When Is an Airplane Pilot a Passenger?
Tori B. Mensching
Regulations can be tricky and sometimes downright confusing. Test your knowledge to see if you would make the same decisions this airplane pilot made in the example below. Would you make the same mistake?
Mark is an instrument rated private pilot who hasn’t flown at night in a while. He wants to fly his wife and two kids to the beach this weekend. They will need to fly at night because he doesn’t get off work until late on Friday. Mark hasn’t flown at night in a while so he isn’t legally current to carry passengers at night.
In order to regain the experience he needs to do the flight this weekend, Mark needs to go to the airport and take his Mooney up for three takeoffs and landings at night (per FAR 61.57).
As Mark walks to his hangar at the airport, he catches up with his friend Joe in the hangar next to his. Joe is also a pilot. He tells Joe he needs to go fly and do three quick landings so he can be legal to fly his family this weekend to the beach in the Mooney. Joe says, “Well it’s a nice night, would you like me to come along and be a second pair of eyes?” Mark isn’t sure if he can have Joe come along. Mark knows he isn’t legal to carry passengers yet, but Joe is also an airplane pilot. Surely two pilots are safer than one pilot. Can Mark and Joe legally fly together?
Mark decides it would be helpful and invites Joe along on the flight. Mark completes the landings then heads home for dinner. When the weekend comes, Mark and his family have a fantastic family trip.
Was the flight legal? Would you make the same decision in that situation?
You might be surprised to find, the answer is no. Technically, the first night flight was not a legal flight. Joe, although he is a pilot, is still considered a passenger if Mark is the pilot in command on the flight. A Mooney doesn’t need two pilots to operate. Mark needs to be the pilot in command so he can complete his three takeoffs and landings at night, and that makes Joe a passenger.
The FAA has determined that the relationship between a CFI and a student need not be considered a pilot and passenger relationship. But all other combinations are considered a pilot and a passenger. Mark made the wrong decision and flew at night with Joe, a passenger, while he wasn’t yet current to carry passengers. It doesn’t matter that Joe is also an airplane pilot.
This is just one confusing scenario of many which you will face as a pilot. You must be sure you get the best training possible from an FAA approved flight school that covers all the bases with you. Test your instructor’s knowledge with this question. See if your instructor is as proficient with regulations as you need them to be.
Did you make the right choice or did you mistakenly agree with Mark?