Incident Proves Two-Pilot Operations Are Critical for Part 121

In the United States it is mandatory to have two pilots aboard during Part 121 operations for safety.

An airline pilot on a flight operating as American Eagle became incapacitated during a flight from Chicago and later died.

An airline pilot who became incapacitated during a flight from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, on November 19 has died. The pilot, whose name has not been released, was required flight crew aboard Envoy Air Flight 3556, an Embraer E175 operated as American Eagle, with service from Chicago O’Hare (KORD) to John Glenn International Airport (KCMH).

According to, approximately 30 minutes into the flight, the pilot flying as first officer notified air traffic control: "Need to return, the captain is incapacitated." The flight was cleared back to O'Hare.

Subsequent transmissions between ATC and O'Hare tower depict controllers giving the pilot flying clearance back to the aircraft and information as to where to taxi to so that medical personnel could get to the incapacitated pilot.

According to a story appearing on CNBC, Capt. Ric Wilson, vice president of Envoy’s flight operations, said in a note to staff that the incapacitated pilot was a captain in training, occupying the left seat.

Yesterday the airline released a statement on the event, noting "The flight landed safely and first responders met the aircraft upon arrival. Despite heroic efforts by those on board and first responders on the ground, our colleague passed away at the hospital. We’re deeply saddened and are doing all we can to support his family and our colleagues at this time."

Why Two Pilots

In the United States it is mandatory to have two pilots aboard during Part 121 operations for safety. One is pilot flying, while the other pilot performs cross checks and non-flying duties. Another reason for two pilots is to manage workload, as pilots often work long hours. Both pilots are qualified to fly the aircraft, and they take turns acting as pilot flying, often switching off legs during a long duty day. The captain retains the position as pilot-in-command throughout.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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