To Report, or not Report

At some point in your flying career, this thought will go through your mind:  "Whew, that was close. Boy, I really dread having to call the FAA about that."  But is a call to the FAA necessary?  Is a call to anyone necessary?

Consider the following four situations, all real-life, which occurred to flying friends in the recent past.  Decide which warrants a phone call or letter to the FAA, a call or letter to the NTSB, both, or neither.

Situation 1 - A Beech Bonanza, daytime flight in VMC, private pilot using flight following with Chicago Center.  The engine starts to run very rough, and no jockeying with the controls, buttons, or switches has any affect.  The pilot informs Center of the situation and asks for assistance in identifying some appropriate airports.  Chicago Center points out two or three options, the pilot elects to land at Galesburg, and Chicago Center gives the pilot a vector.  The engine continues to run until landing.  Upon landing the pilot discovers that one cylinder is partially removed from the block.  Cost of repair – greater than $10,000.  No injuries.

Situation 2 -  Cessna 182 -  a less-than successful landing approach leads to a porpoise and a nose-wheel-first  landing.  The nose wheel leaves the aircraft, the prop strikes the runway and the engine comes to an immediate halt.  The aircraft falls onto the front fork, leading to a horizontal crease in the firewall and damage to the longerons.  The insurance company elects to call the aircraft financially unrepairable, and declares it a total loss.  No injuries.

Situation 3 -  Cessna 152. Late at night, VFR, returning home from a cross-country.  Stretching the fuel tanks a bit.  On final approach to an untowered airport, the engine stops running and the pilot lands in a field short of the runway.  No damage, no injuries.

Situation 4 -  Another Bonanza.  Total electrical failure in the clouds, on an IFR flight plan.  Just before the radios all go silent, the pilot informs Approach Control that it looks like he is having electrical problems, and he accepts a vector for a localizer approach.  End result, the pilot eventually begins a slow letdown in the clouds, and breaks out of the clouds at 1,000 feet agl.  With a towered airport a mile ahead, the pilot elects to land on the nearest runway.  No damage to the airplane, no injuries.

So, what do you think?  Do we need to make some phone calls and maybe write some reports?

Before we do so, let's look at the regs. There are three that may have some bearing on one or more of these situations.  First, FAR Part 91.3 (b) and (c).

 "In an inflight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency;"  and  "Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send written report of that deviation to the Administrator."

And then, FAR 91.123 (c) and (d)

"Each pilot in command who, in an emergency . . .  deviates from an ATC clearance or instruction shall notify ATC of that deviation as soon as possible" and " Each pilot in command who (though not deviating from a rule of this subpart) is given priority by ATC in an emergency, shall submit a detailed report of that emergency within 48 hours to the manager of that ATC facility, if requested by ATC"

And finally, there is the NTSB.  For this we look at 49 CFR Part 830 Subpart B – Initial Notification of Aircraft Accidents, Incidents, and Overdue Aircraft – 830-5.  This paragraph is a bit longer, so I will only quote the parts that might be applicable for small aircraft

The operator of any civil aircraft  . .   . shall immediately . . . notify the nearest National Transportation Safety Board field office when an aircraft accident or any of the following listed incidents occur.

  • Flight control system malfunction or failure.
  • In-flight fire
  • Aircraft collide in flight
  • Damage to property other than the aircraft estimated to exceed $25,000 for repair (including materials and labor) or fair market value in the event of total loss, whichever is less.

And the definition of "aircraft accident" comes from paragraph 830.2 of the same Part.

"means an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight . . . and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage."

So we need one more definition before we can make a determination.  What is "substantial damage?'  From the same paragraph, substantial damage is defined as (this one is fairly long)

Damage or failure which adversely affects the structural strength, performance or flight characteristics  . . . Engine failure or damage limited to an engine if only one engine fails or is damaged, bent fairings or cowling, dented skin, small puncture holes in the skin or fabric . . . damage to landing gear, wheels, tires, flaps, engine accessories, brakes or wing tips are not considered "substantial damage" for the purpose of this part." (and, though not germane to this discussion, "serious injury" is also defined)

So, what do you think?  Reports due?  Let's look at situation 1.

The pilot did not deviate from any clearance.  Whether or not he asked for priority handling is not clear.  Under FAR 91.3, no report is required.  Under 91.123, a report may be required if 1. the pilot was given priority handling and if the ATC manager (in this case Chicago Center) asked for a report.  It is very unusual for an ATC manager to ask for a detailed report.  So, an FAA report is probably not required.  And an NTSB report is not required as there was no "substantial damage" nor any of the other reportable incidents.

Situation 2.  Definitely no FAA report required.  The pilot made no deviations and did not request any priority handling.  NTSB? Landing gear damage is specifically excluded from reporting.  And there was no damage to any property other than the aircraft.  No reports required.

Situation 3 – A forced landing in a field.  Surely there is something to report here.  Again, there was no request for special handling, and there was no deviation from any clearance.  And, no damage to third parties, no fatalities, no serious injuries.  And the engine failure is specifically excluded from  reporting.

So, that brings us to situation 4. – An airplane flying around in the clouds, traveling at altitudes and on headings that are totally uncontrolled by Approach Control, and then landing at an towered airport without talking to the tower controller.  Well, there is nothing in the NTSB requirements, and there is nothing in 91.123 that would warrant a report.  But there are certainly a lot of flags in FAR part 91.3 to warrant some reports.  Except, for that phrase, upon the request. If no one requests a report, a report is not required.

My personal recommendations.  In situation Nr 1, nothing is required (unless requested).  I would give all of the controllers, as I switched off of their frequencies, a big 'THANKS GUYS!"

In situation nr 2, a call to the insurance agent is all that is required.  And the aftermath of that discussion will most likely indicate that some time with a CFI in the landing pattern is in order.

Situation nr. 3 will lead to the same result.  If the airplane is checked over by a licensed mechanic and found fit to fly, no other call are necessary.  If it is declared unfit to fly, there will be another expensive call the insurance agent.  And again, some time with a CFI discussing flight planning might be in order.

And finally, situation 4.  Because there was no way to notify ATC of the ongoing deviations, a phone call to Approach Control and to the Control Tower after the event might be a good idea.  I suggest that you ask if they want a written report, but it is unlikely that they will.  (In this particular case, Approach Control was able to read a 7600 transponder squawk all the way to touchdown.  However, I would not count on that.)

So, report or not?  My recommendation – If you have asked ATC for a priority, or if you have deviated from a clearance, they already know it.  Explain why when you get the chance, either by radio or by phone.  You will almost certainly hear, "Thanks for the info.  We don't need anything else."

In the case where no one knows what you did – My recommendation – Don't make phone calls that you don' t need to make.

Fly Safe



Comments, questions, or just want to chat about anything aviation?  Drop me a note or call: 816-763-5205

updated August, 2020