Like a bad penny that keeps returning again and again, this subject seems to keep resurfacing! What brought it up this time – specifically – was the B-17, however it applies equally well to the PBY, B-25, DC-3/C-47 or a plethora of other multi-engine aircraft as well. We've addressed this matter several times before in various publications and training sessions, but seemingly without closure. Or, always being aware of a niggling disbelief, a feeling of "But it just CAN'T apply to us, we've ALWAYS done it the old way!”
Several other airline pilots that possess some “personal experience” with this subject could probably tell you more about this, I’d guess. I first became aware of it back when we began needing a verbal OK from the lead flight attendant; she/he would advise us when all the passengers were seated so we could begin the pushback. Even sitting in the front office of a 747, one story above the main passenger cabin and “out of the loop”, I’ve been decidedly aware of this uncomfortable fact. Absolutely no movement is permitted until every passenger is seated. I’m sure that everyone reading this has experienced a PA announcement to this effect when in the passenger cabin of an airliner waiting to depart. This became somewhat of a “cause celebre” when an unnamed airline (famous for their short turn-around times) became legally ensnared in this problem. I can distinctly remember another airline being assessed a big buck fine over a pushback started with a few passengers still standing in the aisle.
The regulations don’t seem to make a lot of bones about it, they place the responsibility (what’s new?) squarely on the shoulders of the pilot-in-command. “Brief them how, tell them where and see that they do.” When you accept the PIC position, then you accept the responsibility that comes along with it! Even if you’d like to be the good guy, it all falls back on you! In other words, the PIC can have his/her certificate jerked if things should go awry! And the only aeronautical contraption I’ve ever succeeded in getting to move backwards is a simulator. I.e., you can’t go back and make things different after the accident! Whether you might “need your airman’s certificate to put bread on your family’s table" seems to be a vital concern commonly expressed by the many people I’ve talked to about this. I’ve seen an ad for cable TV that seems to be repeated – month after month – on our cable network. In the words of the actress on it, “You might just want to think about it!”
Also, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I’d get too complacent about this if I were the co-pilot. I don’t have the slightest doubt that the FAA will take the stance in court (as they increasingly have) and say “Hey, what was the SIC doing and saying while all this was happening?” Again, you might just want to give this matter some thought.
Another thing here that bothers – or occurs to – me is the strong likelihood that the organization under whose auspices you’re operating the airplane also could be left legally holding the bag for the violation and/or unnecessary injury.
We probably need to discuss “policy” v/s “regulation”. Some organizations have a policy to not allow anyone to occupy the nose compartment of the B-17 during takeoffs or landings. The theory here (and I am convinced of its validity) is that we, as the pilots, couldn’t get someone out of there if we belly-landed and the airplane caught on fire or something. Written for our own operation, after much thought and experience. And, by the way, one apparently complied with by our crews. But policies, like checklists, can be changed. They’re published by the organization because of a specific need or desire. A regulation, on the other hand, is just that. It's published by the FAA and is about as plain as the nose on your face, seems to me! No one outside of Washington (or even there) can just say, “it isn’t so”. The record of fighting a FAR in the courtroom has a rather bleak box score.
On this same thought, some might say that they’ve written their ops manual to use an unbelted third crewmember (flight engineer) to watch over the throttles, propellers, etc., during the takeoff or landing. Just like they did in WW II. The last time I looked, the B-17 is certificated as a two-pilot airplane and I’m stymied in finding any sort of a way to get around the applicable FAR. This in spite of an expressed need or desire for a flight engineer. And, yes, I’ve heard all that talk about “I’ll hold on tight if something happens!” Unh-huh, you bet! The experts in this type of high “G” decelerating process tell me that this will ultimately prove to be a futile hope, given the multiplicity of vectors and forces involved in an accident of this type.
Some of our pilots have opined that ”when I’m the pilot they can stand up or set down, whatever they want”. Well, again, in spite of the natural desire to be a “good guy”, no one that I'm acquainted with or aware of can "void" a FAR by simply saying, "it doesn't apply to us", whether it’s said to a passenger or a crewmember.
Let’s talk a little bit here about that old saying, “rotsa ruck, G.I.” That expression was fairly common back in the post WW II – Korean fracas days; I really don’t know what the current saying is. Anyhow, if you ever happen to have an accident I think you could talk for ten years afterwards and never satisfactorily explain to the widow just what you felt was so overridingly important when you told her husband he didn’t have to use the seat belt. I’ve dealt with notifying widows before, and it ain’t pretty, chum! In the litigious society we’ve become this is what’d happen if someone was injured due to this type of thing. Or, imagine yourself explaining (actually – attempting to!) to the management of your particular organization why it was so all-fired important that someone‘s ego had to be assuaged by standing up during a takeoff or landing. Or why you chose to put the organization in this legal position by knowingly not complying with a regulation. The unsecured crewmember that chooses to not comply needs to realize that, besides risking himself, he’s also placing the PIC’s certificate at risk if something happens. I, for one, wouldn’t want to “bet on the come” with survivors or widows, I’ve “been there and done that”, thanks!
Finally, this regulation wasn't dreamed up by anyone around here to make your life harder. Easy to understand a natural desire to “shoot the messenger”, but in truth, if you want to argue about it – you need to take it up with the FAA administrator! FAR 91.107 (a) (1) (2) (3) reads as follows (I’ve deleted the extraneous information and placed it in italics below for convenience):
91.107 Use of safety belts, shoulder harnesses, and child restraint systems.
(a) Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator -
(1) No pilot may takeoff a U.S.-registered civil aircraft unless the pilot in command of that
aircraft ensures that each person on board is briefed on how to fasten and unfasten that person's safety belt.
(2) No pilot may cause to be moved on the surface, takeoff, or land a U.S.-registered civil aircraft unless the pilot in command of that aircraft ensures that each person on board has been notified to fasten his or her safety belt.
(3) Except as provided in this paragraph, each person on board a U.S.-registered civil aircraft must occupy an approved seat or berth with a safety belt properly secured about him or her during movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing. Paragraph (a)(3) of this section does not apply to persons subject to 91.105.
Now, the last sentence above references FAR 91.105, which addresses itself to “Flight crewmembers at stations”. Briefly, it says that required crewmembers must be at their station at all times. Again, the B-17 was certificated as a two person aircraft if I read it correctly. So again, I cannot find a place – anywhere – that permits a deviation from this FAR.
R. Sohn © 1999
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