"acting in any capacity other than as a passenger"

The online edition of Sports Illustrated (via CNN) has a story about the NTSB report on the Liddle crash. There’s nothing surprising in the report — the rough outline of the accident chain was obvious early on — but the story does mention an interesting side issue: Liddle’s Major League Baseball benefit package included USD 1M life insurance, but with an exclusion for an aircraft accident where the insured is “acting in any capacity other than as a passenger.”

The SI story talks about figuring out who was at the controls during the crash, but that’s not the point. Even if someone were to discover a photo showing Liddle’s instructor, Tyler Stranger, at the controls just before the crash, Liddle could still have been acting as pilot in command during the flight; if so, he would have continued in that capacity even when Stranger was at the controls. Likewise, if he were paying Stranger as his instructor during the flight, then he was acting in the capacity of a student, not a passenger, no matter who was at the controls or who was PIC.

I’m no fan of aviation exclusions in life insurance (my own insurer agreed not to put one in), and I don’t want to cheer the insurer on in the upcoming lawsuit, but there’s an important point to be made here about flying. As other aviation bloggers have pointed out, its the responsibility for a flight, not the physical manipulation of the controls, that defines a pilot in command. Two centuries ago Nelson’s Royal Navy, captains rarely, if ever, touched the wheels of their ships — that was the helmsmen’s job — but nobody doubted that they were captains, all the same.

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2 Responses to "acting in any capacity other than as a passenger"

  1. Aviatrix says:

    I’ve noticed that in accident reports in the US the senior pilot is deemed responsible even if they were not the designated PIC. It seems that with an ATPL or an instructor rating I can’t go for a flight with my PPL-friend without taking the rap for his errors.

    Maybe I’ll find some examples in the database later.

  2. david says:

    That sounds pretty brutal. You’d have to think hard about risking your career with a ham-fisted student who might porpoise the plane off the runway and bend the prop (for example).

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