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AOPA Online Members Only -- Subject Reports -- Logbooks - LogbookLegalitiesAOPA Online Members Only -- Subject Reports -- Logbooks - LogbookLegalities


Logbook Legalities

Counting the hours... which hours count?

By Ted Spitzmiller

(From AOPA Flight Training , July 1991)

The opportunity to log flight time is a cherished privilege for the new pilot. Each entry is usually carefully penned and often reflected upon. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 61.5 1 (a) defines the requirements for logging flight time as follows: "The aeronautical training and experience used to meet the requirements for a certificate or rating, or the recent flight experience requirements of this Part must be shown by a reliable record. The logging of other flight time is not required."

The FAA is telling us that unless we are tracking our flight time for another rating or certificate, we only have to log those flights that document our currency, such as the three takeoffs and landings every 90 days. If we are to log our flight time accurately we must understand what constitutes "logable" time. Let's explore some of the more common aspects of what we can log and when.

FAR 61.5 1 (b) goes on to say that the date, total time of flight, place or points of departure and arrival, and type and identification of aircraft must be included, along with the type of pilot experience or training, and the conditions of flight (day or night, or instrument).

The log is especially important for the beginning student because the private pilot certificate has several specific requirements that must be verified by logbook entries. For example, FAR 61.87(c) defines the flight proficiency training required for solo flight. Each instructor should document in the student's logbook the successful mastery of each required flight maneuver. And each instructor must make appropriate logbook entries which authorize the student to conduct solo and solo cross-country flights.

Because the student is often not knowledgeable about what must be entered, the instructor typically completes the log after each flight. It isn't until the solo sessions (when the instructor may not be around) that the student must take responsibility for completing the log.

For many pilots this is as far into the logging process as they will venture. ,However, there are some important aspects of logging time of which all pilots, not just students, should be aware.

To illustrate some of these points, let's assume that two private pilots, Dick and Jane, go out one morning to fly. Jane doesn't have three takeoffs and landings within the past 90 days, so she's not "current" and cannot act as pilot-in-command (PIC) at the start of a passenger-carrying flight. It's vital that whenever two pilots fly together they agree before the preflight who is PIC.

Designation of the PIC is important because FAR 91.3 states that the PIC "is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." The responsibility can't be shared, nor should it be decided over the silence of a dead engine 3,000 feet above the ground.

Dick agrees to take the responsibility of PIC because he meets all of the criteria of FAR 61.57. He proceeds to fly for the first hour, then offers to let Jane fly for the next 30 minutes, during which time she completes three takeoffs and landings. At the completion of the flight who can log the flight time?

Obviously, Dick will log the first hour as PIC, because he was "sole manipulator of the controls" as specified in FAR 5 1 (c)(2)(i), but he may not log the next 30 minutes because Jane was "sole manipulator of the controls." The question now becomes, can Jane log PIC time for the time during which she flew the plane, even though she was not "current' until the end of that period? Yes, she can log the time as PIC because that same FAR paragraph (i) does not require that she be current to "log" the time as PIC, only that she be "rated" in the aircraft.

( The "rated" provision is important regarding time toward an additional certificate or rating. Thus, a pilot without a multi-engine rating cannot count time at the controls of a twin, except when with an authorized flight instructor - ed.)

Note the distinction here between Dick's "acting" as PIC throughout the flight and his ability to "log" only the 60 minutes during which he was "sole manipulator of the controls." The difference between "being" PIC and "logging" PIC are important. If Jane had dinged the airplane during one of her landings, Dick was still legally responsible for the conduct of the flight. Once Jane completed her third landing, they could have transferred PIC responsibility to Jane by mutual agreement (assuming she met the other requirements of FAR 61.57).

Student pilots may log flight time only with a flight instructor (dual) or as the sole occupant of an aircraft (solo). They may not log any flight time in the company of any other pilot, even if they are the sole manipulator of the controls.

Another point that should be made here is the seating position. Could Dick have been PIC if he occupied the right seat? Yes - seating position does not determine who is acting as PIC. ( However, the aircraft must have full dual controls. Some aircraft may not. - ed.)

A word of caution here. Although there is no FAR prohibition, you should not act as PIC from the right seat until you have had a thorough checkout from that vantage point. A "right seat" checkout should be on your list of pilot proficiency tasks soon after you get your private certificate. It's also a way to make a biennial or annual flight review a more meaningful experience.

What if Jane had 3,000 hours to Dick's 60, or what if she was a CFI? It makes no difference what the relative hours or ratings are so long as the person who accepts the responsibility is legally qualified to act as PIC. During a biennial flight review (BFR), for example, the instructor does not have to accept PIC responsibilities if the candidate is rated and current in the aircraft.

However, an instructor may "log" as PIC all of the time he spends giving flight instruction even though he may never be "sole manipulator of the controls." Note, too, that while you are receiving dual instruction in an aircraft for which you are rated and current, you may log the flight as both dual and PIC. This is an important point if you are working towards a rating that requires PIC time that you are paying hard cash to attain.

Cross-country time is another area occasionally misinterpreted. While you are a student, you may not operate beyond a 25-mile radius nor at airports within the 25-mile restriction (unless specifically endorsed by an instructor). When you do venture beyond this limit, each flight must be reviewed by an instructor with a logbook endorsement that the flight is approved under specific conditions.

To qualify as a cross-country, the flight must include a landing at least 50 miles from the original point of departure. The 50-mile distance applies to cross-country flights needed to meet the requirements of the private and commercial certificates as well as the instrument rating. But there is no distance requirement for the airline transport pilot certificate (ATP). After receiving your commercial certificate, you could technically reclassify those flights that were less than 50 miles as "cross-country" in building time towards the 500 hours needed for the ATP,

Let's explore one more aspect. Dick takes his little brother Jimmy (a non-pilot) for a flight and allows Jimmy to be "sole manipulator of the controls" for 15 minutes. First of all, can Dick allow a non-rated pilot to fly the airplane? Yes. Unlike in an automobile, a non-rated pilot (or non-pilot) can manipulate the controls of an airplane. The caution, of course, is that any pilot who allows this situation to occur should do so only under very controlled circumstances. Can Jimmy log the time? No. Can Dick log the time? No. Dick can log only that portion of the flight during which he was "sole manipulator of the controls." Fifteen minutes of that flight are "unlogable" by either occupant.

( However, Jimmy, regardless of his age, can log time with a certified flight instructor as dual. Incidentally, FAR 67 contains no minimum age for issuing medical certificates - ed.)

When you record flight time in your log, use clock time from the moment the engine starts until you shut it down. If you are using the tachometer to record flight activity, you may be shortchanging yourself. The tach, particularly in a training situation with frequent low rpm operati6n, may be recording only 80 to 90 percent of the clock time. A Hobbs meter, which operates on oil pressure, is more accurate, but get in the habit of jotting down the time when you start the engine and again when you shut down.

Once you have passed your private checkride, keep your logbook in a safe place, preferably at home. Only student pilots are required to keep their logbooks with them during flight, and the log is too valuable to chance losing.

For many of us, logging flight time is more than just "satisfying the Feds." It's an opportunity to record special events in our aviation careers, and the logbook becomes as much a diary as a legal document. As I open the first page of my first log, the entries bring back fond memories filled with excitement: "10/26/63, PA-12, N78706, ABQ (Albuquerque), S-turns, turns around a point, gliding turns, stalls, D. G. Brown, CFI 757910.

I only took three lessons from Brownie, and I had to quit flying for several years because it was too expensive. I was paying $3 an hour for the plane and another $3 for the instructor. But I can still smell the fabric when I open to that page, and I can hear the sounds of the little 100-hp Lycoming straining against the dirt strip as I nervously added throttle. Further into the log I wrote:

"02/28/72, PA-24/180, N8204, TVL (Lake Tahoe, Calif.), trip to SCK (Stockton) aborted, extreme turb/rain."

That was the third leg of our first flying vacation. We departed Lake Tahoe VFR attempting to slip under a low overcast through a mountain pass into the central valley of California. A cold front had moved across the Sierra Nevadas the previous night. I learned a lot about the effect of winds aloft over mountain ranges that day.

As an instructor, I often have the privilege of making the first entries in new logbooks. Sometimes the logbooks presented to me show considerable wear and hours. I recently had the honor of making an entry in the latter pages of a log that more closely resembled a large accounting ledger. My hands shook with excitement as I read the earlier entries that showed scores of flights over the Hump in a C-46 during World War 11.

My logbooks are not literary masterpieces. But they hold many fond memories, more than a few stupid decisions, and a legal record of my flying activities. Flight time is expensive and precious for many of us, so make sure you properly record every minute to which you are legally entitled.

You can make each flight a more rewarding and educational experience if you will use the logging activity as an opportunity to reflect on what you have seen, heard, and learned during each flight.