Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
3 min read

Do you remember 91.3(a)?

If not, let me refresh your memory: The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

On face value, this reg seems pretty straight forward:  You have the final say on the operation of your aircraft. You’re the boss. Simple, right? Well, not so fast.

This reg is basically the “C” in PIC and it comes with a whole slew of responsibilities outside of just physically operating your aircraft. It encapsulates what I like to call your “C-Skills”.

When I first started my primary training, my CFI was mainly focused on developing my “P-Skills”–learning to actually fly the airplane. But once I got the physical act of flying down, my training slowly transitioned into developing my “C” ones. These skills included recognizing and dealing with emergencies, how to communicate on the radio effectively, and probably the most important one of all, how to see and avoid. All these skills have zero to do with control surfaces and everything to do with being PIC.

Low approach

My CFI was mainly focused on developing my “P-Skills”–learning to actually fly the airplane. But once I got the physical act of flying down, my training slowly transitioned into developing my “C” ones.

The truth is you don’t really get to develop and hone your “C-Skills” until after you get your ticket anyway. For example, do you remember your first real cross country? Not the one you meticulously planned with your CFI, but the one you planned by yourself to take your friends and/or family on some incredible day trip that only a newly minted Private pilot could possibly accomplish. Yeah, that one. I’ll bet during that cross, or one just like it, you looked over to the right seat and wanted to ask your CFI a question (or three). I know I sure did. And that is the exact moment where 91.3(a) kicks in:  It’s you up there, no one else; you’re “in command” even if you don’t feel that way! Not so simple anymore.

I’ve slowly begun to understand that it is imperative that I use all my “P-Skills” to develop and advance my “C” ones. But how?

pilots flying enroute

Another area to exercise your “C-Skills” is with your passenger briefing.

Well, a good place I’ve found is in my preflight planning. For example, now when I plan a cross-country, especially flying VFR, direct is rarely an option. I want airports always underneath me in case I must get down for whatever reason. The same is true when considering what altitude to fly.

Another area to exercise your “C-Skills” is with your passenger briefing:  Your briefing provides a golden opportunity for you to truly be PIC by instilling confidence in your passengers that a) you know how to fly a plane safely and b) what they can expect and even do to help with the operation of the flight.

Speaking of communication, being a PIC also means realizing that your relationship with ATC is bidirectional:  You need to speak up if you don’t understand the controller. My mantra is when in doubt, ask. Full stop. Don’t be embarrassed, be safe. And always use the proper phraseology to quickly make your request—this is especially important in busy airspace. On the flip side, don’t let ATC bully you either. For example, when flying IFR, you have every right to cancel on the ground flying into a non-towered airport with a phone call instead of immediately in the air. Exercise it.

The irony in all of this is when I first started flying, I treated 91.3(a) as a mere trifle. But now as I accrue more hours, I find it to be one of the most important regulations in all of Part 91! Coming full circle, being “in command” is just as much a skill as it is a responsibility, and one that I hope to improve after each and every flight.

Alexander Sack
Latest posts by Alexander Sack (see all)
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *