A Pilot’s Right: A Phoenix Aviation Lawyer Discusses Your Authority to Declare an Emergency, and the Aftermath of Emergency-Related Deviations

Following the recent tragic crash of a Socata TBM 900 that killed prominent Rochester, NY couple Larry and Jane Glazer, our Arizona avian accident attorneys at Curry, Pearson & Wooten want to take the time to reach out to Arizona pilots regarding the declaration of emergencies.

Larry Glazer, a seasoned pilot with over 5000 hours of flight time in the TBM, was the chairman of the TBM Owners and Pilot Association (TBMOPA), and the owner of the first newly updated TBM 900. This man was no stranger to the flight deck of this aircraft or flying in general, which is why many are surprised to learn that Mr. Glazer never declared an emergency or deviated from ATC instructions in order to address the pressurization issues he was facing.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem that plagues many pilots. Whether it is the fear of administrative or enforcement action, an investigation, or simply overconfidence in the aircraft or pilot’s ability to “pull it together,” most pilots would rather give their left arm before declaring an emergency and deviating from control. This has unfortunately led to many pilots, like Glazer, facing a potentially dangerous situation without the many resources that could be made available to them.

Setting the Record Straight: What Will Happen After You Declare an Emergency in Flight 

While it is true that the FAA will likely investigate your declared emergency, the likelihood of it going beyond a quick chat with an investigator is extremely low.

There is one very important FAR for you to keep in mind when it comes to declaring an emergency: FAR 91.3. It states in no uncertain terms that in “…an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule…to the extent required to meet that emergency.” At worst, you may be asked to submit a report to the FAA following such a deviation, but even “the Feds” make it clear: do what you need to do in an emergency.

On the other side of the mic, controllers are trained to give pilots in distress priority, and any situations deemed uncertain—where the pilot has not declared an emergency but the controller feels the situation may warrant it—the controllers are trained to handle you as such.

Whether you as the pilot or your controller declared the emergency, the FSDO is going to hear about it, and shortly after, you will hear from an inspector to follow up on the incident. A brief report will be written and sent to your file, but generally speaking, that will be the last you will hear of it.

Flying Safely Without Fear of Retribution

The FAA encourages the declaration of emergencies where the situation warrants, and will typically applaud a sound decision to do so. If you were forced to deviate from ATC clearance in order to handle an emergency and are facing more than a simple meeting with investigators, Curry, Pearson & Wooten’s experienced aviation attorneys can help you ensure that your certificate and record are safe from enforcement—call us at 602-258-1000 to discuss your case today.