Therefore, pilots should always seek specific legal advice tailored to their unique situation. Still, a few general principles can apply to most situations and help pilots be informed in preparation for an FAA inspector or air traffic personnel contact.
The following “do's” and “do nots” highlight a few different situations, aimed at general aviation pilots operating under Part 91 rules (air carriers and other commercial operators may have different obligations) to help you avoid issues that have caused trouble for other pilots in the past:
Contact the AOPA Legal Services Plan at the first hint of an issue by calling (800) 872-2672, extension 4.
Be professional and courteous when interacting with FAA personnel.
Remember your rights under the Pilot’s Bill of Rights and that you are seldom required to make any statements to an FAA inspector. Anything you say can be used against you.
ATC Advises You of a Possible Pilot Deviation and Requests a Telephone Call:
Do call the AOPA Legal Services Plan before deciding whether to call ATC on the telephone.
Do know that if you decide to call ATC, you will likely be requested to provide your name, pilot certificate number, and telephone number. This information identifies you as the PIC of the flight.
Do not provide ATC with any substantive oral statement or offer an explanation. Keep in mind that the telephone call is likely to be recorded and will be reviewed during any investigation, and that whatever you say can be used against you.
Do not feel obligated to telephone ATC, especially if you already know the nature of the possible pilot deviation.
Do not discuss the flight; you may politely inform them that you didn’t call prepared to answer questions and called to inquire about the nature of the advisory and obtain information from them.
Ramp Checks under Part 91:
See the do's and do nots in Be Prepared: Ramp Checks and What You should Know
Pilot Logbook Inspection:
As a general practice, do not record more information than what is required in your pilot logbook.
Do remember certain pilots (student, recreational, sport, and flight instructors with sport pilot ratings) are required to carry their logbooks on certain flights. 14 CFR 61.51(i)(2)-(5).
Do not ignore or refuse a request to inspect your logbook that is made to you by the FAA, an authorized representative of the NTSB, or any federal, state, or local law enforcement officer without first consulting with counsel.
Do read this series of AOPA articles on issues surrounding logbook inspections:
Do remember that while 14 CFR 61.51 requires you to present your pilot logbook for inspection upon a reasonable request, it does not require you to make any statements concerning your logbook.
Do inquire whether you can satisfy the request by providing copies of the relevant logbook pages or entries by email.
Do closely review logbook entries before providing the logbook for inspection.
Do not falsify any logbook entries.
Phone Call From the FAA Regarding a Possible Pilot Deviation:
Do not feel obligated to answer the phone if you suspect it is the FAA. While you do not want to ignore the matter, reviewing a voicemail before responding may provide you valuable time to gather information or seek advice.
Do not make any statements. You can advise the inspector that you would like to review the Pilot’s Bill of Rights before making any statements.
Do request that the inspector send you any available air traffic data (such as ATC recordings or radar data) to you for review prior to discussing the matter.
Do consider asking the inspector to send you an email following the call that lists the information that the FAA is seeking from you.
Do call the AOPA Legal Services Plan as soon as practicable after you are contacted by the FAA.
Do understand that some unintentional violations may be resolved through the FAA’s Compliance Program, but that this likely requires the airman to share information and cooperate with the FAA.
Do consider whether any proactive measures should be taken, such as:
Do read AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services quick reference guide and call AOPA’s Legal Services Plan as soon as possible.
Do remember that “accidents” and “serious incidents” are reported to the NTSB, not to the FAA.
Do determine whether your event meets the NTSB’s definition of an “accident” or “serious incident” as defined in 49 CFR Part 830 before reporting it to the NTSB. Read this article to help assess whether your event requires notification to the NTSB.
If notification is required under the NTSB’s rules, do contact the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 and remember that 49 CFR 830.6 only requires the following information be provided, if available:
(a) Type, nationality, and registration marks of the aircraft;
(b) Name of owner, and operator of the aircraft;
(c) Name of the pilot-in-command;
(d) Date and time of the accident;
(e) Last point of departure and point of intended landing of the aircraft;
(f) Position of the aircraft with reference to some easily defined geographical point;
(g) Number of persons aboard, number killed, and number seriously injured;
(h) Nature of the accident, the weather and the extent of damage to the aircraft, so far as is known; and
(i) A description of any explosives, radioactive materials, or other dangerous articles carried.
Do not make any substantive statements at the scene. If asked, consider politely explaining that now is not a good time for you, but that you can provide your contact information to follow up.
Do remember that the operator of an aircraft that is involved in a reportable accident or serious incident is responsible for preserving to the extent possible any aircraft wreckage (see 49 CFR 830.10) and that it may not be disturbed or moved except to the extent necessary:
(1) To remove persons injured or trapped;
(2) To protect the wreckage from further damage; or
(3) To protect the public from injury.
The NTSB rule also requires that “where it is necessary to move aircraft wreckage, mail or cargo, sketches, descriptive notes, and photographs shall be made, if possible, of the original positions and condition of the wreckage and any significant impact marks.”
Do work with your counsel on completing any required written reports, such as NTSB Form 6120.1 or statements requested by the FAA, your insurance company, or any other third party.
Do review your insurance policy and comply with any notification requirements concerning a potential claim.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, one of the most important pieces of advice is to remember that you don’t need to figure it out alone. AOPA members with Pilot Protection Services should call the Legal Services Plan at the first sign of an issue.