Logbooks represent many things to pilots, including a record of time and training to be used toward future certificates and ratings, as well as currency to comply with various regulations. It is important that airmen are aware of regulations related to logbook records to avoid undue fines, or even suspension of their certificate(s).
Because logged time establishes currency and eligibility for additional certificates and ratings, the way we log our time should reflect those requirements. For example, keeping track of takeoffs and landings is important because we must make three takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days to carry passengers legally. Additional currency requirements exist for night flight and tailwheel aircraft, so it's important that we record night flight and time in tailwheel aircraft in separate columns. Though currency may be an obvious reason to keep flight logs, there are others. Logs should be kept for quick reference when applying for a flying job, as all aviation industry employers will require a certain amount of flight time to even be considered.
Please call AOPA’s Pilot Information Center with questions – 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 6:00 ET.
This subject report will discuss not only the reasons for logging time, but how, and what type of flight time should be logged. Can you log pilot in command (PIC) time when someone is using a vision-limiting device such as foggles? If you fly for 100 nautical miles and land at the departure airport can you log the flight time as a cross country flight? Did you know that you can have your airmen’s certificate(s) suspended just for flying a post-annual rental aircraft? These and many other questions regarding pilot and aircraft logs will be answered in this subject report. The report has been divided into two main categories: pilot logs and aircraft logs. Each section contains multiple subsections that clarify certain issues. For example, information on logging safety pilot time would be found under the category of pilot logs, and the subsection of safety pilot.
The PIC is, by Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), responsible for the safe operation of the flight (FAR 1.1, 91.3). At any given time, there can only be one acting PIC on a flight, no matter how many pilots are on board the aircraft. To legally act as PIC, a private, commercial, and airline transport pilot must have a current medical certificate and have all required endorsements, ratings, and recency of experience for the type of aircraft being flown and the flight conditions under which the flight is conducted (FAR 61.3, 61.31, 61.56, 61.57). Sport pilots can act as PIC with a valid and current driver's license in lieu of the FAA medical (FAR 61.23). Before a flight is initiated, an agreement should be made to determine who is to be acting as PIC.
Unlike driving cars, the PIC may allow anyone, including a non-pilot, a pilot who may not legally act as pilot in command, or another fully qualified pilot to fly the airplane, or be "sole manipulator of the controls" during the flight. The PIC is not required to sit in the left pilot seat. Regardless of where the PIC is sitting in the airplane or who is manipulating the controls, the PIC is ultimately responsible and accountable for the safety and operation of the flight.
A pilot may log PIC time when he/she is the sole occupant of the aircraft; is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated or has privileges; or is acting as PIC where more than one pilot is required (FAR 1.1, 61.51 [e]). An airline transport pilot may log PIC time when he/she is acting as PIC of an operation requiring an ATP certificate. An authorized instructor may log PIC time while acting as an authorized instructor in flight. A student pilot may log PIC time only when he/she is the sole occupant of the aircraft (exception for airship category) while training for a pilot certificate and has a current solo flight endorsement. The FARs provide several situations where two or more pilots may log PIC time, even though there can only be one pilot acting as PIC.
A pilot, whether acting as PIC or not, may log PIC time anytime in which he/she is sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which he/she is rated (FAR 61.51). This is true regardless of weather conditions, whether VFR or IFR, simulated or actual.
If you have a private pilot certificate, airplane single-engine land, and you wish to receive instruction for a tailwheel endorsement in a single-engine, tailwheel aircraft, you may log the instruction time in which you are sole manipulator of the controls as PIC time. This is also applicable to complex, high performance, and instrument ratings.
These regulations are particularly difficult to interpret. To gain a better understanding, look at these three scenarios.
Second in command (SIC) flight time is a category some pilots find elusive. By regulation, many turbojet and transport category aircraft require two pilots - a PIC and SIC. If you are qualified and sitting in the right seat while flying one of these aircraft, it's appropriate to ink that flight time in your logbook's SIC column.
Even if you’re flying a two- or four-seat trainer certificated for single-pilot operations, you can sometimes log right seat-time as SIC. For example, if you’re flying under FAR Part 135 in an operation that requires two pilots (e.g. IFR in an aircraft with no autopilot), the time is legally logged as SIC. Likewise, a pilot with at least a private pilot certificate and the appropriate category and class ratings can log SIC time when acting as a safety pilot while the other pilot practices instrument flying in VFR conditions. In this circumstance, the safety pilot is required by regulation (FAR 91.109)(b)), and may legally log the time as SIC (FAR 61.51)(f)(2)).
A safety pilot is required by FAR 91.109(b) when the other pilot is "under the hood."
The safety pilot requirements:
Safety pilot logging:
A single-yoke aircraft may not be used unless:
By definition, cross-country time includes any flight conducted by a pilot in an aircraft that includes a landing at a point other than the point of departure that includes the use of dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point. Reference: 14 CFR 61.1(b)(3)(i).
TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATIONS to the general definition above, the following situations have higher requirements:
AOPA recommends that you log all cross-country hours under the basic cross-country column and then add the distance and landing information under the notes or remarks column alongside. This will enable the pilot to correctly provide his or her cross-country hours depending on the question asked, the situation presented, or the certificate or rating sought.
Pilots may think that they would only need to account for cross-country hours that can be used to meet certificate requirements. This is true from a strict FAA legal point of view; a pilot only has to prove those hours used for certificate requirement and the various currency requirements. We have seen pilots sell themselves short, however, when asked for cross-country time on an airline job application, an insurance renewal form, or the cross-country requirements for a Part 135 pilot in command under 14 CFR 135.243(b) and (c), all of which were looking for total cross-country time.
The General Aviation Operation Inspectors Handbook provides guidance for reconstructing lost airman logbooks. The airman should begin with a signed and notarized statement of previous flight time as the basis for starting a new flight time record. Such a statement should be substantiated by all available evidence such as aircraft logbooks, receipts for aircraft rentals, and statements of flight operators. AOPA would also suggest statements from previous flight instructors, copies of medical applications, and Airman Certificate and/or Rating Applications (FAA Form 8710), which can all be obtained through the FAA.
Also important to remember is the need for documentation of a current flight review, takeoff and landing proficiency when carrying passengers, instrument proficiency if appropriate, and additional endorsements for high-performance, complex, tailwheel, and pressurized aircraft that have a service ceiling or maximum operating altitude, whichever is lower, above 25,000 feet msl, if applicable. If unable to locate the instructors who gave the initial endorsements, it may be necessary to obtain the appropriate endorsements again.
The FAA is also concerned with falsification of records. The Inspectors Handbook includes the warning, "A pilot who has lost logbooks or flight time records should be reminded that any fraudulent or intentional false statements concerning aeronautical experience are a basis for suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating held."
Many airmen periodically copy their logbooks and place the copies in secure locations. The logbook should be treated as a valuable personal document. You may want to reconsider carrying this document on every flight. Leaving it in your car, airplane, or in your flight bag with high-dollar headsets, which are targets for theft, is not recommended.
Keeping our logbooks current and accurate is important if we want to rent an aircraft. Usually, the first time a pilot rents an aircraft from an operator where he didn't learn to fly, the FBO or school scrutinizes his logbook to ensure the pilot has met the current experience requirements and any specific requirements laid out by the operator's insurance policy.
Depending on the aircraft you rent, insurance companies often require minimum experience levels before they will cover the rental of aircraft such as those with retractable landing gear. It might be worth devoting a column in your logbook to retractable-gear time, but few logbooks provide a convenient method for tracking make and model information. For this kind of detail, think about using a computerized logbook.
Federal Aviation Regulation 61.51 doesn't specify the type a pilot must use; it only wants a record "acceptable to the Administrator." In most cases, either form is acceptable if the logbook records the necessary information.
Paper and digital logbooks have their own unique strong and weak points. For example, paper logs don't need a power supply, are portable, and make it easy for instructors to make endorsements. But tallying a specific category of flight time, such as in retractable-gear aircraft, is labor and time intensive, and subject to inaccuracy if you miss an entry. They also are subject to unintentional math errors.
If the pilot enters the numbers correctly, a computer logbook takes care of all the necessary computations without error. Sorting out the records to tally a specific type of flight time is as easy as creating a simple filter or query. Also, most computer logbooks are easy to customize to record specific types of flight time, such as instruction given, and their note fields give pilots more room to record the details of the flight.
Recording an instructor endorsement is difficult. Usually, you have to print out an endorsement sheet, which you must keep in a notebook. A computer logbook isn't as portable as a paper log, especially if you load the program on a desktop machine, and portability is required by regulation. To show proof of the proper endorsements, student pilots must carry their logbooks on all solo cross-country flights. For the same reason, recreational pilots must carry their logbooks on all solo cross-country flights that exceed 50 nautical miles, in airspace that requires ATC communication, take place at night, and when they are flying an aircraft for which they don't hold the appropriate category or class rating.
Some people choose to do both. They keep a paper log of all of their flight time, and then log it into a digital log later.
A potential employer usually wants specific information relevant to a job application. For example, to be a Part 135 PIC, a pilot needs 100 hours of cross-country PIC flight time, and 25 of those hours must be at night. If a 135 job might be in your future, you should keep a record of night cross-country flight time. Employers often post minimum flight experience requirements, and the more detailed our accounting, the easier it is to show that we meet the requirements.
As the pilot in command of an aircraft, it is our responsibility to be certain that the aircraft is airworthy, and in accordance with all maintenance requirements, before operating the aircraft. Such responsibility includes a check that entries have been made in the maintenance logbook that describe maintenance performed and return the aircraft to service as airworthy. It is not good enough to rely on the word of your mechanic; you must look for, locate, and read that the maintenance entries are complete.
Where does this responsibility come from? Two regulations set out your regulatory responsibility regarding maintenance entries. Federal Aviation Regulation 91.405(a) states that,
Each owner or operator of an aircraft...shall ensure that maintenance personnel make appropriate entries in the aircraft maintenance records indicating the aircraft has been approved for return to service.
And, FAR 91.407(a) states that,
No person may operate any aircraft that has undergone maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration unless...It has been approved for return to service by a person authorized under FAR 43.7 of this chapter, and the maintenance record entry required by FAR 43.9 and 43.11, as applicable, of this chapter has been made.
These regulations should be followed very closely by any aircraft renter. It is easy to assume that a reputable FBO’s aircraft will be up to date on its various inspection requirements. Unfortunately this is not always the case, and as pilot in command you can be targeted for legal action by simply flying this aircraft. There have been several occasions in which a pilot assumed the necessary inspections had been complete, and took the aircraft on an uneventful flight. As it turns out the aircraft was in fact 12 days late for its annual; upon discovering the aircraft was rented on an expired annual, the renter’s license was suspended for 30 days. The best way to avoid a mishap similar this is to ask the FBO (or renting agency) to see the aircraft logs before you rent.
It's not just the licensed mechanic's script you should find in the logs. Any owner-performed maintenance allowed by the FARs must be noted in the logbooks.
There are many levels of involvement for an aircraft owner in regard to their aircraft's maintenance. They range from dropping the airplane off and picking it up when the work is complete to the pilot doing the work himself under the watchful eye of a certified A&P who would sign off on the work upon completion.
Contact the aviation technical specialists at AOPA's Pilot Information Center, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time or email email@example.com.