Do You Know the Difference between Being Legal
and Being Proficient?
H. Dean Chamberlain
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News
Within the FAA Flight Standards General Aviation
and Commercial Division here in Washington, we generally discuss two terms when
talking about pilots being pilot in command. The terms are currency (legal) and
proficiency. The two terms are not synonymous. You can be legal, but not
proficient, or you may be proficient, but not legal.
To serve as pilot in command (PIC), a pilot is
required to meet certain currency standards as outlined in Title 14 Code of
Federal Regulation (14 CFR) section 61.57, Recent flight experience: Pilot in
command. For example, that section states in part,
(a) General experience.
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this
section, no person may act as a pilot in command of an aircraft carrying
passengers or of an aircraft certificated for more than one pilot flight
crewmember unless that person has made at least three takeoffs and three
landings within the preceding 90 days, and:
(i) The person acted as the sole manipulator of
the flight controls; and
(ii) The required takeoffs and landings were
performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating
is required), and, if the aircraft to be flown is an airplane with a tail wheel,
the takeoffs and landings must have been made to a full stop in an airplane with
a tail wheel.
The key elements in this regulation include, but
are not limited to: carrying passengers; three takeoffs and landings, within 90
days; category and class; type rating if applicable; sole manipulator of the
flight controls; and a special landing requirement if a tail wheel airplane is
to be flown.
If all of your flying has been in a tricycle
gear airplane and you have made three or more landings within the past 90 days,
no matter how many hours you have flown or how many takeoffs and landings you
have made or how proficient you are in the tricycle gear airplane, you would not
be legal to carry a passenger in a tail wheel or 'conventional' gear airplane
unless you have made three takeoffs and landings to a full stop in an airplane,
with a tail wheel within 90 days. Please note: This regulation also requires the
tail wheel landings to be made to a full stop.
If you are flying a tricycle gear airplane, a
full stop is not required by the regulation. You can make three touch and go
landings in a tricycle gear airplane to meet the requirement.
The regulation also explains when a flight
simulator or flight training device may be used.
If you are not current, the regulation explains
how you can become current and under what conditions.
In subpart (b) of the regulation, it defines
what a pilot must do to be legal to serve as pilot in command carrying a
passenger during the period beginning one hour after sunset and ending one hour
before sunrise. The requirement is similar to the previous PIC currency
requirement for carrying a passenger with the major exception that the required
landings during this period must all be made to a full stop regardless of type
of airplane flown.
The currency requirements outlined in this
section are even more detailed. A major difference is that the previous PIC
requirements referred to being able to carry a passenger. The instrument PIC
requirements refer only to being able to operate under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)
or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for Visual Flight
Rules (VFR). If you are carrying a passenger, you must meet as appropriate.
The complete instrument currency requirement is
listed in subsection 'c' Instrument experience. Except as provided in paragraph
(e) of this section, no person may act as a pilot in command under IFR or in
weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, unless within the
preceding six calendar months, that person has:
1) For the purpose of obtaining instrument
experience in an aircraft (other than a glider), performed and logged under
actual or simulated instrument conditions, either in flight in the appropriate
category of the aircraft for the instrument privileges sought or in a flight
simulator or flight training device that is representative of the aircraft
category for the instrument privileges sought--
(i) At least six instrument approaches;
(ii) Holding procedures; and
(iii) Intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems.
(2) For the purpose of obtaining instrument experience in a glider, performed
and logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions:
(i) At least three hours of instrument time in
flight, of which one and a half hours may be acquired in an airplane or a glider
if no passengers are to be carried; or
(ii) Three hours of instrument time in flight in a glider if a passenger is to
INSTRUMENT PROFICIENCY CHECK
Subpart (d) of this regulation provides a
detailed procedure for IFR pilots to regain their instrument currency, if not
current. Subsection (d) Instrument proficiency check, states in part, - Except
as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, a person who does not meet the
instrument experience requirements of paragraph (c) of this section within the
prescribed time, or within six calendar months after the prescribed time, may
not serve as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the
minimums prescribed for VFR until that person passes an instrument proficiency
check consisting of a representative number of tasks required by the instrument
rating practical test.
FAA Aviation News is not
reprinting all of the instrument proficiency check requirements, they are listed
in the regulation. The URL goes to an FAA Internet site:
The final comment concerns that special area of
aviation we seldom think about: Insurance. You might be FAA legal. You might be
proficient. But do you meet any special insurance qualifications issued with
your insurance. For example, for someone to fly your aircraft, that person might
have to be at least a private pilot with 10 hours in make and model. Complex
aircraft or high performance aircraft might require more hours both in category
and in make and model. A pilot's failure to meet the required insurance minimums
may reduce or cancel your coverage in case of an accident. If you are flying
with another certificated pilot, in the event of an accident, it may reduce any
potential liability if there is some record of who is PIC. In some cases, it is
obvious. But, in some cases, it may not be so obvious who was flying at the time
of the accident. In some cases, a court may have to decide who was flying at the
time of impact. With responsibility goes accountability.
As you can see, there are many legal
requirements that pilots need to remember. You might just want to add the above
items to your personal checklist before your next flight. Are you current or
proficient? Hopefully, you should be both.