Safety & Training
October 1, 2010 By Neil J. MacDonald
We all know flight hours are very important. After all, almost everything turns on the number of hours in our logbook.
We all know flight hours are very important. After all, almost everything turns on the number of hours in our logbook. How important is it to have the correct amount recorded? CARs 401.08 states every holder of a flight crew permit, licence, or rating, shall maintain a personal log. I would imagine that means an accurate log.
Air time commences when the aircraft leaves the supporting surface and terminates when it touches the supporting surface at the next point of landing. That’s straightforward.
Flight time commences the moment an aircraft first moves under its own power for the purpose of taking off until the moment it comes to rest at the end of the flight. That may be straightforward for fixed-wing aircraft, but what about helicopters?
Is flight idle the same thing as “moves under its own power?” I would say it is – in certain circumstances. How can you argue against logging time when sitting on an oil rig or a mountain pad with the blades spinning at flight idle? Ask five pilots, however, and you’ll get six answers. But wherever you stand on this issue, your flight time needs to be recorded in your pilot logbook.
It is not always easy to get it exactly right, however. Sometimes you have to rely on someone else to tell you the flight time. In some cases, you may need to estimate the amount. You will have to round up or down at times. I don’t believe this presents a real problem if you are only nominally inaccurate. The real concern, I would argue is when pilots are deliberately inaccurate – those who pad their flight time. Some recount having seen pilot flight hours that appear to have grown overnight. Imagine someone leaves for a time, and then returns with more hours than seem reasonably possible. This is problematic for a number of reasons – and most are obvious.
First of all, we are professionals, and should maintain a high standard in all aviation matters. If you cannot believe someone’s indicated flight hours, how can you trust them with a million dollar aircraft?
Additionally, you can usually ball-park the number of hours a pilot has flown when you fly with them – especially at the beginning of their career. I don’t mean to single out new pilots unfairly, but it would be rare for a 6,000-hour pilot to add extra flight time to a logbook. Finally, deliberately adding hours you have not flown falls into the realm of deceit, which can result in legal consequences. Remember, logging your hours (in whichever format you choose) is a requirement mandated by Transport Canada, so it takes on more of an official tone than you may imagine.
An accident investigation legal team would pore through all the documents associated with the operation post accident – and this means the aircraft documents, as well as the pilot’s documents. Discrepancies would be found and major ones would be investigated further. It is possible that if the hours logged were significantly different than they should be, the pilot may face a legal action for misrepresentation – depending on the facts in the case. If there is no causal link between the indicated hours and the incident, then nothing should come of the discrepancy.
Misrepresentation can be a serious problem, however. A judge may make a finding that the error was innocent (of no legal consequence), negligent, (consequences for the operator and pilot), or fraudulent (serious consequences for the pilot).
A negligent misrepresentation finding often pulls the operator into the mix. Should they have been more diligent in their hiring practices, and realized the pilot’s hours were not correct? Insurance should cover both the operator and pilot here. A finding of fraudulent misrepresentation, however, could see the pilot standing alone financially – with all legal guns pointing his way! Most insurance plans withdraw financial support on a finding of fraud, so the money would have to come out of the pilot’s own pocket. While courts are slow to find fraudulent conduct and require clear and convincing evidence of such, that finding is still possible.
There may be mistakes in everyone’s logbook to some degree or another, but I’m not talking about mistakes – everyone makes mistakes. However, there’s a big difference between a mistake and a deliberate attempt to mislead. That difference may have significant legal and financial consequences for the fraudster.
Neil MacDonald is a lawyer with Harper Grey LLP, practising in aviation law. He holds an ATPL-H, and flies as an IFR Off-Shore Captain. firstname.lastname@example.org This is not a legal opinion. Readers should not act on the basis of this article without first consulting a lawyer for analysis and advice on a specific matter.