As the FAA defines it regarding a flight, operational control means the "exercise of authority over initiating, conducting or terminating a flight. "The FAAs definition of operate is to "use, cause to use or authorize to use aircraft, for the purpose... of air navigation including the piloting of aircraft, with or without the right of legal control (as owner, lessee, or otherwise)."
As a result, Part 91 operators, including aircraft owners using the services of management companies, need to ask themselves the following questions concerning each flight:
- What entity makes the decision on the aircraft that will be used for the flight?
- What entity makes the decision to assign flight pilot/s and crew members?
- For what entity do the pilots work as direct employees or, alternatively, as agents?
- What entity makes the decision to initiate, manage and terminate the flight?
The same answer to each of the questions identifies the entity that has operational control. It is usually not the aircraft management company. According to FAA requirements and regulations, it is usually the aircraft owner.
Safety is the most important consideration in any flight. A clear, unquestioned line of authority helps to avoid any misconceptions or misunderstandings while at the same time achieving the highest degree of safety possible for air travel.
Whoever has operational control also has responsibility for FAA regulatory compliance for the flight. Through its employees, aircraft management company or other authorized agents, the person with operational control has to be able to manage all safety responsibilities and have oversight and knowledge of all aspects of flight operations including flight crew eligibility.
Liability (in the event of an accident) for aircraft operation is also the responsibility of the person with operational control. This requires that the individual with operational control has up-to-date insurance, makes sure that the required licenses are in force and that the aircraft is being operated in a manner consistent with its stated use.
Aircraft Management Companies
- A Part 135 certificate
- Contracted with the owner to operate all passenger carrying flights including those for the owner, as commercial operations under Part 135.
Operational control considerations are as important for noncommercial (Part 91) operators as for commercial (Part 135) operators. This is especially critical in situations where a company's aircraft is managed by a Part 135 certificate holder and used for both the company's Part 91 operations and the certificate holder's Part 135 operations.
Please note that these types of arrangements are not typical in the aircraft management business and are the exception rather than the rule.
This article should be only viewed as an overview of operational control. Always seek advice from knowledgeable aviation counsel for specific questions on how operational control may apply to your situation.