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Sometimes doors pop open on older training aircraft during flight.

I've read some indications from poorly-documented sources suggesting that this is considered an emergency, but it doesn't appear to be addressed in any flight manuals, the AIM, or the FARs.

Is there any publication from the FAA that indicates a stance on the issue as it pertains to it being considered an emergency or not?

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    $\begingroup$ I've had it happen many times, never declared an emergency nor filed an ASRS. After the third time in the same aircraft I did have some choice words for the A&P though. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer May 4 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ The question contains a misconception - the FAA is not the arbiter of what is and isn't an emergency. $\endgroup$ – pericynthion May 4 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ That is true, but they are allowed to hold an opinion on anything they want to. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen May 4 at 22:14
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A door popping open in a GA aircraft is not considered an emergency. I have not seen it in the FAR/AIM. I don’t have a POH in front of me. If memory serves me correctly, the POH for a 2015 and later Piper Archer has this event listed under the category of Abnormal Procedures. There is a separate category for Emergency Procedures. On the checklists for three different aircraft models from my former flight school, it was also listed under Abnormal. Although the checklists are less than official documents confirming this event’s status, they definitely point to it not being an emergency.

Like the previous poster, I have had doors open during flight. It has always been a non-event. The doors tend to be designed with the hinges positioned on the leading edge of the door. This keeps the door from flying fully open in the aircraft’s slipstreams. One instructor actually demonstrated the effects of alternately opening the doors on a Cessna 172 to induce yaw. You have to apply a considerable bit of force to swing the door fully open at 90 knots.

Conversely, only half of the Robinson and Loach helicopters I have flown have had the removable doors in place. And, most of the smaller skydiving planes in which I have flown have been unmodified, regular GA planes with the seats removed. Some of them had the right door removed, also, and were still able to achieve 17,000 feet. Opening the door (or in some cases, the tail) does not seem to adversely affect performance enough to classify it as an emergency.

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A door popping open is not an emergency in itself, it has to cause a threat to the safety of the flight or those on the ground to be an emergency. I've had doors pop open in a light aircraft in flight and it has been a non-event every time, I didn't mention it to ATC as there was no reason to, I just told maintenance once I was on the ground. I've never seen a FAA or other country authority publication saying it was an emergency.

Regs generally don't get that specific, what is life threatening on one airplane may be a non-event in another. The POH and airplane specific training is typically where emergency events are specified.

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  • $\begingroup$ Likewise. Have you seen anything that addresses it at all? If it is addressed somewhere, but they don't treat it as an emergency, then that's enough to suggest to me that it is just a low-risk occurrence. Every time it has happened to me, it has also been no big deal; we just shut the door again and move on. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen May 4 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ See my edit @RyanMortensen. $\endgroup$ – GdD May 4 at 15:16
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It really depends on the aircraft. In most certified light piston training aircraft it's a non-event as described in other answers. In the Lancair 320/360 and Legacy which have forward-hinged canopies instead of side doors, and have much higher wing / tail loading than the typical trainers, it can be quite deadly. Beyond the pilot distraction factor, the aircraft becomes difficult to control due to the disrupted airflow over the tail and oscillations of the canopy angle, forward visibility is substantially reduced, and the pilot has to take some actions that are not necessarily intuitive (increase speed, do not try to land immediately, do not try to close the canopy, go to altitude to practice handling, then go to a very long runway and touch down at much higher speed than normal).

https://www.lancairowners.com/sites/www.lancairowners.com/files/wp-content/uploads/Legacy-Canopy-Safety-Issue-27-April-2014.pdf

I'm not sure whether a certified aircraft with a similar characteristic would be approved; perhaps with a reliable warming system to prevent takeoff with the canopy improperly latched.

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