What weather limits should an instructor set for a student to fly solo?
Jeff Edwards has been a flight instructor since 1982 and is a former FAA-designated pilot examiner. He has been a six-time designated Master Certificated Flight Instructor. In 2003, Jeff was selected as the National Flight Instructor of the Year. Jeff has more than 8,000 flight hours including nearly 2,000 as a bombardier/navigator in the A-6 Intruder. He says:
In years past some instructors would simply sign off a student for solo. But these days a flight instructor would be wise to consider the environment when endorsing a logbook for solo privileges. What limits should you consider on a student solo endorsement? Wind? Visibility? Ceiling? Day/night? A few limits come to mind. Unless you spell these limits out very specifically, you may be on the hook if your student bends some sheet metal in a strong-crosswind landing incident.
You might consider a graduated endorsement plan that sets conservative limits at first and then has more liberal limits as your student approaches the check ride. Some conservative numbers that I have seen here in the Midwest are 5 knots of wind, 7 statute miles of visibility, a 5,000-foot ceiling and “on deck” time one hour prior to sunset for brand-new student solos.
Some savvy instructors require students to check in with them prior to departure to check weather. This is a good time to cover hazardous conditions, metars and TAFs for the proposed flight.
As students get closer to the big day with the examiner, it’s time to expose them to more weather situations and raise the solo limits. Remember, your goal is to turn out pilots in command who can make good weather decisions all the time. If you take away all of the decision-making, then you have not achieved the purpose of good flight training.