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By Craig Brown
Q: Can I sign off a student pilot to fly solo at night after completing their three hours of night training required for the private certificate?
A: Yes, you can. Regulations do not prohibit a student pilot from flying solo at night. They do, however, impose some requirements and limitations on solo flight at night. For one, the student must receive training at the specific airport where those solo flights are to be done. Additionally, a logbook endorsement is required, and that is valid for a period of 90 days; after that, more training and a new endorsement must be received. Those requirements exist in FAR 61.87(o).
Now to throw a monkey wrench into the works, many flight schools prohibit student pilot solo flights at night, usually because the school’s insurance policy does not allow for it. If a student is the aircraft owner, check the insurance policy to determine whether night flight is covered or prohibited. This, of course, is not an FAA restriction, but an important consideration, nonetheless.
Regulations and insurance aside, consider this real-life example: The instructor wanted to send his student solo from Cape Cod Gateway Airport (HYA) to Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK), a short 27-mile flight. If you pick up a sectional and look at that route, you will see the plan was to send an inexperienced pilot with 25 hours, no instrument rating, minimal night time logged, and very little, if any, instrument flying practice, over the featureless black void of the Nantucket Sound, under a nighttime sky. Not my idea of a smart plan.
Certainly, a moonlit night over lots of ground lights would be infinitely better. Pause for a minute to consider, evaluate, and attempt to mitigate or minimize the risks. And remember the sage words of Mr. Miyagi: a license never replaces your eyes, ears, or brain.
Craig Brown is a senior aviation technical specialist in the AOPA Pilot Information Center. [email protected]