All pilots should be familiar with and abide by FAR 91.103 which requires that “[e]ach pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” In what appears to me to be a “no-brainer,” in my humble opinion, an airman’s private pilot certificate was suspended for 240 days in Administrator v. Somervillewhen the airman failed to call flight service on September 11, 2001 to obtain the NOTAM grounding all aircraft.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Mr. Somerville flew from his home near Blue Ribbon Farm airstrip, WA, to Port Townsend, WA airport. Even though he learned of the attacks prior to his outbound flight, he did not call flight service for a briefing. Prior to his return flight and, after discussing the attacks and the NOTAM with a mechanic, the airman again failed to call flight service. After a hearing, the administrative law judge affirmed an order of the FAA suspending the airman’s certificate for violation of several FAR’s including 91.103.
In affirming the ALJ, the NTSB Board was very critical of the airman for assuming he knew everything he needed for a safe flight without call flight service, especially in light of his knowledge of the attacks. The Board held that his flights were “highly irresponsible and personally dangerous,” that his return flight involved a “deliberate disregard of the NOTAM’s grounding of all flights,” and his conduct exhibited a “negative compliance disposition” justifying warranting the 240 day suspension.
What does this case mean for you? Bottom line: Obtain a pre-flight briefing before every flight! Since 9/11, the rules have changed. Temporary Flight Restrictions are a daily occurrence and, in some instances, they are implemented with very short notice. The best way to protect yourself is to call flight service and specifically ask for NOTAM’s and TFR’s that affect your route of flight. Not only will you receive the appropriate information, a recording of your conversation will preserve evidence of your request which may prevent an enforcement action if a briefer fails to give you information that will affect your flight and you unknowingly violate a NOTAM or TFR.
A simple phone call to flight service will provide you with the information you need to fly safe and to fly smart.