photo of rain through window panesThe pilot breed has in it the primal instinct to attempt every assigned task, no matter the odds of success. Like many of our innate urges, this proclivity must be kept in check because in an airplane, acting on it can be deadly.

There is an old saying among business aviation pilots: “You don’t pay me to say ‘Yes,’ you pay me to say ‘No.'” Saying “Yes” is easy; it is what the passengers want to hear. It takes real courage to look at the person who controls your fate and
say “No.”

Unfortunately, there is no easy process for attaining the necessary skills needed to say the latter and survive. 

Strategies for ‘In the Moment’

Transfer ownership. If you can cite a law, regulation or operations manual entry that forbids the intended action, you can effectively transfer ownership of the word “No.” Then it is not a matter of your refusal, but submission to a higher power. Be very careful to emphasize your agreement with the law or rule.

Delay and redirect. If you are surprised by a request, a polite response that you will “think about it” can help delay your eventual denial. “It might be OK,” you could say, “but many things in aviation can be complicated and I want to make sure I’m not overlooking anything.”

Prioritize. A “No” is often easier to take when the reason behind it is made clear. 

Play the safety card. If all your refusals to comply with ill-considered demands land on deaf ears, it could very well be time to firmly say “No” as your final answer, accepting the risk that it could cost you your job. Another military truism is “Don’t fall on your sword over every issue, but when you do, make sure it counts.” 

There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are very few old, bold pilots.

Flying a drone with an FAA license carries with it certain obligations and liabilities. And while by definition an RPAS pilot can’t die in a drone crash, that in no way means that the drone he or she commands can’t injure or kill people and
destroy property.
frame grab from video of drone crashing at FSI ski race in Italy in 2015
Frame grab from video of 2015 ski race crash
When the drone crashed on the slalom course in Italy, Terry Miller wrote a passionate article about the responsibilities of the Pilot In Command (PIC). He made the
point that:

It doesn’t take a Monday morning quarterback to realize that the danger was foreseeable and therefore avoidable. There were few, if any, safe options available to the PIC in the event of UAS failure.

I commented that the decision to fly had in all likelihood been made weeks before in a production meeting far removed from the scene and the local conditions. And with one of the favorites coming down the hill, the pilot no doubt felt the pressure to deliver the shot. A shot he had most likely done throughout the meet.
I checked with noted drone attorney Jonathan Rupprecht to learn how the PIC concept as expressed in Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.3(a) which outlines the pilot in commands authority and ultimate responsibility, translated to Part 107. Here is what the esteemed counsellor had to say:
Part 107 was created so as to put all the regulations that drone operators need to know in one place.  The FAA copy and pasted over portions of Part 91 into 107.  § 107.19(b) says, “The remote pilot in command is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of the small unmanned aircraft system.”
So if anything goes south, the PIC always gets nailed, unless it was like some unforeseen mechanical failure or something he had no way of knowing or preventing (bird strikes, lightning, gun fire, terrorist attack, bearing failure, etc.) Accidents happen and they aren’t always the PIC’s fault, but think of it like a guilty-until-proven-innocent setup. 
While the case studies in this article are specific to business aviation, it is easy to extend the scenarios to drones. Which is why these “saying no” skills will be just as valuable for drone pilots and their managers. And why having carefully defined, written policies will stand companies that are in it for the long run in good stead.


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