Eddie Sez:

The central issue in many mishaps is “procedural intentional noncompliance,” or PINC. Yes, it is true that we all make mistakes now and then; we violate procedures unintentionally. But flying a high performance aircraft in a dynamic environment isn’t easy and we have safeguards built in via cockpit automation, crew resource management, and redundant procedures. These procedures are designed to protect us. When we intentionally violate procedures these safeguards break down. When we do this habitually, it is only a matter of time before it all catches up with us.

What follows are quotes from the source documents, listed below, as well as my comments in blue.

[Huntzinger] What’s interesting is that PINC events typically involve crews who have been flying most of their adult lives — veteran aviators who train on simulators once or twice a year; attend initial and then recurrent training classes that cover procedures, FARs, limitations and other best practices; practice CRM; ride with check airmen; and so on. In short, they clearly know the rules and regulations, yet they intentionally violate them.

Aviators who have reached the top – the senior airline captain or the business aviation chief pilot – are at the highest risk. They know their jobs and are in positions where there is very little push back from above or below.

[Huntzinger] From research and practical experience, we have found that there are three elements to a PINC event. First, there is some sort of reward for the violator; second, it follows a situational assessment, which covers, at the very least, the associated risks; and third, the action is unlikely to produce any adverse reaction from peers. You have to have all three elements in place to go PINC. If any one of them is missing or incomplete, the whole process shuts down.

Rewards (Economic)

[Huntzinger] One of the major motivators is economic, whether it is for the person or the company served. A good example occurred a few years ago, when La Guardia Airport was hammered by a heavy, wet snowstorm. The plows and ground de-icing equipment were keeping pace and the airport was open, but most crews canceled their flights because the snowfall was so heavy they could not get from the deicing pit to the runway with a safe margin. Most crews. However, two flights departed, both from the same airline. Do you know why? That particular airline paid by the flight. That is, the pilots were not on salary, but paid by each leg completed. No fly, no pay.

“No fly, no pay” applies to a lot of airline crews who are paid by the hour unless they have provisions for trip guarantees. (They are paid even if the trip cancels.) When the crew’s paycheck depends on flying, the motivation to violate a procedure is high.

Rewards (Personal)

[Huntzinger] Another reward is internally driven and has to do with a sense of duty, the it-is-my-job-and-I’ll-get-it-done syndrome. Pride is a motivator as well. It’s closely associated to duty, but not quite the same thing. Pride involves being known as the go-to guy, the one everyone counts on to get the job done. Lots of people take pride in their abilities and rightly so. Many of us are very competent at a challenging, complex profession and we like it when people recognize that fact.

When pilots have a personal relationship with passengers, there is additional pressure to ensure our positive reputations do not suffer by failing to accomplish an assigned task.

Rewards (Get-Home-itis)

[Huntzinger] The personal lives of the crew are often motivators as well. How many of us have missed a soccer game or an anniversary? How many of us have been threatened with making the next one or else?

Here again, having a personal relationship with passengers multiplies the number of cases of get-home-itis that might adversely affect a pilot’s decisions.

Situational Assessment

[Huntzinger] Once a motivator has been established, there has to be some feeling that by ignoring the rules, the outcome will likely be successful. This assessment involves several considerations, or questions: Can I handle this? Do I have the skills, experience or the hardware to even do this? Can I get away with this?

The threat of being caught increases with larger organizations because there are more “witnesses” without a personal stake in the successful outcome of the procedural noncompliance. It follows, then, that the threat of being caught is decreased in small flight departments, especially those flying from small airfields.

Adverse Reaction from Peers

[Huntzinger] The last PINC element involves fellow pilots, colleagues, passengers or superiors — one’s peers. A person blows off the rules only when confident that no one in the peer group will react negatively. The absence of negative reaction could result from their not knowing, from knowing and not caring, or actually endorsing the behavior. Regardless, if no one is likely to criticize or complain, think PINC.

When the top pilot is infected with PINC, the disease metastasizes, that is it spreads like a cancer. Any chief pilot needs to worry that not only does his or her actions place the flight operation at risk, these same actions telegraph the message to everyone else that PINC is tolerated.


[Huntzinger] I have discovered that while not all PINC events end in disaster, many disasters begin with PINC episodes. That probably results from the fact that people tend to underestimate the situation and overestimate their abilities. Research back in the 1980s, Boeing did a study of 232 accidents. One of its researchers’ findings was that the pilot flying (PF) failed to follow procedures in about half of the events and that the pilot monitoring (PM) failed to follow procedures in about 20 percent of the accidents. These actions combined with some other nonstandard situations involving weather, ATC, maintenance and such to cause the accident. The crews were aware of some of the nonstandard situations while they happened, but were unaware of others. The average number of contributing factors was four and the highest was 20.

Prevention (Economic)

[Huntzinger] So to prevent PINC from occurring, consider ways to counter the economic motivation, be that to benefit the individual or the individual’s company. One mitigation scheme is to put crews on salary rather than paying them by the leg. If the pilot knows that they will be paid, regardless of whether the flight is completed or not, one temptation to avert the rules is removed.

Similarly, companies should build some flexibility into schedules to accommodate delays and into their cost structures to cover the costs associated with delays and thereby ease the pilots’ worries and their inclination to push on when they should not.

Having a Plan B for alternate transportation or hotel accommodations pre-arranged or considered can help alleviate the inconvenience of an aborted trip or diversion. Any additional incurred costs should be considered to be an insurance policy.

To eliminate PINC, it’s important to eliminate passengers from the formula. Create procedures that prevent passengers from interfering with the conduct of the flight. They can plead, rant and rave but the approach criteria, for example, are cast in concrete. If they continue to interfere, have them removed from the area and banned from flying with you in the future. This can all be preempted by having a proactive program that clearly explains to passengers their roles, responsibilities and the limits of their authority.

It helps to have senior leadership buy-in. If the CEO has a “don’t interfere with the pilots” philosophy you obviously bypass many of these problems. But how do you gain this level of trust from your company’s top leaders? You can do this by frequently (and accurately) framing all decisions in terms of safety. A “flow control” delay, for example, can be better explained to be a problem of “too many airplanes and too little airspace due to hazardous weather.” If the senior leadership knows safety is a top concern on days where the trip does get from Point A to Point B, they will be more receptive when the trip ends up at Point C or never leaves in the first place.

Prevention (Personal)

[Huntzinger] To counter a wrongheaded sense of “duty,” examine the operations culture and its ops procedures.

This is a leadership problem. We need to stop celebrating hacking the mission under impossible odds and apologizing for delays, cancellations, and diverts. In fact, we should flip those. When a crew finds itself as the only aircraft to make it off the ground during a heavy fog, we need to ensure no corners were cut. If a crew abandons an approach well before the missed approach point and ends up at the alternate, we need to celebrate their timely and safe decision-making.

Prevention (Situational Assessment)

Beyond that, there must be clear disincentives for risk-taking and PINC episodes. These could include fines, demotions, suspensions or even termination. Many companies make procedures compliance a condition of continued employment. One less drastic but powerful consequence is to make the perpetrator go out and teach people about compliance. For many pilots, speaking in public is a fate worse than death.

A word of caution here. If you uncover a PINC episode, do not jump to conclusions. Investigate and then act. There may have been a good reason why the person did PINC. There may have been an emergency. It could be that the rule is old and overcome by events and needs rework. Maybe it was an unwritten rule or the rule was inappropriate for the conditions. Be sure to understand why. And there may have been a bad reason why there was PINC. Maybe management coerced them and things turned out bad, so a scapegoat was needed. They could have been pressured by peers, a passenger or something else. Find out what it was and fix it.

A good safety program can defuse many of these problems as the anonymous reporting system gives people the opportunity to speak up, ahead of time. You will have to look for the underlying factors, just as they were described above. Always ask: Why?

Prevention (Setting a Personal Example)

The best way to prevent Procedural Intentional Noncompliance in ourselves is also the best way to prevent it in others; we should set a good “by the book” example and brag about it. By becoming vocal advocates for procedural compliance we place a personal stake in the game. If we were then to break with this philosophy, not only are we violating a procedure, we are going back on our publicly proclaimed ethics. When we hear or witness procedural intentional noncompliance, we need to speak up.

Book Notes

Portions of this page can be found in the book Flight Lessons 3: Experience, Chapter 8.


Huntzinger, David, Ph.D., “In the PINC,” Business & Commercial Aviation, January 2006