Everything You Wanted To Know About the FAR/AIM but Were Afraid To Ask

The big book is your friend.

While going through the checklist for items the applicant needed to bring for the check ride, the CFI noted that the learner’s FAR/AIM was two years out of date. The CFI was the “finish up, polish up” CFI, and they had been using the electronic version, E-FAR/AIM, on his tablet. It was agreed that for the check ride the applicant needed to have a copy of his own. The applicant promptly bought one from the FBO, removed the plastic wrap, then took the book outside and proceeded to rub the book on the ground, making the new book look worn and well-used. When asked why he intentionally damaged the book, the applicant replied that he’d seen a video where an online ground school instructor claimed if the applicant’s FAR/AIM looked old and used the designated pilot examiner would be impressed. There was an awkward silence. No, Virginia, it’s not the look of the FAR/AIM that will impress the DPE—it is your ability to use it.

An instructor and a student preflight a Cessna 152 before a lesson. [Credit: Richard Steiger]

The FAR/AIM for the Private Pilot

The Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM) is a reference tool. It’s intimidating to look at, but the good news is that you don’t have to commit each individual entry to memory. You do, however, need to have a basic knowledge of the pertinent regulations and more importantly, know where and how to look things up just to be sure you have the correct information. This process begins with knowing what the chapters, parts, and sections hold.

Start the journey by looking at the table of contents in the front of the book. For the pilots that opt for the electronic format, finding information quickly can be done with a few keystrokes. For the pilots that go with the paper version, it takes a little more effort. In either case, you will want to spend an hour or so with a CFI going through the FAR/AIM, making tabs to help you find information quickly prior to check-ride day.

Following are the items you should be familiar with.

Part 1: Definitions and Abbreviations

You will need to be familiar with category and class, with respect to both airmen and aircraft, as well as controlled airspace, and pilot in command.

Aviation is rife with abbreviations—it’s like Sesame Street threw up—all those abbreviations and words from Administrator to VORTAC are listed here.

Part 43: Preventative Maintenance, Rebuilding, and Alteration

The information covers what a pilot can and cannot do when it comes to maintenance on their own aircraft. The caveat is do not attempt to do any maintenance that is beyond your skill level. Be warned: Most FBOs and flight schools do not allow their rental customers to touch the aircraft with a tool, and this is especially true at Part 141 schools where only vetted mechanics can perform maintenance and repairs or even mechanically touch the airplane beyond the preflight inspection. Even replacing a missing screw in a cowling can bring down the FAA.

Part 61: Certification of Pilots and Instructors

This part lists the experience and knowledge requirements the applicant needs to acquire certification and ratings. The airman certification standards (ACS) and practical test standards (PTS) are drawn from here.

Take the initiative and familiarize yourself with the material required to reach your goal. The CFI should know how to apply this part of the FARs, and training goes smoother if the CFI and learner work as a team.

For CFIs, acquainting the learner with Part 61 at the beginning of the training can help keep them motivated. It is very gratifying to compare what is required for certification to what has already been done and recorded in your logbook.

[Photo: Meg Godlewski]

Part 67: Medical Standards and Certification

Medical requirements for pilots are found here. There is a lot of bad information out there about medical requirements for pilots—stay away from this “tribal knowledge” and instead use Part 67 as your guide.

Part 71: Airspace

Airspace is so important that there are multiple entries for it in this book. You will find it again in Part 91 and in the AIM. The important things to look for, the definitions and dimensions of airspace, weather required for VFR flight and entry procedures and operations in different classes of airspace.

Part 91: General Operation and Flight Rules

There is an expression “Part 61 will help you get your certificate, breaking the rules in Part 91 will get it taken away.” There is a great deal of information here, a few of the important ones to know are rules about minimum safe altitudes, the operation of aircraft in a reckless and hazardous manner, fuel requirements, pilot currency, and airspace.

Get ready to put a lot of tabs in the book when you move through this chapter.

A few other parts you may want to check out: Part 135 if you have an interest in becoming a charter pilot, Part 136, flight over national parks, and Part 141, flight schools. One of the benefits to a Part 141 over a Part 61 flight school is that because of their structure, the trainees going through a Part 141 school may have more flexibility with educational funding, such as using veterans benefits to pay for advanced ratings.


The second half of th eFAR/AIM book is dedicated to the AIM—the basic handbook for pilots to use operationally.

Chapter 3 Airspace

For this chapter, it is useful to pull out a VFR sectional and find the types of airspace you are reading about. Pro tip: Note the physical landmarks on the sectional that help identify airspace boundaries, like the airport that has Class Bravo at 3,000 feet on the north end and 4,000 feet on the south end.

Pay close attention to the definitions and/or rules for special use airspace—note the military operations areas (MOAs) prohibited airspace, restricted, etc., in the vicinity, and which agency controls them—find the frequencies for contact on the sectional or chart.

Chapter 4 Air Traffic Control

This is the chapter that contains information about airport operations. There is a plethora of information about procedures at both towered and nontowered airports. This is where you will find information about radio technique. Look for the items that are in bold print.

There is information about the airport traffic pattern here, and information about visual indicators at airports without operating control towers. The role of air traffic control is explained in this chapter.

Chapter 5 Air Traffic Control Procedures

This is the chapter that explains flight plans. It is the most useful during instrument training as it explains IFR clearances and procedures.

Chapter 6 Emergency Procedures

This chapter outlines what to do if things go wrong during a flight. For example, this is where you find the information on procedures for what to do if you experience radio failure.

Chapter 7 Safety of Flight

This is where you will find information about weather.

Note 7-1-7, Categorical Outlooks, which contains the metrics for low IFR, IFR, marginal VFR and VFR. Metrics for visibility and cloud clearances are important because the term “Looks pretty good” is subjective and really doesn’t provide necessary information.

Chapter 8 Medical Facts for Pilots

This chapter contains information about health for pilots. Hypoxia and the rules regarding flying and scuba diving are found here.

Aftermath of Harrison Ford’s airplane performing an off-airport landing. [Flying Archives]

NTSB 830

This is a chapter you hope you never have to use. Note the difference between an accident and an incident. Note that an unscheduled off-airport landing by a small aircraft when there is an uncommanded loss of engine power without damage is not considered an accident–or a crash, for that matter.

Injuries are quantified here, as well, along with when you need to notify the National Transportation Safety Board.

By the time you’re done moving through the FAR/AIM with your CFI, the paper FAR/AIM should be sporting a lot of tabs that provide assistance to finding things quickly—there are even companies that sell the book pre-tabbed.

Good luck—and don’t forget to update when the new publication is released.


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