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Who's in command?Who's in command?

Few topics cause more confusion than the subtle but important difference between acting as pilot in command (PIC) and logging PIC time. Perhaps we can clear that up.

Few topics cause more confusion than the subtle but important difference between acting as pilot in command (PIC) and logging PIC time. Perhaps we can clear that up.

As we know, the PIC is responsible for the safe operation of the flight. At any given time, there can only be one acting PIC on a flight, no matter how many pilots are on board. To legally act as PIC, a recreational, private, commercial, or airline transport pilot must have a current medical certificate, all required endorsement and ratings, and have satisfied the recency of experience requirements for the type of aircraft being flown and the flight conditions under which the flight is conducted. Sport pilots can act as PIC with a valid and current driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate. Before the start of a flight with more than one pilot, the pilots should agree on who is acting as PIC.

Now, the PIC may allow anyone — including a nonpilot — to fly the airplane, or be "sole manipulator of the controls" during the flight. But regardless of who is manipulating the controls, the PIC is ultimately responsible and accountable for the safety and operation of the flight.

Generally, a pilot may log PIC time when he or she is the sole occupant of the aircraft; is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which he or she is rated or has privileges; or is acting as PIC when more than one pilot is required. The FARs provide several situations where two pilots may log PIC time, even though only one of those pilots is acting as PIC.

Let's say you want to get an endorsement to fly tailwheel airplanes. If you are a private pilot certificated to fly single-engine land airplanes, you are properly rated to fly single-engine tailwheel airplanes. So, you can log your flight time during instruction when you are sole manipulator of the controls as PIC time. Your flight instructor can also log PIC time since he or she is the acting PIC when providing flight instruction to you. The same holds true for some other kinds of flight instruction.

What about logging time when flying with a safety pilot? When practicing flying in simulated instrument conditions with a safety pilot, both the pilot flying the aircraft by reference to instruments and the safety pilot may log PIC time if the safety pilot is acting as PIC. As long as the pilot flying the aircraft is rated for the aircraft being flown, he or she may log this time as PIC on the basis of being the sole manipulator of the controls. Because the pilot flying will be wearing a view-limiting device, a safety pilot is a required crewmember on board, and as such, may log as PIC any flight time for which he is acting PIC. Remember, though, that the regulations require a safety pilot to possess at least a private pilot certificate and have a current airman medical in order to act as a required crewmember, so student pilots, sport pilots, recreational pilots, or pilots with expired medicals cannot act as safety pilots.

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