August 2008Departments

Legal Briefing

The currency challenge

Instrument pilots must stay up to date

Staying current can be a challenge, particularly for those of us who don't fly for a living. This seems to be especially true for me when trying to stay current under instrument flight rules (IFR).

Several maneuvers have to be performed and logged within the previous six months in order to legally embark on a flight under IFR. It's not as easy as making three takeoffs and landings in the pattern every 90 days. There are ways to regain currency if you've missed satisfying the requirements in the preceding six months. But, for purposes of this month's article, let's look at what needs to be done to stay current. In particular, Federal Aviation Regulation 61.57(c), Instrument experience, states,

No person may act as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR unless within the preceding 6 calendar months, that person has:

(1) For the purpose of obtaining instrument experience in an aircraft (other than a glider), performed and logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions, either in flight in the appropriate category of aircraft for the instrument privileges sought or in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of the aircraft category for the instrument privileges sought--

(i)         At least six instrument approaches;
(ii)        Holding procedures; and
(iii)       Intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems.

To gain the necessary experience, the maneuvers must be performed either in an aircraft or in an approved flight simulator or flight training device. If the currency requirements are met in an aircraft, the aircraft must be of the appropriate category, but not class. If the training is done in a flight simulator or flight training device, it must be representative of the aircraft category for the aircraft to be flown. And, if the requirements are met in an aircraft under simulated instrument conditions, you will need a safety pilot. Remember to include the safety pilot's name and certificate number in your logbook.

The regulations do not require that you spend a specific amount of time performing these maneuvers. Instead, you are simply required to spend as long as it takes to successfully complete all of the requirements, whether they are performed during a single flight or over successive flights. If done over successive flights, be sure that the minimum required maneuvers were performed within the preceding six months. Remember to specifically describe in your logbook that the specific maneuvers required by the regulation were performed.

So, to maintain and prove your instrument currency, you will duly perform and log the instrument maneuvers. And, if you were flying with a certificated flight instructor, that instructor will provide a complete endorsement of the training in a legible manner in your logbook, as well as probably logging it in his or her logbook as pilot-in-command time since FAR 61.51(e) allows "an authorized instructor [to] log as pilot-in-command time all flight time while acting as an authorized instructor."

However, FAA interpretations of the regulation indicate that the instructor is limited in whether he or she may log the time or the maneuvers as instrument experience. According to FAR 61.57(c), a person must perform the maneuvers in order to gain the experience. Clearly, if the instructor actually manipulates the controls to perform the maneuvers, then the instructor may log the maneuvers and use them toward recent instrument experience. However, under different circumstances, FAR 61.51(g)(2) allows the flight instructor to log "instrument time" only if the instruction was conducted in actual instrument flight conditions.

Keeping an accurate log of your flight activities is important. It is your record, which demonstrates that you have maintained currency and that you are legal to make a particular flight. And, remember that the FAA sets out regulatory minimums for safe flight. We all have our personal minimums, as well.

Kathy Yodice is an attorney with Yodice Associates in Washington, D.C., which provides legal counsel to AOPA and administers AOPA's legal services plan. She is an instrument-rated private pilot.