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Home » John E. McLain

Logging Pilot In Command Time

By John E. McLain (August 2004)

A recent letter to the editor raised the question of Pilot in Command (PIC) and whether a safety pilot could log PIC time. This is one of those “can of worms” questions.

In my opinion, the FAA lawyers who prepared the final wording of the regulation have gone out of their way to be confusing in their definition and use of PIC. Be that as it may, I am going to try my best to discuss the term Pilot in Command.

A definition is contained in not one, but three, different regulations. Part 1 of the FARs, titled Definitions and Abbreviations, defines PIC as the person who has final authority for the operation and safety of flight, has been designated as PIC, and is qualified to conduct the flight. Part 91, titled General Operating and Flight Rules, does not exactly define PIC. It simply states the PIC is directly responsible for the operation of the aircraft, and may deviate from any rule to meet an emergency.

If we combine Part 1 and Part 91, we can say that the PIC is the person directly responsible for the operation and safety of the flight and may deviate from any rule in an emergency. I will refer to this as PIC #1.

Now we go to part 61. The first thing of interest here is that PIC is not defined in Part 61.1, Applicability and Definitions, which does defines such things as Aeronautical Experience, Cross-Country Time, Authorized Instructor, and Pilot Time. FAR 61. 3 (e) through (g) refers to PIC, but does not define it.

It is not until FAR 61.51 (e) that there’s anything close to a definition of PIC. However this must be looked at carefully. If you read 61.51(c), it states that this is what can be logged to meet the requirements for a certificate or rating or recent flight experience. It does not say that other flight time cannot be logged as a pilot sees fit. This we will refer to as PIC #2.

Finally we can refer to the logging of Safety Pilot Time. Under part 61(e) the safety pilot may not log PIC time under PIC #2 since he does not meet any of the criteria listed there. But here is the rub: He is definitely the PIC under PIC #1. Unfortunately Part 61 does not permit the logging of this time as PIC towards a higher rating. On the other hand, it does not prohibit it being logged as PIC for other purposes, such as insurance or hiring purposes.

Can the safety pilot log Second in Command Time? FAR 61 (f)(2) would seem to permit it, but to be sure we refer to 61.55. This contains a list of requirements for a person to serve as SIC, many of which preclude the safety pilot from logging PIC time. However, if we refer to 61.55 (d) (4), we find that a safety pilot is excluded from all other requirements of 61.55. The downside of this is that by referencing and excluding the safety pilot from the provisions of 61.55 SIC qualifications, it is virtually saying that this time may not be logged as PIC time under 61.51 (e), but can be logged as SIC time under 61.51(f).

Confusing? You better believe it! Here’s how I see it: You have the right to log any time as PIC time when you meet the requirements of PIC #1 even if it does not meet the requirements of PIC #2. However you cannot use it to meet the requirements for a higher certificate, rating or currency. It would be valid for insurance and experience purposes, but I would really like to see a legal opinion on this. As a safety pilot you would be the PIC under PIC #1, but could only use it as SIC time for a higher rating.

This really puts the safety pilot under the gun. Should some sort of accident occur, such as a midair collision or collision with trees on an approach while the pilot logging PIC time was under the hood, any court in the country would consider the safety pilot the PIC under PIC #1.

The conclusion to all of this is that there are two definitions of PIC: PIC #1, which for practical purposes is the legal definition that could rear its ugly head in a legal action; and PIC #2, which defines what can be counted towards a higher certificate or rating. The smart pilot considers both. (Incidentally, that is why a student pilot flying solo is now allowed to also log it as PIC time. Now he is legally bound as the responsible individual on a solo flight. And we all thought it was just the FAA being nice to students.)

The important thing to keep in mind is this: You may be the PIC for legal purposes, but that does not mean you can log it as PIC time for the time requirements for a higher rating or certificate or currency purposes. If the powers that be would come up with two separate words, such as Pilot in Command and Responsible Pilot, we might all have a better understanding of the logging of pilot time.