Thursday, April 10, 2008

P-I-C Responsibility

This has been kicking around in my drafts folder for a while and an entry on a new-to-me blog gives me reason to finish it. If there is more than one pilot assigned to a flight, one of them is designated pilot-in-command. As pilot-in-command you are given latitude to make decisions. That's what it's about. There is air law to follow, plus you are given a number of manuals and data to help you make those decisions, but most of them, even the laws, give considerable latitude for a pilot to do what is safe in a particular case.

It's not so much that you are required to follow every manual. It's that you are required to not screw up. You can find justification for almost any action in the manual, but so can the company find condemnation. I can honestly never think of an occasion where a colleague got in trouble for violating a rule when no harm (i.e. regulatory action, aircraft damage, complaint, or harm to public image) was done. Right up until it isn't done well, pilots get praised for their ability to land in stiff crosswinds. That's getting the job done.

That's why the captain is paid significantly more than the FO. The captain is the one who approves or vetoes such a decision, whether she is the one at the controls or not. As PIC you know that if you go off the end of the runway, chew up the props, run out of fuel, damage something with jet blast, blow a tire, ding a wingtip, incur a noise complaint, arrive late, divert, or annoy a customer, questions will be asked. If there's an accident, the relevant authorities will go over everything you did with reference to the laws, the SOPs, the AFM, the FDR, the CVR, the instructions given by ATC, the weather, the NOTAMs, the charts and every other recording and piece of paper they can find. And if they find a recommendation or a policy or a memo that you were not following to the letter, you are screwed.

If something beyond your control goes spectacularly wrong, like the gear lever has been moved to the down position, but one of the wheels won't lock down, you're not blamed specifically for that, although you might be accused of not spotting some damage on the preflight inspection.

I can't remember where I grabbed this exchange from. A movie? A TV show?

"You think you have all the answers."

"I'm the captain. That's my job."

Often I think the first officer's job is even harder, and this story (told on someone else's blog) illustrates that well. Of course Sulako beat me to the punch, but I still wanted to link to it. The story was originally on her personal blog and the traffic from here was more than she wanted, so I've taken out the link. See her medevac stories here. Ensuring a safe flight is the responsibility of both pilots, but the no-go decision is harder for the FO. If the FO wants to go, but the captain says "we're not continuing, the ice is too bad," the FO can say, "oh, I didn't think it was that bad," or even "you're a chicken," (with a smile) but has no reason to argue. The FO might be a bit embarrassed and vow to be more diligent at checking the weather next time. But no one really loses face.

Now let it be the captain who wants to go when the FO says the conditions are not suitable. The FO may have to fight for her life to alter that decision. Had there been passengers and injury or death involved in this flight, as there have been in so many before and after it, Dagny would probably have been exonerated. She repeatedly and strenuously objected to the captain's decisions, and finally did override them. But many first officers who have been placed in that position have no descendants. I hope Dagny gets to tell this story to her kids, to teach them to stand up for what they believe in.

Oh and a straw poll: I say "Pee Eye See" but I've heard people refer to "pick-time" in their logbooks. If you are a pilot, please tell me how you pronounce PIC.


Blake said...


Its an acronym.

Then again, people don't say
Ess-See-Ess-Eye, but scuzzy for SCSI. (my computer nerdyness coming out)

Aviatrix said...

If you want to be nerdy, then note that an acronym is a word made by pronouncing the initials of other words, like RADAR or NOTAM. So either it's pronounced Pea-Eye-See or it's an acronym, pronounced pick.

Viennatech said...

If I am describing what I "am" it is pee-eye-see but when I refer to time it's "pick" time.

Agreed, same as SCSI. We nerds have another one, "MS-SQL" all the real propeller hats know it is ess-keu-ell but many still annoingly call it "MS Sequel". Potatoe, potatoe

Guy said...

I've always heard it as "pick-time" once the initial discussion of what a pilot-in-command is and what can be counted as PIC-time is over with. OTOH, if you're talking about who the PIC is, it's usually spoken out -- "Who was pilot-in-command?"

Tina Marie said...

I refer to both the person and the time as pee-eye-see.

I think the go/no-go call is hard no matter which side you're on. Heck, it's hard even when you're the only pilot.

I always thought there should be a
book about "CRM for the GA pilot". So many GA pilots fly in two-plot cockpits, and it's only mentioned in passing as part of the private...

Lord Hutton said...

Sounds like the bible or the koran. Take from it what is required at the time, for better or worse

Anonymous said...

Pee Eye See

But what do I know, I mainly fly a single-seater. Only extra voices are in my head.

pretty good for GA.


Louis Bourque said...

Pee-Eye-See. I work as a dispatcher at a flight school and I've never heard anyone say pick-time.

I think it's a length thing. Maybe three letters just isn't long enough to need it's own pronunciation. Take VOR. I've always heard that as "Vee Oh Are", but when it's a VORTAC, it's "vortack".

Same with RADAR and NOTAM, they're longer, so saying each letter becomes time-consuming.

Dagny said...

And just because I never included it in the story, I want to add...

If I was there again, right now, I would not get on board the aircraft. I just don't want people thinking that I thought I got away with something. I know I was damn lucky. And I should have known better, but I lived, and learned.

Thanks :)

nec Timide said...

Pee-one, but maybe I'm too dusty. Pee-eye-see if the first results in quizzical looks.

Anonymous said...

I say P-I-C, not "pic". But then I sometimes say "vor" not V-O-R so what do I know?

syrad said...

Pee-eye-see all the time. I've never actually heard anyone call it "pick-time". Apparently some do, and now I'll know what they're talking about if I ever hear it.

In the US, I've heard two ways to pronounce "FSDO". Most everyone in the industry pronounces it "Fizz-Doe", but some people and anyone in the media pronounce it "Eff-Ess-Dee-Oh".

Jimmy Mack said...

If and when I do refer to it, I say "pick". I've even said "I logged x number of hours pick that day".

Anonymous said...

P I C, never even heard of picktime until I saw your post.

Dagny: good on you. I didn't get that impression from reading your story. Sounds like you lived to learn frm a mistake. Great job and it's a great illustration for others.

Soaring Student said...

Worst shortform ever: WWW. It takes longer to say (and, of course, has more syllables) than World Wide Web.

Best computer-based shortform: PCMCIA, which seems to stand for Personal Computer Manufacturers Create Interesting Acronyms. Whoops, no it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Aviatrix. I think that's a misquote from six days, seven nights:

Robin : Ever since we've been here you've been so confident.
Quinn : Well I'm the captain. That's my job. It's no good for me to go waving my arms in the air and screaming "Oh shit, we're gonna die!" That doesn't bode much confidence, does it?

Another favorite from that movie is this one:
Robin: Whoa. What happened?
Quinn: It crumpled the landing gear when we hit.
Robin: Well, aren't you gonna fix it? I mean can't we, can't we reattach it somehow?
Quinn: Sure, we'll, like, glue it back on.
Robin: Aren't you one of those guys?
Quinn: What guys?
Robin: Those guy guys, you know, those guys with skills.
Quinn: Skills?
Robin: Yeah. You send them into the wilderness with a pocket knife and a Q-tip and they build you a shopping mall. You can't do that?
Quinn: No, I can't do that, but I can do this:
[Pops finger out of the side of his mouth]
Quinn: Does that help?

Anonymous said...

pee-eye-see most often, but I will use pick occasionally. However, MPIC is always "em-pick", with the exception of interviews when it becomes "multi pee-eye-see".

If someone called a VOR a "vor" I would have absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

And for soaring-student: WWW is correctly pronounced, in my world at least, as "triple-dub".

Aviatrix said...

Yes to Six Days Seven Nights: I saw it again a little while ago, and that must have been what made me [mis-]jot down that exchange.

I say WWW as "dub-dub-dub," leaving out the "ble-u" part of each "double-u."

Even I say Fz-Doe (Fz like Ms.), and I'm Canadian. I wouldn't recognize "vore" if I heard it though. I'd think it was some sort of skinny sharp-toothed animal, like a weasel or a vole. But then if the person said "15 DME on the one five nine radial off the Lakeland vore," I'd probably hear V-O-R anyway.

dpierce said...

www = "cube dub"

Anoynmous said...

I pronounce www differently depending on my audience. In my tech support role, it's always spelled out explicitly: "double-you double-you double-you" with no unstressed syllables. Among those who know the code, I pronounce it "wibble". There's a small group at work using "triple-you", and I conform when I'm talking to someone in that group. In general usage, it's "dub-dub-dub" (or occasionally "dubba-dubba-dubba" if I'm feeling like it).

One of my co-workers tried getting "webble-you" to catch on. It didn't stick.

Soaring student: People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms. So they renamed the thing "PC Card" and made the problem go away.

Chris said...

Pee-Eye-See - but otherwise it's 'command time.'

tracy said...

In my 40 years of flying, I've never heard anyone use 'pick.' For me, that was a new one. But I don't hang around flight schools much any more, so the term isn't used in many of the conversations I hear.