Careless or Reckless Operation

It’s hard to imagine that with all the regulations that have been on the books for so many years that the FAA missed covering any part of a pilot’s behavior in operating an aircraft safely.

The FAA has been quite thorough. But, still, they could not cover every circumstance. That is the reason for the FAA’s regulation that prohibits, generally, a pilot from operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another, whether on the ground or in the air. In the regulations, 14 CFR 91.13 is a catchall provision that can serve as a basis for an FAA enforcement action, independent of any specific regulation.

So, what could possibly be an example of a pilot’s operation of an aircraft that is not already covered in the regulations, at least in some measure? Let’s examine a gear-up landing. There is nothing in the regulations that requires an aircraft to be landed with the gear down, and there is nothing in the regulations that prohibits the aircraft from being landed with the gear up. But, the FAA and the NTSB have pointed to the inherent danger in failing to lower the gear as supporting a regulatory violation and warranting a suspension of a pilot’s certificate: “Landing an aircraft with the landing gear retracted clearly creates the potential for injury, death or significant property damage, not only to the aircraft and those aboard it, but to those persons or property that are, or reasonably could have been, in the vicinity of the runway.” The presence of actual danger is not required to be shown, but rather the potential for danger is enough to satisfy the FAA’s burden of proving a violation. Of course, a mechanical malfunction or an emergency situation that results in a gear-up landing can be a valid defense to any FAA charge of carelessness or recklessness. But, neglecting to extend the gear because of inattention or distraction can subject you to FAA charges of a regulatory violation.

While there are a few of these cases on the books, our experience has shown that the FAA does not usually choose to take enforcement action in these situations, choosing instead to handle the matter administratively with a reexamination request or remedial training in order to be sure the pilot has the proper procedures in place to prevent a recurrence. Presumably, the FAA also recognizes that the agony a pilot goes through in the aftermath of a gear-up landing is also enough to prevent a recurrence.

FAA expects pilots to exercise appropriate judgment and skill in the operation of their aircraft apart from any specific regulatory requirement. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind our regulatory obligation to guard against careless or reckless conduct.

Kathy Yodice

Kathy Yodice

Ms. Yodice is an instrument rated private pilot and experienced aviation attorney who is licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She is active in several local and national aviation associations, and co-owns a Piper Cherokee and flies the family Piper J-3 Cub.

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