Purely hypothetical question on aviation law.

In maritime salvage if your craft rescues/tows/supplies crew to a stricken vessel then you can claim a reward based on the value of the craft and cargo.

Let's assume that you are flying off somewhere warm for a few weeks in a commercial airliner and hear the call "Is there a pilot on board"... and let's all be honest every pilot has fantasised about it.

If you manage to take control of the aircraft and land it safely, does salvage law apply similar to maritime salvage laws? I cannot find anything online that covers it but it must have happened at some point in history.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it would be better asked on law.se. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer if we closed all the jaw related questions here Faa and all related tags would feel very lonely. This question is about law and aviation. It belongs here and there. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Antzi I'm not sure I agree, this is more about the application of maritme law to an aviation incident. Substitute the word "aircraft" for "greyhound bus" and I'm not sure I see much difference. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 17:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ When you are on-board, ship or plane, if you can help to save your life, then you just do it, you don't need an incentive for that. The incentive is for another ship to come and help, in spite of the cost, and the dangers to do so. This is not possible with planes, unless you manage to get on-board while in flight, but in that case the plane is likely a prop in an Hollywood studio. That said, an airlines may (and will) be generous with a passenger who help in a critical situation, but that's not because of the law and they won't thank you by giving you the content of the cargo holds. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


The short answer is no but it really depends on what kind of "pilot" is on board.

"Is there a pilot on board"

If the pilot in question is a Private Pilot as per FAA licensing (although its often similar elsewhere in the world). They would be legally prevented from receiving compensation for flight time as per the FAR's.

§ 61.113 Private pilot privileges and limitations:

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (h) of this section, no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft...

If the pilot in question was a commercial rated pilot they could in theory receive compensation for the flight time but as far as I know there is no aviation law like the maritime law.

Furthermore maritime law generally allows you a portion or all of the recovered cargo value (think treasure salvage) in the case of a hull loss. Here in the US if an aircraft were to go down be it over land or water it becomes an accident scene which the NTSB would have jurisdiction over and is generally in charge of finding and salvaging for their investigation. If you were to recover a piece of an aircraft that was part of an ongoing investigation you may be required to turn it over to the authorities.

The closest scenario that I know of like this, was when a bomber pilot helped land a plane after one of the crew members had an issue. However he was not pilot in command and was only providing support.

All things considered you will probably get a book deal out of the whole thing if it were to happen...

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well, if this were to happen, at the time of the flight they were not "carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire" since they were not actually being paid to do it and were not expecting any compensation for it. I find it very difficult to believe that a one time reward, after the fact, in extraordinary circumstances would create a problem. However, if you really want to stretch it you could say that they were trying to help just to create "good will" with the company (maybe they will get a job in the future) and that in itself is compensation.... $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 16:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There is a young fed in some FSDO looking to make a name for him/herself and I bet they'd jump at the chance to be the FAA agent to bust that poor private pilot and fine the airline for any show of gratitude, however small. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ Rather than recompense him for his actions they could simply compensate him handsomely for the non-provision of their full service with added compensation for the trauma of having to save their own life. $\endgroup$
    – user23614
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot That could happen with just about anything, but would it hold up in court? I agree with you though (and the last sentence of my comment takes it a bit to that same extreme, lol). $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ It's administrative law. It won't go to court. The pilot or airline will have to sue to have the penalties recinded. The penalties remain in effect until an administrative law judge (not "regular" court) does away with them. Could take months or years, if ever. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 16:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .