Aviation: Legal v Safe

Those of us on the line side of flying or maintenance always here the following words from crew scheduling, maintenance control and our chief pilots. “It’s Legal” my response has always been but is it “safe”.

Let’s take a look a the formal definitions of the terms courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Legal: of or relating to law a: deriving authority from b: having a formal status derived from law often without a basis in actual fact c: established by law3: conforming to or permitted by law or established rules 4: recognized or made effective by a court of law as distinguished from a court of equity 5: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the profession of law or of one of its members 6: created by the constructions of the law.

Safe: free from harm or risk: 2 a: secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss b: successful at getting to a base in baseball without being put out 3: affording safety or security from danger, risk, or difficulty 4 obsolete of mental or moral faculties: healtly, sound 5a: not threatening danger: harmless b: unlikely to produce controversy or contradiction 6 a: not likely to take risks: cautious b : trustworthy, reliable.

I don’t know about you but I certainly would want to fly in an aircraft and with a pilot that is safe.

Let’s discuss a common example of legal v Safe. Please feel free to share your own.

A reserves pilot wakes up at 7 am local time in NY even though his call window does not start till 8pm that night. At 1145 pm crew scheduling call and assigns him a trip (2man) to Europe at 2am. The flight will land in Europe at 11am NY time. The reserve pilot will be up 26 hours at the time of his landing in Europe. Is this legal? believe it or not yes however we all know this is not safe. Management will say that they would never ask this pilot to fly however how many times do you think a pilot can say he is too tired to fly before he is ask to go for one of those witch hunt physicals called fitness to fly. Of course this pilot will not be paid for the trip.

Flight operations Management must remember actions speak louder than words

Legal is not the  minimum standard to use to when running a Safe flight operation.


Ivan Klugman    www.inavsol.com

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6 thoughts on “Aviation: Legal v Safe

  1. Stewart T Sandro

    In the above example it would have been the pilot’s responsibility to be ready and rested for duty for his 8pm call window. With my company, a reserve would be on a call window of say 3am to 6pm and would go to bed early the night before so as to be ready for his call window. Let’s say he got up a 6am and scheduling calls at 7am and releases him for 12 rest hours so as to operate flights all night starting at 7PM. He has just got up thinking he was flying during the day and now he is expected to go back to sleep and be ready to fly all night. Of course he can’t because he just slept 8 hours. That is not safe and it happens all the time.

  2. Fulvio Delicato

    Ivan,
    No discussion: leagl is not the minimum! Safety should always come first! There is plenty of examples all over the world for people trying to use legal as the basis and where it became clear that safety was strongly affected. Since first flight we have been teached by real examples that safety matters first always. The consequences of not following this rule can be widely found in any aircraft accident database.
    Regards,
    Fulvio.

  3. Ivan Klugman

    Stewart,
    I’m worried you may be crossing towards the dark side (management). LOL
    Saying that it is the pilot’s responsibility is fine in a perfect world. Most reserves however as you mentioned are on always changing call windows and rolling days off. It’s hard to get adequate rest when your at home and everybody else is up. The solution is easy on all trans Atlantic crossings there should be an IRO on-board to provide rest and a third set of eyes. Backside of the clock flying is hazardous and extreme measures(that’s sending money to airline management) need to be used to enhance safety.
    Thanks for your input!!!

  4. Stewart T Sandro

    Ivan,
    Believe me, I understand both sides as a Wing Safety Officer in the Air Force and as a line pilot for a major airline. BTW, of the 22 years I spent with the airline, 16 were on reserve so I too have seen the changing of windows and rolling days. I will very curious as to what the FAA comes up with when they finish their latest review of the these regulations. I’ve done more back-of-the-clock flying than my friends at FedEx or UPS. On a 3-4 day pairing going from a “night” schedule to a “day” schedule with 12 hours off is dangerous…..but also legal. The final blame will always be on the pilot. It is a credit to the thousands of men and women that fly everyday that we don’t have more accidents.

  5. Michael Roth

    Nice summary of the issues. Many times in the business world we are pressured to meet unattainable deadlines – when this type of management style is applied to aviation, nothing good can result.

    I’m not employed as a pilot, but use my aircraft to further my business. I have to always honestly evaluate whether or not my condition (and the airplane’s) is good enough to make the flight safely. I’m always comparing what’s legal to what (in my estimation) is safe for me to do.

    This is fine line that all of us who are involved in aviation must walk and walk fairly well if we are going to be a safer industry from GA to Part 121.

  6. Kris Marett

    Just a view from the other side (although hopefully not the dark side! lol)

    Back in my ‘crew scheduling’ days I was faced with examples like this on numerous occasions. The problem is as you say that legal does not always equal safe. In my role at the time I could only ask the crew to carry out duties that were in accordance with the company operations manuals as approved by regulations. It was the crew members responsibility to inform me if they felt it was unsafe to accept those duties. If someone said they were fatigued I never argued or criticised. However if there is a particular re-occuring problem with fatigue then it is within the management right to investigate – although that should not consititute a witch hunt or foucs around an indidivual.

    The problem is the law is not able to always provide the safe answer. In the case of scheduling that is why more and more is being made of fatigue risk management systems – to recognise that fatigue is not as simple as meeting a rigid set of guidleines covering maximum hours and minimum rests. It is a much more complex issue.

    Because of this the repsonsibility for ensuring safety falls to a person rather than a document.

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