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3 Answers

Must an emergency be declared when a required equpment fails in flight?

Asked by: 5010 views FAA Regulations

If I'm flying along under part 91 and discover that a required piece of equipment (TOMATO FLAMES) is inoperative, do I need to declare an emergency? The aircraft is no longer fit to fly under 91.205, and declaring an emergency under 91.3 is my only out, correct? I might still complete the mission, but I can't see any other way to remain legal.

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3 Answers



  1. Vance Cochrane on Sep 07, 2010

    From the AIM Chapter 6: a. An emergency can be either a distress or urgency condition as defined in the Pilot/Controller Glossary. Pilots do not hesitate to declare an emergency when they are faced with distress conditions such as fire,mechanical failure, or structural damage. However, some are reluctant to report an urgency condition when they encounter situations which may not be immediately perilous, but are potentially catastrophic. An aircraft is in at least an urgency condition the moment the pilot becomes doubtful about position, fuel endurance, weather, or any other condition that could adversely affect flight safety. This is the time to ask for help, not after the situation has developed into a distress condition. Pilots who become apprehensive for their safety for any reason should request assistance immediately. Ready and willing help is available in the form of radio, radar, direction finding stations and other aircraft. Delay has caused accidents and cost lives. Safety is not a luxury! Take action!
    So you just have to use your judgment. Is a burnt out light bulb a cause for declaring an emergency? I’ll leave that one up to you.

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  2. Matthew Hammer on Sep 16, 2010

    Unless the safety of the flight is compromised and/or you have to deviate from an ATC clearance to safely complete the flight, there is really no reason to declare an emergency. In fact, declaring an emergency is *never* required by regulation — it is entirely at the pilot’s discretion. 
    For example, say you’re flying in a local practice area. You’re 100% familiar with the area and even have your home airport in sight. All of the sudden you notice the fluid in your magnetic compass has leaked out. The compass, which is required VFR equipment under 14 CFR 91.205(b)(3), is broken. Are you going to declare an emergency? Probably not.
    Now lets break the same component under different circumstances. You’re all alone on your first solo flight. The winds weren’t what you expected, and you suspect you are quite a way off course. You go to check your magnetic compass, and sure enough, it’s broken. You also remember that you forgot to set your directional gyro properly before takeoff — and it’s probably precessed a fair bit, anyway. Finally, you know the single VOR receiver in the aircraft, the only radio navigation instrument in the plane, is inoperative. So there you are; a first time solo cross-country student, completely lost. Are you going to declare? Not necessarily, but it’s a lot more likely — and you *definitely* should ask for ATC assistance. 
    Finally, declaring an emergency also does not make an unairworthy aircraft suddenly “legal.” If the required part broke in flight, there’s nothing you can do about it — you aren’t breaking any regulations. But once you land, you wont be able to take off legally again until the required part is replaced or repaired. So assuming the part isn’t needed to get back on the ground safely, without assistance or deviation from an ATC clearance, your best bet is to fly to an airport where you can get the problem fixed.

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  3. Brian on Sep 24, 2010

    “In fact, declaring an emergency is *never* required by regulation”

    Be careful Matt. Absolutes are rarely ever absolute, especially in aviation. In this case, I reference 91.187:

    § 91.187 Operation under IFR in controlled airspace: Malfunction reports.

    (a) The pilot in command of each aircraft operated in controlled airspace under IFR shall report as soon as practical to ATC any malfunctions of navigational, approach, or communication equipment occurring in flight.

    (b) In each report required by paragraph (a) of this section, the pilot in command shall include the—

    (1) Aircraft identification;

    (2) Equipment affected;

    (3) Degree to which the capability of the pilot to operate under IFR in the ATC system is impaired; and

    (4) Nature and extent of assistance desired from ATC.

    As you can see, the regulations certainly do require declaring an emergency under certain conditions.

    ~Brian

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