Measure of Skill

A Reg Overview

January 1, 1997

The rules you most need to know

Here are the regulations sure to be covered on any flight review. Based on your calls to AOPA, we believe there are a few others that are not well understood. This discussion is limited primarily to VFR operations.

The legal airplane

Even if you are a renter, you are responsible for assuring that the aircraft is legal to fly. That means it must have airworthiness and registration certificates on board (FAR 91.203), operating limitations, and current weight and balance documents. There are additional items, but those cited are the important ones. Private aircraft must be inspected annually. In addition, those provided for instruction or carrying passengers for hire must be inspected every 100 hours (FAR 91.409) or be in a progressive inspection program. Radio station licenses are no longer required unless the aircraft is operated internationally.

Those are the highlights, but owners, and especially renters, frequently face additional dilemmas. What if one fuel indicator is broken but you inspect the tank visually and determine that it is full? Can you go? No, not according to FAR 91.205, which provides entire lists of equipment that must be working, depending upon whether the aircraft is to be flown VFR or IFR. However, such aircraft may be permitted to fly under FAR 91.213 concerning minimum equipment lists.

The legal pilot

Obviously, the pilot must be certificated for the operations to be conducted and have a current medical appropriate to those operations. To carry passengers, you must have made three takeoffs and landings within the past 90 days. If you are flying a tailwheel aircraft, the landings must be made to a full stop. If the passenger flight is to be conducted at night, then you must have made three landings to a full stop at night in the past 90 days. You must also have a sign-off for a flight review in your logbook during the previous 24 months.

Fuel requirements

Regulations require VFR aircraft (FAR Part 91.151) to have enough fuel to fly to the first point of intended landing and then, assuming normal cruising speed, continue for 30 more minutes (20 minutes for rotorcraft) during daytime, or 45 minutes if the flight is conducted at night.

What are the flight review requirements?

Do you need to know both FAR parts 61 and 91 regulations for your flight review? No. Only Part 91 must be reviewed, according to FAR 61.56. For pilot proficiency review, however, some flight schools use commercially available checklists that call for a review of both parts. You might want to call the instructor ahead of time.

The flight review consists of a minimum of one hour of ground school and one hour of flight time.

Here are some other operations that exempt you from the flight review: completing any phase of the FAA Wings program; passing a flight test for any certificate or rating; passing a required pilot or chief pilot proficiency check under FARs 61.58, 121, 135, or 141; passing a military pilot proficiency check; passing other proficiency checks administered by the FAA; or passing a pilot examiner annual flight check.

One of the fun ways to gain skill and accomplish the flight review is to go for another rating, such as an instrument or a seaplane rating.

When can you enter Class B airspace VFR?

Pilots must receive an ATC clearance before entering Class B airspace. Simply making radio contact is not sufficient to enter such airspace. If there is any doubt whether you have received clearance, ask for one before you penetrate the boundary. Controllers will say, "Remain clear of Class B," if they want you to stay out. Of course, aircraft may not enter Class B airspace unless equipped with an altitude-encoding transponder and a two-way radio capable of tuning the frequencies used by that ATC facility. The transponder requirement may be waived by ATC if the pilot calls to request permission prior to the flight.

How fast can you go (FAR 91.117)?

Below 10,000 feet MSL, aircraft are to slow to 250 knots indicated airspeed. This speed may also be used inside Class B airspace. Once below 2,500 feet above the surface, and within four nautical miles of the primary airport in a Class C or D airspace, the aircraft must be slowed to 200 knots. When you are flying under Class B airspace or when in a VFR corridor through Class B airspace, the indicated airspeed must be 200 knots or less. If an aircraft's minimum safe speeds are higher than allowed in the regulations — such as is the case with the Concorde or Boeing 747 — then the aircraft may be flown at minimum safe speeds.

Help available

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has published two booklets, Flight Review and Airspace for Everyone, to help you keep current. To obtain both, send a self-addressed 9 x 12 envelope with $1.01 postage to AOPA Air Safety Foundation, Attention: Flight Review, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701.

AOPA's top FAR questions

AOPA gets a lot of calls about FARs from many of you. The regulations most often asked about are logging time (FAR 61.51, Pilot logbooks) and minimum safe altitude (FAR 91.119, Minimum safe altitudes). Let's look first at logging time.

The most typical logbook question focuses on instrument practice: Can a properly rated safety pilot log time spent flying with an instrument pilot or instrument student in simulated instrument conditions? Yes, because the safety pilot is a required crew member for VFR flight. However, the pilot flying instruments should also list the safety pilot in his or her logbook for each simulated instrument flight.

Questions about minimum safe altitude usually come from a caller who claims that a friend has received a complaint about low-altitude flight. After an explanation of the incident, the caller asks whether the friend was within his rights. The regulation states, first of all, that except for landing and takeoff, altitudes must be high enough to allow an emergency landing without creating a hazard to people or property on the ground. Then it covers congested areas, such as open-air assemblies, cities, towns, or settlements, where pilots must stay 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within 2,000 feet of the aircraft. In uncongested areas, pilots may descend to 500 feet, and they may go lower in sparsely populated areas if the aircraft remains 500 feet from people, vessels, vehicles, or structures. Pretend that there is a sports stadium between you and the object or people and you will be legal, if not safe.

What to Review

You don't have to read all the FARs to stay reasonably current, or even to get a flight review signed off. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation recommends the ones listed below for a good overview.

General regulations

91.3, Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command
91.7, Civil aircraft airworthiness
91.9, Civil aircraft flight manual, marking, and placards
91.17, Alcohol or drugs
91.21, Portable electronic devices

Flight rules

91.103, Preflight action
91.107, Use of safety belts, shoulder harnesses, and child restraint
91.113, Right-of-way rules
91.117, Aircraft speed
91.119, Minimum safe altitudes
91.123, Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions
91.126-130, Operations in Class A, B, C, D, E, and G airspace
91.139, Emergency air traffic rules
91.151, Fuel requirements for flight in VFR conditions
91.155,, Basic VFR weather minimums
91.157, Special VFR weather minimums
91.167, Fuel requirements for flight in IFR conditions
91.175, Takeoff and landing under IFR
91.177, Minimum altitudes for IFR operations
91.185, IFR operations: Two-way radio communications failure

Equipment, instrument, and certificate requirements

91.207, Emergency locator transmitters
91.213, Inoperative instruments and equipment
91.215, ATC transponder and altitude reporting equipment and use

Special flight operations

91.325, Primary category aircraft, operating limitations

Airspace Reclassification at a Glance

It may surprise you to know that an airplane can be operated night VFR at an uncontrolled airport when the visibility is only one mile, as long as the aircraft remains clear of the clouds and stays within one-half mile of the runway. That is a special provision for Class G airspace, which extends 1,200 feet or less (sometimes 700 feet) above the surface. Get more than one-half mile from the runway, however, and night requirements increase to three statute miles, with cloud clearances of 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, and 2,000 feet horizontal. Daytime VFR minimums 1,200 feet agl and lower in Class G, whether operating at or away from an airport, are one statute mile and clear of the clouds. Student pilots are always limited to three statute miles of visibility during the day, and five miles at night, no matter what the airspace.

  VFR minimum visibility VFR minimum clearance
Class A N/A N/A
Class B 3 statute miles clear of clouds
Class C 3 statute miles 500 feet below
1,000 feet above
2,000 feet horizontal
Class D 3 statute miles 500 feet below
1,000 feet above
2,000 feet horizontal
Class E 3 statute miles 500 feet below
1,000 feet above
2,000 feet horizontal
Class G* 1 statute mile 500 feet below
1,000 feet above
2,000 feet horizontal

*Day, between 1,200 feet agl and 10,000 msl.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.