[I'm referring to an ATC conversation during the military coup in Turkey with an MD83 EP-TAS (ATA TBZ5402). Can a pilot take off at his own discretion?

To summarize the link: a pilot is begging the tower to be allowed to depart and repeatedly denied due to what the controller describes as a "military operation" or "people in the tower". The pilot indicates the situation is dangerous and even reports seeing gunfire on the ground at one point. The pilot then repeatedly asks for permission to depart "at my own discretion". In the end, it appears that he does not depart.

Would there be any consequences for the pilot? Is he allowed to take off if the situation on the ground is more threatening than in the air? Are there any international regulations in this case?

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    $\begingroup$ In the US, there is 14 CFR 91.123(b) which states that a pilot may deviate from any ATC instruction in an emergency. I don't think there is an international regulation that covers a pilot in all countries though, and I'd hazard to say in some countries deviation may be met with military action. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 18, 2016 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it is a world wide rule that pilots can deviate from ATC instructions if failing to do so will endanger the aircraft. (Why on earth would the US be the only ones to have such rule!?). The question of course is how authorities interpret whether the actions taken did indeed prevent a dangerous situation. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2016 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Summarize the link, rather than just linking to it. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2016 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ To summarize the link... a pilot is begging the tower to be allowed to depart and repeatedly denied due to what the controller describes as a "military operation" or "people in the tower"... The pilot indicates the situation is dangerous and even reports seeing gunfire on the ground at one point... the pilot repeatedly asks for permission to depart "at my own discretion"... in the end it appears that he does not depart (much to the disappointment of my desire for drama!) $\endgroup$
    – JoelFan
    Jul 19, 2016 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveJessop You may want to consider that operations at non-towered airports happen thousands of times a day, even commercially without ATC assistance. Pilots are well trained to coordinate with each other and listen to the frequency for conflicting instructions. Yes conflicts do occur, but the majority of operations without ATC go ahead just fine. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 20, 2016 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


Generally speaking a pilot can (physically) do whatever they want: ATC doesn't have a remote control. If you push the throttles forward and pull back on the yoke you will take off, no matter what mean things the folks in the tower are shouting at you over the radio.

Practically speaking doing so can get you into trouble: You may be met in the air by planes with more guns than yours, or projectiles from the ground may be fired in such a way as to intersect your flight path ("You might get intercepted or shot down by very annoyed military types.") -- even if that doesn't happen you may face administrative or civil action for ignoring ATC instructions in the jurisdiction where you did this.

I'm not sure what the ATC policies are in Turkey, but the US FAA has a phrase specifically for this: UNABLE TO ISSUE DEPARTURE CLEARANCE. DEPARTURE WILL BE AT YOUR OWN RISK. (you'll find it in JO 7110.65W, on page 3-3-1).

The emergency authority of a pilot is also recognized worldwide (at least in ICAO states - you'll find it in Annex 2, 2.3.1, conveniently quoted on Wikipedia), so if the pilot in command deems that remaining on the ground constitutes an emergency they can violate regulations to the extent necessary to meet the emergency (i.e. forego getting a clearance and take off even if ATC is saying not to).

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    $\begingroup$ Helis often take off from taxiways and from non-movement areas, and can't be cleared. These are also "AT PILOTS RISK" $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Jul 18, 2016 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp Indeed, if the area is not designated as a helipad takeoffs or landings from the ramp would be permitted "At your own risk" - the phraseology for that can be found in the same FAA order. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jul 19, 2016 at 4:03
  • $\begingroup$ Except in extreme military situations such as in the example, taking off without clearance would never cause the dramatic response described here. In the US it typically escalates from a warning and reprimand, to a helicopter intercept if necessary, then in rare circumstances they bring out the jets. Even Adam Leon, a suicidal foreign pilot who consciously ignored intercept orders for hours, didn't have missiles fired at him. See airspacemag.com/flight-today/dont-cross-that-line-5841988/… $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2016 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyP Bear in mind that the entire world is not the United States - We have a very relaxed system, but in many countries ATC is a military function which also happens to serve civilian traffic. An escalation to military response (interception, and yes - even being shot down) is entirely within the realm of possibility under such systems. Certainly more likely if there's an ongoing coup, but not something I would rule out with broad strokes. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jul 21, 2016 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Obviously, a pilot is physically capable of taking off if, e.g., the runway is clear. And, although the question uses the word "can", it's clearly asking if the pilot may take off. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2016 at 9:26

Yes, a pilot-in-command may take off at his own discretion if absolutely necessary in the interest of safety.

Rules of the Air (ICAO Annex 2) apply:

2.3.1 Responsibility of pilot-in-command

The pilot-in-command of an aircraft shall, whether manipulating the controls or not, be responsible for the operation of the aircraft in accordance with the rules of the air, except that the pilot-in-command may depart from these rules in circumstances that render such departure absolutely necessary in the interests of safety.

2.4 Authority of pilot-in-command of an aircraft

The pilot-in-command of an aircraft shall have final authority as to the disposition of the aircraft while in command.


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