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In the U.S. if, for example, an aircraft is instucted by ATC to climb and maintain FL280 but instead climbs to FL290, are both pilots, in an aircraft requiring two pilots (e.g. A320 or similar), held responsible for the pilot deviation (assuming a violation is filed)? Or is only the PIC held responsible?

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The regs are not clear on the matter, so case law is needed for a general answer.

From a 2007 North Dakota Law Review, "The Pilot in Command and the FARS: The Buck Stops Here (Almost Always)":

Even though a pilot is deemed to be responsible as pilot in command or second in command, there are still defenses that are recognized by regulation and NTSB case law. Most of these defenses can be characterized as "reasonable reliance" defenses. The question that often needs to be answered in this context is whether the pilot reasonably relied on other crewmembers, air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel, or his or her own observations regarding aircraft performance and airworthiness either preflight or during flight. In other cases, the pilot might be able to establish an emergency authority defense. In these cases it is important to determine if the emergency was created by the pilot's own actions. If not, was the pilot's action in response to the emergency prudent and reasonable? In the end, the general rule usually prevails. The buck stops with the pilot in command—almost always. [emphasis added]

In one case from 1999 – Garvey v. NTSB – a two-pilot Northwest flight went for the wrong flight level due to a misheard instruction meant for another plane and the reply was blocked, and even though the ATC caught the deviation, the separation was broken. On that flight the PIC was the pilot monitoring (he handled the communications); the case was against the PIC only.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting issue. Most operators of 2-crew airplanes have SOP's that require procedural interaction and involvement of both pilots when a new altitude is assigned. One pilot sets the new altitude in the Altitude Window (various names for this) and then states the altitude (maybe pointing at the new set alt) and then the other pilot visually confirms the set altitude and verbally confirms the new altitude. There are various SOP's but the goal is the same. This would seemingly make both pilots responsible for any altitude deviation. Lots of variables. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Dec 17 '21 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Odd that the article wild say "NTSB case law." NTSB is not a regulatory agency. I suppose they mean FAA case law. Then again, that court case is Garvey vs NTSB. Confusing. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 19 '21 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Ok. That explains it. The case brief says that "the FAA has regulatory and enforcement authority, while the NTSB acts as an impartial adjudicator." Didn't know the NTSB could dismiss FAA enforcement actions. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 19 '21 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW: if an Airman is subject to FAA enforcement action and decides to appeal the FAA's decision the appeal is heard by an NTSB judge. See this link for more info: ntsb.gov/legal/alj/Pages/airman_appeals.aspx $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Dec 19 '21 at 21:19

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