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Instructor Tips

Foreign Pilot Liability

FBOs and flight instructors are occasionally approached by foreign pilots who want to get checked out in an aircraft. It's a simple request, but arranging a checkout that complies with the federal aviation regulations and good business practices requires that the CFI do some research. I've recently discovered that many FBOs have very little knowledge or experience with Part 61.75 of the federal aviation regulations (FARs), which pertains to U.S. pilot certificates issued on the basis of a foreign pilot certificate.

As a CFI, I was not familiar with the regulations either-this is not a subject you are likely to study when working on a flight instructor certificate. I have been a CFI for approximately 18 months, and in that time I have had to deal with three foreign pilot conversions. The first two were pretty simple. The pilots were from Europe, and they had private single-engine land certificates with instrument ratings. For them, conversion required a visit to the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). But not every conversion is that simple.

A Canadian pilot came to me wanting a quick checkout in one of our twins. He did not have his logbook with him so I had no way to document his flight time or recent experience. This raised some questions in my mind, but I reviewed his Canadian license and medical certificate. At first glance, the license was a little confusing.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for all single-pilot non-high-performance single-engine and multiengine land aircraft and Cessna 310s. He also had an instrument rating. What confused me was the non-high-performance limitation on a certificate that also stated that the pilot could fly a C-310. This was when I realized I had to do some research, beginning with what would be considered a high-performance aircraft in his country. In Canada, if a pilot is allowed to fly an air- craft that does not fall within the limitations of his certificate, the specific make and model of that aircraft are listed on the certificate. As you can see, each pilot certificate and each country is entirely different.

This particular pilot had converted his Canadian license to a U.S. private pilot airplane single-engine land certificate several years earlier. He later earned his commercial single-engine, multiengine, and instrument ratings. He had several things to do before he could legally fly in the United States. To start with, he needed a flight review. He told me that he was not aware a flight review was required, nor did he know what a flight review was. He told me that he had been renting aircraft-including multiengine airplanes-at various FBOs in the United States, and had been flying under instrument rules. At that point I knew I had to get some answers for both of us. Part 61.75 gives an idea of what a foreign pilot needs to accomplish before he or she can legally fly in the United States. However, it is not very clear and only covers some of the basic requirements.

Here is what is required of the pilot in my scenario:

  • The pilot must be from a member country of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
  • The pilot must visit the local FSDO to convert his multiengine rating to a U.S. rating before he can fly a multiengine aircraft.
  • Before he can fly IFR, the pilot must take the instrument foreign pilot (IFP) written test. This is a written test only, just to make sure that the pilot is familiar with U.S. procedures and airspace. A checkride is not required.

Part 61.75 does not say anything about the commercial certificate. The FAA only issues foreign pilots a private certificate, even if the pilot holds a commercial rating in his or her own country. The pilot must take the U.S. commercial written and practical tests and must meet the requirements for aeronautical knowledge, flight time, etc., to receive a U.S. commercial certificate.

Let's not forget the logbook endorsements. Once again, I would like to stress that a flight review is required. I am very surprised by how many CFIs don't know about this requirement. If the pilot wants to fly a high-performance aircraft or a complex aircraft, even if he has been flying them in his country, a separate logbook endorsement is required.

Next, the CFI should check the logbook for the 90-day landing currency for day and nighttime. Some countries do not allow night flying unless the pilot is instrument-rated. The CFI should check the pilot's certificate for this restriction. The CFI may also want to inform the pilot that if he has been living in the United States for more than 30 days, the FARs require that he file a change of address with the FAA.

The flight medical is another confusing area. Some foreign countries stamp their pilot certificates to show continued medical qualification. Without a current medical qualification stamp, the foreign pilot certificate is invalid and cannot be used to obtain a U.S. pilot certificate under Part 61.75, even if accompanied with a valid U.S. medical certificate. Because this particular aspect of certification is so complex, it's a good idea to consult the FAA if you have any doubts.

For the CFI who is not familiar with Part 61.75 and merely looks at the foreign license and its privileges, it's easy to just give a quick checkout and allow the pilot to rent an airplane. But, as you can see, adhering to the regulations requires more. CFIs and FBOs need to realize that there are liabilities involved if they don't do their research before renting an aircraft to a foreign pilot.

Suppose your foreign customer has fulfilled the legal requirements to fly in the U.S. There is still the issue of insurance. Let's say your insurance company requires a pilot to hold a commercial instrument rating for multiengine aircraft with a minimum number of hours before he or she can rent a twin-engine aircraft at your FBO. Remember that even if a foreign pilot has met those requirements in his own country, the FAA will issue only a private pilot certificate unless the pilot has taken the appropriate written and practical tests for the commercial certificate in the United States. Will your insurance company recognize the foreign commercial license if that country's flight minimums are the same as those in the United States? FBOs should consult their insurance companies to be certain.

The final outcome in my situation took an unexpected turn. After I explained the requirements to the Canadian pilot, he became frustrated and never returned. I may have lost a customer and a little money, but at least I minimized the liability for myself and my FBO. The fact that the pilot did not have a logbook may have been coincidental, or it may have been a deliberate attempt to conceal his flight activity.

Foreign pilots should understand that this is not intended to discourage them or make the process sound overly complicated. This is a fairly easy process for the pilot, but it involves a good deal of research to be in compliance with the FAA and insurance requirements.

I encourage CFIs and FBOs to review Part 61.75. For more information, log on to ( www.awp.faa.gov/fsdo/foreign.htm ). AOPA members can get information from aviation technical experts at 800/ USA-AOPA or through AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org ).

By Jim Holloman

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