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Do You Know the Difference between Being Legal and Being Proficient?

by 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.

BASIC PIC

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.

NIGHT PIC

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.

INSTRUMENT PIC

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 be carried.

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.

A link to the current CFR by subpart can be found at www.airweb.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgFAR.nsf/MainFrame?OpenFrameSet

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.