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ASRS Callback #216 tells the sordid tale of a pilot who was inappropriately intimidated by an armed guard at a public-use airport into performing an unsafe and illegal flight after landing there for an unplanned overnight stay and fuel stop:

I estimated that we had just under one hour of fuel remaining, and as it was getting dark and I was completely unfamiliar with the mountainous terrain, I decided not to fly on. I landed at ABC, a public-use airport. The only telephone available connected us to the lodge, which also operated the FBO. We told the desk clerk that we could simply camp overnight and buy fuel in the morning. The desk clerk said OK. We parked on a corner of the ramp, pitched a tent under the wing, and went to sleep.

Around midnight, we were awakened by an armed man in a "Special Police" uniform, who declared, "Leave immediately or I will arrest you for trespassing and you will spend the night in jail." We told him everything noted above, but he was adamant: leave or spend the night in jail.

I estimated that I had enough fuel to make it, although certainly not enough for legal night VFR flight. Faced with the alternative of going to jail, I decided to depart. It was a pitch black, moonless night. Although clear and with about 10 miles visibility, there were no lights visible and there was no discernible horizon. I climbed above the MOCA, flew on instruments for about 20 miles to the nearest airport, and landed. The FBO there pumped 21.6 gallons of fuel into my tanks, which have 22.5 gallons usable.

My mistake was in allowing myself to be forced, even by an armed guard, into making a flight which was against my better judgement, probably beyond my capabilities, unsafe, and illegal. It was only luck that it turned out all right.

I was able to reach the manager of the FBO later. He said that the "special police" had no authority to order a pilot to take off from the airport and that he would make certain the police knew this in the future so they would never do this to another pilot.

While this behavior from any sort of airport security personnel is beyond the pale and the FBO manager's response to hearing about it is absolutely correct -- the incident raises a burning question in light of 14 CFR 91.11:

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated.

Is intimidating or threatening a pilot into taking off (vs staying put) considered a 91.11 violation by the thug, considering that the "go/no-go" decision is one of the most safety-critical decisions a pilot makes when preparing for a flight?

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  • $\begingroup$ Violence and threats should always be the first response. The Special Police officer does not need to know aviation law, because he has a gun. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Jun 9 '17 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ From the quote in the question, it's not clear to me that the security guy was asking them to leave with the aircraft. Maybe just "camp outside the airport"? $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 9 '17 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ What is "Special Police"? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Jun 12 '17 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth -- I'm not clear on how the "special police" badge got handed out (the story does not specify a location) $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Jun 12 '17 at 22:07
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If the airport received (US) federal funding, then it must be available for emergency or distress landings. The guard could require the people not camp, but forcing a flight to an aircraft without sufficient fuel, reserves, WX briefing, etc. is unprecedented.

As a matter of practice, disoriented pilots who land at private and uncharted corporate airports in northern Canada are normally given fuel, food, and calls to get WX and file flight plans.

Perhaps someone better versed in Admiralty Law might comment.

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I am not an aviation lawyer and I'm sure there are local implications from a property law standpoint that vary based on where in the country you are. However it is not a violation and the regulation clearly states why

§91.11 Prohibition on interference with crewmembers.

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated.

You could go as far as to say that the oficier intimidated the pilot into breaking § 91.13 Careless or reckless operation. However in this case the intimidation occurred on the ground and outside the aircraft.

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  • $\begingroup$ But "assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember .. aboard an aircraft" or "performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft"? Seems that there are two interpretations. Unless it is a drone, how can a pilot fly without being "aboard"? $\endgroup$ – h22 Jun 9 '17 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ I guess it does depend where you stress the aboard the aircraft part and that would need to be decided by a court as there are clearly multiple interpretations. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 9 '17 at 14:08

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