Questions Answered About the Role & Qualifications of Safety Pilots

by Greg Reigel
Attorney At Law

© February 2015. All rights reserved.

If you are an instrument rated pilot, you know that you have to be “current” in order to legally exercise the privileges of the instrument rating as pilot in command. Specifically, in order to act as pilot in command of an instrument flight, 14 C.F.R. 61.57(c) requires that the airman must have performed and logged (1) six instrument approaches; (2) holding procedures and tasks; and (3) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems, all within the preceding 6 calendar months. Although these tasks may be performed in instrument conditions, they may also be performed in visual conditions by “simulating” instrument conditions with a view-limiting device (i.e. hood, foggles).

As you might expect, in order to operate an aircraft in simulated instrument conditions, certain requirements must be met.

14 C.F.R. § 91.109(b) allows this type of operation in an aircraft equipped with fully functioning dual controls as long as “(1) the other control seat is occupied by a safety pilot who possesses at least a private pilot certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown; and (2) the safety pilot has adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft, or a competent observer in the aircraft adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot.”

Unfortunately, Section 91.109(b) doesn’t answer the variety of questions airmen have regarding operations involving a safety pilot. As a result, I thought I would answer some of the questions I routinely hear in connection with operations involving safety pilots.

Does a safety pilot need a current medical certificate?

Yes.14 C.F.R. § 61.3(c) requires a person to hold a valid medical certificate in order to act in any capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember.  Since a safety pilot is a required crewmember under Section 91.109(b), the safety pilot must therefore hold a current, appropriate airman medical certificate.

Does a safety pilot need an instrument rating? No. An airman acting as a safety pilot under Section 91.109(b) does not need an instrument rating as long as the flight is being conducted in visual meteorological conditions.  Additionally, an airman who possesses an instrument rating does not need to be instrument current under 14 C.F.R. § 61.57(c)(1) in order to act as a safety pilot because that section only applies to an airman acting as pilot in command, not an airman acting as a safety pilot.

Does a safety pilot need a high-performance endorsement prior to acting as safety pilot in a high-performance aircraft? Currently the regulations do not require a safety pilot to have a high-performance endorsement when acting as a safety pilot in a high-performance aircraft. However, the FAA does encourage those airmen who act as safety pilots to be thoroughly familiar and current in the aircraft that is used. Presumably this would include operation of the components that make the aircraft a high-performance aircraft.

Does a safety pilot need a current flight review? No.  The requirement in 14 C.F.R. §61.56(c) that a flight review be accomplished within the preceding 24 months only applies to airmen who act as pilot in command. As long as the safety pilot is not acting as pilot in command for any portion of the flight, then he or she does not need a current flight review.

How may a safety pilot log his or her time? In order to understand how a pilot may “log” his or her flight time, it is important to keep in mind that “acting” or “serving” as a pilot in command (“PIC”) or second in command (“SIC”) during a flight is different than “logging time” for that flight. 14 C.F.R. 61.51(e) states that a pilot may log PIC time when (i) the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated; (ii) when the pilot is the sole occupant in the aircraft; or (iii) when the pilot acts as pilot in command of an aircraft for which more than one pilot is required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted. Section 61.51(f) states that a pilot may log SIC time only for that flight time during which that person: (1) Is qualified in accordance with the second-in-command requirements of § 61.55 of this part, and occupies a crewmember station in an aircraft that requires more than one pilot by the aircraft’s type certificate; or (2) Holds the appropriate category, class, and instrument rating (if an instrument rating is required for the flight) for the aircraft being flown, and more than one pilot is required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is being conducted.

Under these regulations, it is not possible for two pilots to “act” or “serve” as PIC simultaneously during a flight. However, it is possible for two pilots to log PIC flight time simultaneously. PIC flight time may be logged by both the PIC responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time in accordance with 14 C.F.R. § 1.1 (e.g. the pilot “acting” or “serving” as PIC), and by the pilot who acts as the sole manipulator of the controls of the aircraft for which the pilot is rated.

So, in a typical simulated instrument flight, the pilot under the hood may log PIC time for that time in which he or she is the sole manipulator of the controls of the aircraft, provided that he or she is rated for that aircraft. The safety pilot may concurrently log as SIC time that time during which he or she is “acting” or “serving” as safety pilot (e.g. when the other pilot is actually under the hood) because the safety pilot is a required crewmember for operations under Section 91.109(b).

However, the two pilots may, prior to initiating the flight, agree that the safety pilot will be the PIC responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during the flight (e.g. the safety pilot will “act” or “serve” as PIC). In this situation, the safety pilot may log all the flight time as PIC time under Section 61.51(e)(iii), provided he or she is otherwise qualified to “act” or “serve” as a PIC (e.g. having a current flight review, appropriate ratings and endorsements, etc.) and the pilot under the hood may log, concurrently, all of the flight time during which he or she is the sole manipulator of the controls as PIC time in accordance with Section 61.51(e)(i).

May a safety pilot log cross-country time for a flight? A pilot only acts as a safety pilot during the time in which the other pilot is engaged in simulated instrument flight (e.g. wearing a view limiting device). Since simulated instrument flight does not include take-off and landing, a safety pilot is not a required crewmember during that portion of the flight. As a result, the safety pilot is not acting as a safety pilot for the entire flight and, thus, may not log cross-country time for any portion of the flight.

Is a safety pilot  “second in command” for the flight? It is not uncommon for airmen to refer to their safety pilot as being “second in command.” However, unless the aircraft being used is type certificated for operation by more than one pilot or the operation conducted by the pilots requires a designated second in command (e.g. an operation conducted under 14 C.F.R. 135.101 which requires a second in command for IFR operations), the designation of a safety pilot as an acting second in command crewmember is not accurate.

Under the regulations, an airman may log SIC time for the portion of the flight during which he or she was “acting” or “serving” as safety pilot because the safety pilot was a required flight crewmember for that portion of the flight under 14 C.F.R. 91.109(b). In that situation, assuming neither the aircraft nor the operation requires two pilots, the airman is only “acting” or “serving” as a safety pilot, not as second in command for the flight.

Is a safety pilot required to share expenses with a private pilot for a simulated instrument flight? 14 C.F.R. § 61.113(c) provides that a private pilot may not pay less than his or her pro-rata share of the expenses of a flight with passengers. However, under Section 91.109(b), both the private pilot and the safety pilot are required crewmembers for the simulated instrument flight and neither is considered a passenger for the flight. As a result, assuming the only individuals on board the aircraft for the simulated instrument flight are the private pilot and the safety pilot, then Section 61.113(c)’s pro-rata expense sharing requirement does not apply to that flight.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Greg Reigel is an attorney with Reigel Law Firm, Ltd., a law firm located in Hopkins, Minnesota, which represents clients in aviation and business law matters.

For assistance, call (952) 238-1060 or Twitter: @ReigelLaw (www.aerolegalservices.com)

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