See what you're missing
Using outdated regs will leave you in the dark
No doubt you've seen other pilots using copies of the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/ AIM) that are so old, they ought to be in an aviation museum. But how about your copy? It may be out of date, too, unless you've already picked up a copy of the 2005 edition. Technically Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations -- which is where the federal government codifies the laws that pilots and the aviation community refer to as the federal aviation regulations -- this year's FAR/AIM includes a number of significant changes.
Old habits die hard, like calling our once-every-two-years refresher a BFR, rather than the proper flight review. We've called them BFRs for a long time, perhaps because most of us can't remember whether the B stands for biannual (which means twice a year) or biennial (which means every two years). It's probably like the difference between flammable and inflammable. (To be safe, don't light a cigarette under either sign.) In the case of flight reviews, just make sure you get one every two years. But that's all in FAR (technically 14 CFR) Part 61. How about changes in Part 91?
Part 91 has had a couple of comprehensive additions and a number of less significant changes that the FAA snuck in while you weren't looking. The biggest additions were the sport pilot rules, which cover far more territory than we can address here. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation summarizes them by saying that you can be a sport pilot "if you have a driver's license and are in good health." The regs allow you to fly any of a number of certified or kitbuilt aircraft that fit the category, which is defined as having a maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds, maximum speed of 120 kt, no more than two seats, one reciprocating engine, and fixed gear. For a thorough primer on the new rules, see AOPA Online. If after reading that you still have questions about the sport pilot privileges, call the experts at 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672). You do have to be an AOPA member to use the Pilot Information Center.
On the operational side, you'll see sport-pilot-related changes in section 131 of Part 91, "Operations in Class B Airspace." That section refers you to Part 61.325, which explains what sport pilots need to in order to fly in Class B airspace, and also leads you smack into the middle of other changes to Part 61 dealing with sport pilot. Subpart J of Part 61 outlines the pilot portion of the program. Back in 91.131, there is another change regarding student pilots operating in Class B airspace.
Instrument pilots who haven't boned up on the regs in several years should pay attention to a substantial set of changes in Part 91.175, titled "Takeoff and Landing Under IFR." This was a long regulation, difficult to comprehend and full of opportunities for misinterpretation. Now it is even longer and more confusing. The first change makes flight visibility the legal requirement for landing an aircraft operated under Part 91, as well as aircraft being operated for compensation or hire under other parts of the FARs. That wasn't previously spelled out in the regulation. Even though lodged in Part 91, this regulation now includes the commercial operators in interpreting visibility minimums for an instrument approach.
Part 91.175 some time ago used to stop at subpart (k), "ILS Components." Now it includes a substantial chunk of information on specifically what makes it legal to descend below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) or decision height (DH) at the end of a nonprecision or precision approach, respectively. It describes in detail what you have to see, and it's no longer just the "runway environment." The new regs also outline operations with an enhanced flight vision system (EFVS), which may not apply to you right now, but remember what you said when GPS first came out. Just because you can safely ignore it now doesn't mean that it won't be in the training cockpits of the future.
Part 91.179, "IFR Cruising Altitude or Flight Level," now applies to all of us who fly at or above 29,000 feet, where reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) apply. Because RVSM is a recent thing in U.S. airspace, 91.179 spells out some variances to cruising rules for aircraft operating in this regime. This is not an issue for the typical Cessna 172, but sometimes it's useful to keep up with how the other 5 percent are doing.
Another noteworthy change explains when aircraft operated for commercial purposes are or are not included with Part 91 aircraft. Part 91.187 is an example of when these aircraft are not included with aircraft operated under Part 91. This regulation spells out the details for Category II and III ILS operations under Part 91, but it clearly excludes such operations performed by commercial operators.
The sport category is addressed again in Part 91.327, explaining what is required to operate a light sport aircraft for commercial operations, flight training, glider towing, and about any other way you could operate a plane having a "special airworthiness certificate in the light sport category." Just in case the FAA forgot anything, paragraph (f) has been reserved to make the regulation longer or more specific later.
A number of maintenance inspection requirements have changed since you bought your last copy of the FAR/AIM. Part 91.407 covers inspections on sport planes, and Part 91.410 gives operators of large turbine aircraft another four years to comply with requiring inspection programs on their fuel systems. Part 91.415 clarifies some things on addressing inspection programs with the FAA, but more important, it gives the first hint about the presence of Subpart K. Subpart K has some substantial additions that were added to what formerly was the end of Part 91.
I can hardly wait to get to Subpart K, but let me cover a few additional changes to Part 91 first. Survival equipment requirements for some types of aircraft are now specified in writing, in 91.509. Second in command requirements are addressed in 91.531, and it too points to when you must have a second in command during Subpart K operations. That brings us to what is the largest change to Part 91 in probably the last 30 years: the addition of a whole digit to the sections of FAR Part 91.
Your last FAR/AIM probably ended at 91.877. The new edition holds brand-new Parts 91.1001 through 91.1443, covering just about everything you could imagine regarding the management and maintenance of fractional aircraft ownership programs. You might notice in flipping through this section of your regulations that they skipped some numbers (for instance, 91.1429 is followed by 91.1431), but don't worry about the sequence. Nothing is really left out.
Don't be too quick to skip past this part of the regulation (or this part of the article) just because you don't own a piece of a jet. Subpart K is important to those of us who fly two- and four-seat reciprocating-engine airplanes too, because people who never flew before are now getting into general aviation through fractional ownerships. For example, companies are operating a number of advanced-technology piston airplanes on a fractional ownership program. New or low-time pilots buy a share or fraction of an airplane, relying on the management company to train the owner and/or pilot, maintain the airplane, keep up insurance, provides charts, and about everything else it takes to keep an airplane flying. The owner just calls the management company, and his airplane is ready to go when he arrives.
If you're not ready to lay out around a half-million dollars for one of the new GA airplanes on the market, only to spend more time and money keeping up with everything from GPS database updates to vacuuming out the dirt, you might want to look into fractional ownership. Part of the "looking" includes getting familiar with Part 91, Subpart K.
OK, so now you know all about the changes to Part 91 since your last copy of the regs came out. Go back into the flight planning room and look for the guy with the out-of-date FAR/AIM -- he might still be in there. If so, bet him a soda he can't find the sport pilot regs in his copy. Maybe he'll take it as a hint that he has some reading to do, and you'll get a free soda.
Patrick R. Shaub is a senior lecturer with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. He has nearly 25 years of experience as a helicopter pilot and instructor, both with the U.S. Marines and the Texas Air National Guard, and has served as an air ambulance pilot in Texas.
By Patrick Shaub