Every now and then, a story emerges regarding a small airplane that made an emergency landing on a public road or highway. The press never fails to sensationalize the story, often concluding without any evidence that a “stall” or other “failure” caused the incident. Thankfully, skilled pilots who are forced to make these types of emergency landings often walk away from the event. The Federal Aviation Regulations authorize a pilot in command to deviate from any rule to the extent necessary to “meet that emergency.” See FAR 91.3(b). However, when landing on tarmac not owned or operated by FAA governed airports, pilots often encounter difficulties from the state and local authorities which govern the commandeered pavement.
State and local authorities who have no specialized training in aviation regulations may cite pilots in these situations for obstructing highways, damaging property, careless operation, and other offenses despite the fact that the pilots most likely failed to violate a single FAR. It is important to remember that when faced with such a situation, any statement made to authorities may be used against you. Similarly, statements made to the press will often be misprinted and misconstrued. It is wise consult an experienced aviation attorney before speaking to any authorities – federal, state, or local. Our attorneys are available to assist in a wide range of situations, both emergency and routine.