While practicing for my commercial certificate in a T-tail Piper Arrow IV, I put the gear down on downwind, and one green light didn't come on.

In the right seat was a CFII/Multi, who had over 1,000 hours but less than 10 hours in Pipers, whereas I had about 300 hours, and over 200 in Pipers, having done my PPL in stiff-legged Cherokees.

As a certificated pilot, I was PIC, but we talked about how to handle the emergency, and the CFI and I decided that since I had so much more experience in Pipers, I would handle the emergency tasks, while he handled the radios and looked for traffic.

We did the proverbial tower fly by (although they wouldn't say anything except the gear "appeared to be down"), and they cleared me to land on any runway. Our landing was uneventful, and it turned out to be an electrical MX issue.

When we landed, however, the flight school nearly fired the CFI for not having taken control of the aircraft during the emergency.

Did we make the right decision for me to handle the emergency? Or should I have let the CFI/CFII/MEI with over 1,000 take over as PIC and handle the airplane?

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    $\begingroup$ Take over as PIC and handle the plane (= become PF) are completely separate things. Did they have problem with him not becoming PIC or him not becoming PF? $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 7 '15 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ in VFR with a student rated in type, there is only one PIC, except for the usual exclusions, so I'm not sure what you mean $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 7 '15 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ But there is no rule that PIC has to be the one who actually handles the controls. For training a rated student is PIC and PF, no other combination makes sense; but for the emergency you can change it. So you could have declared the instructor PIC and still split the tasks as you did. So I am asking whether they mind you didn't declare the instructor PIC, or whether they mind the task split. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 7 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ True, as long as you worked in agreement, it didn't really matter. And if you didn't, it would have been your decision as PIC up to that point. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 8 '15 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ What I think that many people are missing here (including the flight school, apparently) is that your instructor had much more experience and therefore out of everyone in the aircraft (who are the only people that matter at that point), he was the most qualified to decide how to proceed, and he decided that you should fly the aircraft. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Jan 8 '15 at 9:15

From a safety perspective both pilots should be handling any emergency that arises, each working to their individual strengths and expertise to ensure a safe outcome.
This is exactly what you did in the scenario you describe.

In terms of who calls the shots (acts as PIC for the emergency), generally the most qualified pilot onboard should be the one giving the orders. Deciding who that is falls to the pilots onboard (because they're the ones who will arrive at the scene of any resulting accident first).

So in my mind the question really is "How do I determine who is most qualified?" -- Any opinion we can give here comes dangerously close to second-guessing your emergency actions which is something I personally try to avoid, but I'm going to embellish your scenario above for illustrative purposes:

  • The Instructor
    Former air force pilot ATP, CFI/CFII, MEI.
    10,000 hours in various jets, 10 hours in an Arrow (doing this instructing gig.) and for the sake of argument no other time in PA-28s.
  • You
    PPL + Instrument Rating, working on your Commercial.
    300 hours, 200 in fixed-gear PA-28s and let's say 20 in Arrows.

I'll further assume you both kept your cool and didn't panic (because if either of you turned into a quivering blob that would automatically disqualify them from taking control of the aircraft).

If we go by the certificates, your instructor is certainly "more qualified" - and in 10,000 hours they've probably dealt with more real-world emergencies than you have.

If we go by "time in type" and experience flying PA-28 variants you're clearly more familiar with the general type, and possibly this specific aircraft & systems (like the emergency gear extension system).

Given the above, having you handle the controls seems to be the most logical course of action. The CFI can do "everything else" - communication, traffic scan, calling out checklists & altitudes, etc. - to ensure that you can concentrate on flying the plane and landing as safely as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ i know we're not supposed to say 'thanks' in the comments, but thanks for the part about not second guessing our decision-making $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 7 '15 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Is it usual to switch around the PIC role in flight (or even after an emergency has developed), absent anyone becoming quivering blobs? As a layman, I would have assumed the idea of having a concept of PIC in the first place would be not to have to waste time negotiating who should call the shots after a problem arises. If you depart with Guy A as PIC, but with the understanding that Guy B will take over if there's a problem, then is Guy A ever truly PIC for that flight? $\endgroup$ – hmakholm left over Monica Jan 8 '15 at 4:52
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I'm not sure about "usual", or if who is legally PIC would change (absent the quivering blob scenario) but the role of Pilot Flying can and occasionally does swap over (case in point, US Airways 1549: Sullenberger was PIC, Skiles was SIC and Pilot Flying for that leg, but after the bird strike Sullenberger took the controls). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 8 '15 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ According to the FAA, if the student is rated and has the recency of experience, and the CFI is not acting as a required crewmenember (SIC or safety pilot), then the student can act as PIC, and the instructor is neither PIC nor a passenger. faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/… $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 8 '15 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp The student and instructor can agree beforehand that the instructor will be acting as PIC though - just because things should always be more complicated :) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 8 '15 at 21:07

I don't see a mistake on the part of the CFI. After all, you were in the left seat and legally cleared to fly the aircraft, so it is up to you to decide. By clearly communicating and sharing the workload you did the right thing.

I guess the reason why the CFI got in trouble had more to do with insurance issues than with regulations. You don't mention it, but I assume the CFI was employed by the owner of the aircraft. It would be easier for the owner to settle with the insurance company if one of his employees is PIC in an emergency.

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    $\begingroup$ i updated the question to indicate that not only did he have CFI/CFII/MEI, but he also had over 1,000 and much more experience than me, and I rephrased the question a bit. $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 7 '15 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp: I think this answer still applies and is best; it was your responsibility as pilot in command to decide how to handle the emergency, not of the instructor. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 8 '15 at 8:43

The instructor did the right thing by letting you fly.

I have 1200 hrs on the 737-300, 120 hrs 737-200, approx. 150 hours on the C172 and 80 hours approx Seneca (both a while ago), and a fATPL.

If I were in the Cockpit with somebody with more familiarity of the a/c characteristics I'd do Radio and assist as well, leaving them as PIC.

There is no time for an ego here.


Yes. As you specify it. This sounds perfectly correct.

To get the technicalities straight:

Who is PF? When you do your departure briefing, you specify who is PF. I was trained to start departure briefing with "I fly Piper Arrow, normal take-off. Maximum power, flaps 10, etc..." and then going on the emergency part, "...I will take all emergency actions, ..."

Who is PIC? This is answered by the column in which your enter the hours in your logbook.

As PIC, you are in command of the aircraft. You fly it or decide to hand over the flying duties. The instructor can do everything else, checklists, watch your airspeed/altitude etc. However having many more hours than you he is aware of how to fly "an aircraft" better than you. So he can clearly detect if you are not going to be able to finish the job and should (if he feels the need) say "I have control".

Furthermore, even if the instructor had experience of landing with a wheel not locked, he may consider it good experience for you to land it anyway - provided you discussed how you were going to do it (airspeed, attitude, rudder (nose wheel), ailerons etc.)

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    $\begingroup$ most people don't enter the hours in their logbook before the flight. also the PF/PNF distinction doesn't hold for part 91 single pilot operations, unless the pilots at the controls are practicing CRM $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 9 '15 at 15:03

As a CFI, whether I was giving instruction to a student pilot or in a jet, I would always give the same briefing concerning who would be in what role during an emergency.

The briefing would discuss numerous scenarios, but specifically address who will be the PF given their experience, recency, and time in type. This would always change from pilot to pilot and may change as the student gained time and experience. It's always a good idea to have a plan of action discussed well ahead of any departure.

A good example is the Miracle on the Hudson: Jeff Skilling was the PF and Sully was the PM when they departed. It was briefed that in the event of an emergency, Sully would handle the radios and fly the aircraft while Jeff would ran the emergency checklist, so as soon as they loss thrust Jeff transferred controls over to Sully and we all saw what happens when preparation and luck come together at a point in time.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think luck applies. This was strictly preparation and experience. Sully treated the plane like a large heavy glider, which was a craft he had experience flying. Other than the lack of power he had a fully functional aircraft. He bled the airspeed off but didn't stall it. He hit the water at a very shallow angle while still having directional control of the aircraft. These are all skills that glider pilots have to develop. The passengers were not lucky either, they were fortunate. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Hawkins Jun 10 '20 at 15:47

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