A pilot is a person who is licensed to operate an aircraft in flight. Courts have defined the term pilot as one who flies, or is qualified to fly a balloon, airship, or airplane[i]. Pursuant to 49 USCS § 42112 (a) (2), ‘pilot’ means an employee who is:
- responsible for manipulating or who manipulates the flight controls of an aircraft when under way, including the landing and takeoff of an aircraft; and
- qualified to serve as, and has in effect an airman certificate authorizing the employee to serve as a pilot.
A copilot is a relief or second pilot on an aircraft. Pursuant to 49 USCS § 42112 (a) (1), ‘copilot’ means an employee whose duties include assisting or relieving the pilot in manipulating an aircraft and who is qualified to serve as, and has in effect an airman certificate authorizing the employee to serve as, a copilot.
In Webb v. United States, 840 F. Supp. 1484 (D. Utah 1994), the court held that “the pilot of the aircraft is directly and ultimately responsible for the operation of his aircraft. Pilots are charged with that which they should have known in the exercise of the highest degree of care.”
A pilot has a duty to avoid adverse weather conditions. Regardless of the information, or lack of information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel, the pilot has a continuing duty to be vigilant and aware of danger that s/he can perceive with his/her own eyes. As a result, a pilot cannot ignore the weather information that is given to him/her or disregard the weather conditions which the pilot sees around him/her[ii].
However, the Federal Aviation Regulations in 14 C.F.R. § 121.627 prohibit a pilot-in-command from allowing a flight to continue towards any airport to which it has been dispatched if, in the opinion of the pilot-in-command, the flight cannot be completed safely unless in the opinion of the pilot-in-command there is no safer procedure[iii].
Further, airman is a term used to refer to any person enlisted in the U.S. air force or other ranks in the royal air force who operates an aircraft. Pursuant to 49 USCS § 40102 (a) (8) “airman” means:
- an individual in command, or as pilot, mechanic, or member of the crew, who navigates aircraft when under way;
- an individual except to the extent the administrator of FAA may provide otherwise for individuals employed outside the U.S., who is directly in charge of inspecting, maintaining, overhauling, or repairing aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, or appliances; or
- an individual who serves as an aircraft dispatcher or air traffic control-tower operator.
In the field of aviation, the term crew also has great significance. The term ‘crew’ means the air crew, assisting in operation of a craft while in the air, or a landing or ground crew, assisting in the handling of the plane on the ground[iv]. In addition, FAA regulations define “crew member” as any person assigned to duty in an aircraft during flight time[v]. In Barrie v. FAA, 16 Fed. Appx. 930 (10th Cir. 2001), the court observed that “the Code of Federal Regulations defines the phrase “flightcrew member” as a pilot, flight engineer, or flight navigator assigned to duty in an aircraft during flight time.” The flight crew members generally have a continuing duty to be aware of dangers which they can perceive with their own eyes.
Pursuant to 49 USCS § 44713, the administrator of the FAA shall employ inspectors to inspect aircrafts for safety purposes and to advise and cooperate with air carriers during the inspections. The statute affords aircraft operators no procedural protections or substantive rights[vi].
[i] Scarboro v. Pilot Life Ins. Co., 242 N.C. 444 (N.C. 1955).
[ii] Associated Aviation Underwriters v. United States, 462 F. Supp. 674 (N.D. Tex. 1978).
[iii] Air Crash Disaster, 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17133 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 9, 1980).
[iv] Preferred Acc. Ins. Co. v. Rhodenbaugh, 160 F.2d 832 (6th Cir. Ohio 1947).
[v] Perkins v. United States Aviation Underwriters Inc., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15947 (D. Me. 2005).
[vi] Barrie v. FAA, 16 Fed. Appx. 930 (10th Cir. 2001).