OK, the emergency is over. Let’s assume, for this discussion, that everyone is on the ground and safe. What happens after the emergency? Well, FAR 91.3 doesn’t say much. It only says that we must submit a report to the Administrator but only if requested and only if we deviated from any rule (any FAR).
Does that mean if we do not deviate from any FARs, that we are done? Well not exactly. Air Traffic has a lot more paperwork to fill out than you do. In fact, there are so many steps, paperwork, phone calls, etc. that most facilities have developed a checklist to follow for each type of event.
The first step is to gather all the data. This can include flight progress strips, copies of weather observations, controller statements, RADAR and voice recordings (which are no longer tapes but a hunk of digital data on a hard drive) and position logs. Next is a notification phone call to the Regional Communications Center (ROC). The ROC may conference in additional people such as other Air Traffic Facilities or FSDO as needed.
Air Traffic documents the incident on a form known in FAA speak as an 8020-11 and ships all the information over to the local FSDO.
One of FSDO’s first questions is going to be “Was there a possible pilot deviation?”
That reminds me of an incident a few years ago. A C172 showed up in our airspace on an IFR flight plan to one of our non-towered satellite airports that had no instrument approach. Normally aircraft destined for this airport would do either a visual approach or shoot the ILS at a nearby airport and then go VFR once they broke out.
The pilot reported solid IMC over the airport so the controller asked him if he wanted to shoot the ILS. The response was that he did not have any approach plates. After a few more questions, we determined that he was not instrument rated. We declared an emergency (which is ATC’s prerogative), read him the approach plate and he landed safely at the large airport. Turns out, he was a student at one of the large Florida flight schools and was flying home for spring break. He said he filed the flight plan using his roommate’s name because he had not graduated from the instrument course and not taken the check ride yet.
This was a case where FSDO was very interested in talking to this young pilot.
Normally though, FSDO will ask the pilot a few questions. If there is no FAR violation and no pattern involving the pilot or aircraft, the incident is finished. By pattern, I mean that FSDO will see if there are any prior incidents involving this particular aircraft or pilot. If this is the 3rd time that the radios have failed while in IMC, FSDO will apt to be more interested in looking at the maintenance records.
After the dust settles (so to speak), Air Traffic is still not done with the incident. A relatively new requirement is to conduct a Quality Assurance Review (QAR) of each and every incident. The purpose of the QAR is to assess whether ATC provided the best possible service during the incident. The facility will designate a staff member to review and conduct the QAR. The detail of a QAR may range from simply discussing the situation with the involved employees, to a full investigation that may include reviewing recorded radar data and listening to the audio communications from the incident. And of course, it requires a written report to management. This is ATC’s opportunity to conduct some internal quality control. If any deficiencies in the controller’s performance or procedures are identified, additional action may need to be taken.
So far, you may have noticed that Air Traffic and FSDO have done a lot of paperwork. The pilot has not done any of the legendary “pile of paperwork” that seems to deter folks from asking for help. Even if you do have to fill out some paperwork for FSDO, isn’t it better to be doing it alive and safe on the ground than the other possible outcomes?