course, if this were to happen, the instructor would be in a similarly uncomfortable position with the FAA. The same type of situation occurs when it comes to solo cross-country flights. The student must be made aware of the responsibility to meet all the regulatory requirements.

These are just a few examples of how students should be told of their responsibilities and learn to carry this habit into future flying activities. Now let’s look at some examples of how rated pilots can learn to accept their responsibilities as pilots.

First of all, I would like all of you pilots out there to do a little soul searching. If you flew after September 11, 2001 were you aware of all the restrictions imposed on VFR flights? Specifically, do you know what “Enhanced Class B Airspace” is? Do you know the distance and altitude you must maintain from an outdoor collegiate or professional athletic event? Do you know you will, if capable, maintain a listening watch on 121.5?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you have neglected your responsibilities as a pilot. Also, if you read the NOTAM carefully, you may notice that, in the future, Restricted Areas may be designated around such things as nuclear power plants, water plants, etc. It will take a while for these to show up on your charts and, if they are temporary, they may never show up on charts. It goes without saying that you will be responsible for being familiar with any such areas through NOTAMs.

A pilot’s certificate is a privilege, not a right, and with that privilege comes responsibility. The same goes for a driver’s license, but how often do you see drivers abusing the privileges? Pilots who fail to observe or even know proper traffic pattern procedures, or fail to communicate properly, or fail to complete a thorough preflight are just as bad if not worse then drivers who fail to signal turns, abuse speed limits, dart in and out of traffic, and operate unsafe cars. Both are people who are shirking their responsibilities.

Federal Aviation Regulations are, for the most part, there for safety. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if all the FARs were suspended for a week. What do you think would happen to the aviation accident rate? Rules and procedures are established for the benefit of all, not just a few. As a pilot, you must accept your responsibilities for the benefit of all pilots.

Review your regulations and the AIM periodically. If you have any questions, the FAA has established the excellent Aviation Safety Program to help you. Every FAA Flight Standards District Office is mandated to have an Aviation Safety Program manager, who then appoints counselors to help pilots understand their responsibilities. If you have any questions about rules, regulations, procedures, etc., contact your local FAA Safety Program manager, who either will help you personally or put you in touch with one of the counselors. Each ASPM also conducts safety seminars throughout the district. When one comes to your area, attend it. It is just one more way you can meet your responsibilities as a pilot.

I will leave you with one last anecdote.

Recently, I conducted an ATP flight test for a corporate pilot. In the course of the test, I determined that he was very unfamiliar with VFR flight rules. When I criticized him for this, his answer was one I have heard many times from professional pilots: “Why should I be concerned about VFR flight rules when I operate IFR all the time?” My response was to add a restriction to his temporary certificate, “Limited to IFR, VFR flights not permitted.” Of course I am not allowed to do this, but he probably did not know it. He got extremely upset when he saw this on his certificate. After I explained to him that if he had the privilege, he had the responsibility of that privilege. He got the message and said he would definitely brush up on his VFR regulations. I then issued him a normal ATP certificate. Please don’t be like that pilot. Understand and accept your responsibilities. You may never operate in or out of a runway less than 8,000 feet long, but your pilot certificate allows you to operate on much shorter runways. As a responsible pilot, you should periodically review the take off and landing distance charts for the airplane(s) you fly and make sure you can use them. If you do the little things like this, you will be a safe, responsible pilot and this will make the sky safer for other pilots.