Are You Flying Legally?

There are so many layers to the FAA?s pilot and aircraft currency requirements that it?s hard to know if you meet them all.

0603Legalclipart1F

0603Legalclipart1F

It's odd that we measure most things aeronautical in time, not distance or even speed. The relationship of time to aviation regulation is fundamental and is the basis for nearly all rules that govern pilots and the operation of aircraft. Log the time and you're legal to fly, but don't forget to check the calendar as well as the flight hour meter.

Perhaps the first time restriction a student pilot has to face is the limit on solo privileges. When your instructor endorses your student certificate to allow you to fly the airplane on your own, the solo endorsement is good for only 90 days. After 90 days you can't continue to fly solo until your instructor has renewed your privilege by again endorsing your certificate [FAR 61.87 (n)].

The 90-day solo endorsement is also good for solo cross-country flights, provided you've been signed off by your instructor to conduct cross-country flights. But in addition to the 90-day endorsement, you'll need to get an instructor to review your cross-country planning and endorse your logbook for each specific cross-country flight. The instructor who reviews your flight planning does not have to be your regular instructor.

As you progress with your flight training, you might run into another time restriction. Your student pilot certificate expires 24 calendar months from the month in which it was issued [61.19 (b)]. So if you've taken your time soaking up things aeronautical and two years have passed, then you'll have to get a new student pilot certificate.

You'll notice the expiration was based on "calendar" months. When the FAA uses calendar months it means the period from the beginning of a month to the end of that same month after the time has expired. So 24 calendar months means that if you got your student pilot certificate on March 1, 2003, it's good until March 31, 2005.

Once you've successfully passed the written/computer knowledge exam with a score of 70 or better, you're faced with another time limit. The results of the exam are good for only two years. So if you haven't concluded the aeronautical experience requirements in time to schedule and complete the practical flight test within the 24-calendar-month period, you'll have to take the knowledge test again [61.39 (a) (1)]. Pass the test on or near the first of a month and you get almost 25 months to complete training and take the flight test.

Okay, so you've completed the required aeronautical experience, passed your written and scheduled your practical flight test within two years of having passed the written. But you're a bit nervous and things don't go as well as you'd like during the flight test. The examiner isn't happy either and tells you that you've failed the practical and hands you a pink slip detailing where you went wrong.

In the past, there was a minimum time interval before you were permitted to retake the exam. You had to wait for 30 days after a failure before you could retake the test. There was a way to shorten the wait. If you took remedial training from your instructor, you didn't have to wait the 30 days. But the option of waiting out the 30 days and then retaking the test without additional training has been eliminated. Now, if you fail either a knowledge or practical test, you have to receive training and an endorsement from the instructor who conducted the training before you can retake the test [61.49 (a) (1) and (2)].

Immediately after you pass your flight test there's another time limit that begins ticking away. The paper certificate the examiner presents to you is a temporary certificate that is good for only up to 120 days [61.17 (a)]. If the "administrator" finds you qualified for the certificate, a permanent certificate should arrive before the 120 days expire. The FAA's paperwork machine has been so bogged down over the years that the 120 day life of the temporary has sometimes been extended.

One time period that seems to be very popular with the FAA is 90 days. In addition to the need to have your solo privileges renewed every 90 days, there are several other 90-day periods that apply after you've earned your ticket.

In order to carry passengers you are required to have made three takeoffs and three landings in the previous 90 days in an airplane of the same category, class and type (if a type rating is required) in which you'll be taking your passengers for a ride [61.57 (a) (1)]. Category is the broad grouping of aircraft such as airplane, rotorcraft, glider, etc. Class is a narrower definition, such as single-engine land, multiengine, or single-engine seaplane, etc. Type in this instance applies only to a large airplane or turbojet that requires a pilot to have a specific type rating to fly. If you're going to be taking the passengers up in an airplane with a tailwheel, the takeoffs and landings logged have to be in a tailwheel airplane and the landings have to be to a full stop. No touch-and-goes [61.57 (a) (1) (ii)].

A similar 90-day period applies to taking passengers up at night (which is defined as an hour after sunset to an hour before sunrise). In order to take passengers up during those hours, you must have made three takeoffs and landings to a full stop during those hours in the preceding 90 days [61.57 (b) (1)]. That's both takeoffs and landings, so if you've made a flight that took off during daylight hours and landed after dark, that only counts as a landing. You could balance it with a takeoff before dawn, but it's probably more likely you'll end up making four landings and three takeoffs to satisfy the 90-day night currency rule.

Another popular FAA period is the two year or 24-calendar-month interval we faced with the student pilot certificate and the results of the written knowledge exam. The biennial flight review (BFR) is one example. Unless you've successfully completed a flight review with an instructor "since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month" in which you want to act as pilot in command, you can't do it [61.56 (c)]. Period.

Assume it's March 30, 2003, you want to act as pilot in command and you last completed a BFR on March 10, 2001. The beginning of the 24th month prior to March 2003 (the month in which you want to act as PIC) is March 1, 2001. So you're okay for one more day. Even though it's technically more than 24 months since March 10, it's not 24 calendar months. But if you don't complete the BFR by the 31st you lose your PIC privileges. Maybe an easier way to explain it is that you retain your pilot in command privilege until the last day of the month two years after the month in which you last completed a BFR.

According to the regulations, there are time parameters that apply to the actual biennial flight review itself. The BFR has to include at least one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight instruction. It can be flown in any airplane in which you're rated; it doesn't have to be the most complex or difficult. In other words, although it won't really satisfy the original intent of the regulation, if you have a multiengine rating you can complete the BFR in a fixed-gear, single-engine airplane. Other than the required times specified for the ground and flight portions, the regulation isn't very specific about what must be covered. It is supposed to provide a review of the current general operating flight rules of Part 91 and of "those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate."

If the instructor isn't pleased with your performance, he can't fail you. Instead, he'll log the flight as dual instruction given and not endorse your logbook to indicate that you successfully completed the review. The consequences of not completing a BFR are pretty dire. You can't fly as pilot in command, period. If you're an instructor (and yes, instructors are required to complete BFRs) you can't fly an airplane as PIC until you successfully complete the BFR. It's important to schedule a BFR with the instructor to leave yourself time for weather postponements as well as the possibility that you might not satisfy the instructor the first time out. At least that way you can go out and practice the maneuvers or procedures the instructor felt weren't up to snuff and still have time to schedule another BFR before both the 24 calendar months and your PIC privileges expire.

Since the BFR is designed to be sure we haven't gotten rusty during the preceding 24 months, the FAA has agreed to accept other rust-removing activities as substitutes for the BFR. If you complete a phase of the Pilot Proficiency Awards Program (Wings Program), that counts as an acceptable substitute for a BFR. The completion of each phase of the Wings Program requires you attend an FAA-sponsored or FAA-sanctioned safety seminar and complete three hours of flight training.

Another way to satisfy the BFR requirement is to earn a new pilot certificate or rating. Add a seaplane rating, a glider rating, an instrument rating, a helicopter rating, a balloon rating or a multiengine rating and you get a pass-the-BFR card and you're good for another 24 calendar months. The same is true if you move up from private pilot to commercial, or from commercial to ATP. And the annual and biennial training and checks that are required to keep a type rating current also satisfy the BFR requirement.

The third class flight physical is another 24-calendar-month requirement-at least for some pilots. While the third class flight physical for pilots who are 40 years old or older still expires at the end of the 24th month after the month of the date of the exam, for those who are not yet 40 the interval has changed. Now for pilots younger than 40, the third class medical doesn't expire until the end of the 36th month after the month of the date of the exam.

The first class medical expires at the end of the last day of the sixth month after the month of the date of the exam for operations requiring an airline transport pilot certificate; the last day of the 12th month for operations requiring a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate; and after either the 24-month or 36-month period that applies to the third class medical, depending on whether the pilot has passed his 40th birthday.

There are two time limits that apply to the use of alcohol. The first is the rule that prohibits pilots from flying for eight hours after drinking an alcoholic beverage. The "eight hour bottle to throttle rule" in FAR 91.17, says, you can't "act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft … within eight hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage."

The other alcohol-related limit is for the time you have to report having been convicted of driving while under the influence. According to FAR 61.15 (e), "Each person holding a certificate issued under this part shall provide a written report of each motor vehicle action to the FAA, Civil Aviation Security Division, not later than 60 days after the motor vehicle action." A motor vehicle action is described as the conviction for the violation of any federal or state statute relating to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired or under the influence of alcohol or a drug. An action also includes the cancellation, suspension, revocation or denial of an application for a license to operate a motor vehicle for a cause related to the misuse of alcohol or drugs while operating a motor vehicle [61.15 (2)]. The same incident must also be reported on your next application for a medical certificate. If you apply for a new medical in less than 60 days since the motor vehicle action, that does not relieve you of the obligation to make the report to the Civil Aviation Security Division.

As long as we're talking about over- imbibing, there's one more time period that can be critical to your flying career. If you're involved in another motor vehicle action (while impaired by or under the influence of alcohol or a drug) that occurs within three years of a previous motor vehicle action, that's grounds for either the denial of an application for a certificate or rating for a period of up to one year after the date of the last motor vehicle action, or the suspension or revocation of a certificate or rating [61.15 (d)]. Ouch!

Other time limits we should have learned for the knowledge exam apply to certain ratings and certificates. Instructors, pilots with type ratings and pilots with an instrument rating all are subject to time limits.

Once again, a 24-calendar-month interval appears in the regulations. This one is placed on certified flight instructor (CFI) certificates, which, unlike the other pilot certificates, do expire. A flight instructor certificate expires 24 calendar months from the month in which it was issued or renewed [61.19 (d) (2)]. There are several ways a CFI can renew his certificate. He can pass a practical test for one of the ratings listed on his current flight instructor certificate or present a record of training students showing that during the preceding 24 calendar months he has endorsed at least five students for a practical test and at least 80 percent of those students passed the test on the first attempt [61.197].

Instructors can also renew their certificates by presenting a graduation certificate showing that within the preceding three calendar months they have successfully completed an approved flight instructor refresher course consisting of ground training, flight training or a combination of both. An approved flight instructor refresher course can involve a weekend course or an interactive internet program. Recently, the FAA also agreed to accept an instructor's designation as a Master Flight Instructor by the National Association of Flight Instructors as an acceptable method of renewal.

If a pilot holds an instrument rating and wants to fly on an IFR clearance there, too, the passage of time is important. In order to file and fly in the IFR system, a pilot must, within the preceding six calendar months, perform and log (under actual or simulated instrument conditions) at least six instrument approaches and holding procedures and intercept and track courses through the use of navigation systems [61.57 (c)]. The rules are not specific as to what constitutes flying an instrument approach under actual IFR conditions, but if the weather is below VFR minimums for any part of the approach that is good enough, we think.

If you haven't met the instrument experience requirement within the six-calendar-month period or within the next six calendar months, then you can't serve as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR until you pass an instrument proficiency check "consisting of a representative number of tasks required by the instrument practical test." A CFI-I can preside over the instrument proficiency flight check.

If you want to fly as pilot in command of an aircraft that requires more than one pilot, then you're required, within the preceding 12 calendar months, to complete a pilot-in-command proficiency check in an aircraft that is type certificated for more than one pilot; and within the preceding 24 calendar months, complete a pilot-in-command proficiency check in the particular type of aircraft in which you want to fly as pilot in command [61.58 (a) (1) and (2)].

The proficiency check can consist of the maneuvers and procedures required for a type rating; the practical test required for the type rating, the initial or periodic practical test required for the issuance of a pilot examiner or check airman designation; or a military flight check for a pilot in command with instrument privileges, in an aircraft that the military requires to be operated by more than one pilot [61.58 (d) (1 - 4)].

If you've been granted authorization to conduct Category II or Category III approaches (for other than Part 121 and Part 135 operations), the authorization expires at the end of the sixth calendar month after the month in which it was issued or renewed [61.21 (a)]. You can renew your authorization by passing a practical test, which renews it for all types of aircraft, but authorization for a particular type aircraft will not be renewed beyond 12 calendar months from the month the practical test was accomplished in that specific type of aircraft.

From a review of the regulations, it's obvious that although our pilot certificates have no expiration date-except for the CFI-there are a slew of time intervals that apply to the certification of pilots (Part 61) and their operations (Part 91). In addition to the ones we've discussed, there are a whole host of time restrictions and limits that apply to the inspections and maintenance requirements of our airplanes. But since, as the song says, "Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much," we'll wait until another time to examine those. In the meantime, have a good time.

From March 2003: Packing Heat in an Airline Cockpit