Pilot Counsel: Safety pilot

When you need someone beside you

August 1, 2013

John S. YodiceIt is FAR 91.109(c) that specifically imposes the requirement that a safety pilot be on board an aircraft being operated in simulated instrument flight. This regulation is really a supplement to the see-and-avoid responsibility imposed by FAR 91.113(b). “When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating the aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.” So, in discharge of this responsibility, it makes sense that if a pilot’s vision is restricted, as in simulated instrument flight, there must be another qualified pilot on board primarily to help see and avoid other aircraft.

What qualifications are necessary for a safety pilot to be able to properly discharge this responsibility? FAR 91.109(c), itself, tells us some of the qualifications, but there are other qualifications imposed by other regulations. FAR 91.109(c)(1) requires that the safety pilot must hold at least a private pilot certificate. The pilot certificate must have category and class ratings that are appropriate to the aircraft being flown.

FAR 91.109 does not address a safety pilot’s need for a medical certificate, or instrument rating, or recent experience. We need to look elsewhere in the regulations. The FAA interprets other regulations to require a medical certificate. Here is the FAA’s analysis. FAR 61.3(c) provides, with certain exceptions not relevant here, that no person may act in any capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember under an FAA-issued pilot certificate unless he or she holds a current appropriate airman medical certificate. FAR 1.1 defines a “flight crewmember” as a pilot assigned to perform a duty in an aircraft during flight time. Since a safety pilot is required by regulation to be on board to perform see-and-avoid duties, and since the safety pilot must hold a pilot certificate, under this analysis the safety pilot must hold a current, appropriate airman medical certificate.

A safety pilot does not have to have an instrument rating if the flight is being conducted under the visual flight rules. However, if the aircraft is operated under instrument flight rules, even in VFR conditions, whoever is acting as pilot in command of the flight must hold an instrument rating appropriate to the aircraft being operated. So, if a pilot who is not instrument rated is flying an aircraft IFR under a hood simulating instrument conditions, the safety pilot must necessarily be acting as pilot in command of an aircraft operating IFR, and therefore must hold an instrument rating. If the pilot under the hood is instrument rated and acting as pilot in command, even though the flight is IFR, the safety pilot is not required to have an instrument rating or be instrument current.

What about recent experience and flight review requirements? Certainly, whoever is pilot in command must meet these requirements. But what about a safety pilot who is not pilot in command? Notice that the requirements of FAR 61.57(b) and (c), for three takeoffs and three landings in the past 90 days, apply only to a person who serves as pilot in command on a flight on which passengers are carried. So, since the safety pilot is not pilot in command, the safety pilot does not have to have this recent experience.

What about the flight review requirements of FAR 61.56 (commonly but incorrectly called the “biennial flight review” or BFR)? This requirement applies only to a person who serves as pilot in command. So long as the safety pilot does not act as pilot in command, this requirement does not apply to the safety pilot.

So much for the qualifications of a safety pilot. There are a few other requirements that relate to the safety pilot that I should mention. Most important, and for obvious reasons, the aircraft must be equipped with fully functioning dual controls (there is a special exception in FAR 91.109[b] for single-engine airplanes, which allows for the use of a single, functioning, throw-over control wheel), and the safety pilot must occupy a control position so as to be able to manipulate the controls if necessary. And, companion to this requirement, the safety pilot must have adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft. If there are any restrictions to the safety pilot’s view, the restrictions must be compensated by “a competent observer in the aircraft [who] adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot.”

If the pilot under the hood is logging time to meet any aeronautical experience or training requirements, which usually is the case, the name of the safety pilot must be entered into the pilot’s logbook along with the usual logged information such as the date, flight time, location, aircraft, and the type of each instrument approach accomplished. No other identification of the safety pilot is needed other than his or her name. The safety pilot has no similar logging requirement.

John S. Yodice