Avoid rattlesnakes and falsified flight log books. Each has a nasty disposition and sharp fangs that bite.

Vern Weiss

In August 2012, a Federal Court in Des Moines, Iowa sentenced a pilot to 4 years probation and fined him for falsifying his pilot logbook hours when going for an FAA instrument rating.1

Federal court! We’re not talking about something that can be taken lightly. It would be bad enough to be taken to task with an FAA action but when you’re hauled into Federal court, you’re really in a big-time quagmire.

In the FAA’s eyes, forgery of a certificate is on a par with air piracy and it is not treated as a simple administrative action. In fact, it is considered a criminal act and the US Department of Justice gets involved. The “bible” used by FAA inspectors is called “FSIMS” which stands for Flight Standards Information System. This manual guides FAA inspectors as to how to handle things that can come up within the scope of conducting their duties. Here’s what it says an inspector should do when an altered certificate is detected: “An inspector should never attempt to confiscate a suspected forged, fraudulent, or counterfeit certificate. Since fraudulent certificates are sometimes used for criminal activities, the person in possession of this certificate may be armed and dangerous. If an inspector suspects that an airman certificate is counterfeit or forged, the inspector should immediately contact the Investigations and Security Branch of the Regional Civil Aviation Security Division or a local law enforcement officer.2

Is the inspector really in the restroom or did he leave the room to phone the cops?

In recent years more and more things aviation matters are falling within the purview of the Department of Justice, including mistruths of all kinds, and things like pilot logbook falsification are becoming criminal acts.

Over in FAR §61.59 the nitty-gritty is laid out for us regarding falsification of a pilot logbook: It’s defined as “Any fraudulent or intentionally false entry in any logbook, record, or report that is required to be kept, made, or used to show compliance with any requirement for the issuance or exercise of the privileges of any certificate, rating, or authorization under this part.” It further warns that “The commission (of such an act) is a basis for suspending or revoking any airman certificate, rating, or authorization held by that person.

A King Air coming in for a landing
Photo by Michael Bludworth

But beyond the administrative laws of the FAA, let’s consider how it might affect a pilot in his or her career. When you’re hired by a commercial operator you will usually be required to bring your pilot logbook(s) to the interview. Very often, there is one person in the interview team who thumbs through your logbook. Although they likely do not have the time to actually total up all the columns and determine if the hours stated are accurate, they more often are picking out select flights you made which will surface later on in the interview. For instance, 3 years ago there might be a flight in a King Air from Austin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. During the interview, you’re asked if you have any turboprop time and you naturally will say yes. They’ll probe a bit more: “How long ago was this?” “Was it corporate or Part 135?” Who was this for?” They’re zeroing in on one of the details they’ve found and seeing if you are digging yourself a hole that you cannot climb out of or if you’re verifying that the ground is level before building a relationship with them. They may check out the tail number, who owned it and contact the company. If the company never heard of you, you just wasted your time interviewing with them.

There are other ways a falsified pilot logbook can be detected. We’ve all had less-than-sterling simulator check-rides but when someone claims an enormous amount of flight time and flies like a beginner, the logbook numbers become suspect.

Insurance companies have become ravenous vultures of data mining. When you go to work for a company, you will probably have to fill out a form for their insurer and flight time totals will be asked. This data will be entered and disseminated so if you were with Company “A” for six months and joined them with 3,000 hours but when Company “B” offered you a job you entered 6,000 hours, it will flag. You’ll also be tagged as a liar and may have problems for years to come getting an insurance company to believe you are who you are.

When there is an accident which ends up in a civil court proceeding or in a lawsuit, you can bet your logbooks will be subpoenaed and the lawyers will pour over them carefully. The ramifications that come out of this are obvious and not too pretty.

Some years ago I worked for a large pilot training school. Prior to signing anyone off for a check-ride, we had a dedicated session we called “the preflight.” “The preflight” had nothing to do with checking fuel and making sure the wings were attached but, instead, was the administrative portion of signing someone off for their check-ride. During this period, the instructor meticulously went through all the paperwork (this was prior to the implementation of the FAA’s IACRA system) including the student’s logbook(s) and confirmed all the hourly requirements had been achieved and proper endorsements made. One day a gentleman appeared at the school to train for an instrument rating. He carried a brown paper grocery sack with him and in that sack were hundreds of pieces of paper. Every flight of his piloting career was detailed on a small scrap of paper. Every training session he had experienced was documented on a valid receipt. That was his log and it was perfectly legal. Perhaps not every examiner would have been as patient with him as the one used by my flight school but he got through it even by using his non-traditional log-keeping system.

Today such a log style would probably not work. Even though you only have to log those flights that are required to show currency or for purposes of meeting the requirements of an FAA certificate or rating, a sloppy logbook reflects badly on the pilot whether you’re defending yourself in a serious legal entanglement or trying to woo an airline to hire you.

Your pilot logbook should be a matter of professional pride and visible proof of your integrity. Both things are as important for a pilot as safety and competence.

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Footnotes and References:

1 – Pilot Sentenced For Making False Statements In His FAA Flight Logbook

2 – Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS) 8900.1 09/13/2007 Para. 5-193 SUSPECTED COUNTERFEITING, Federal Aviation Administration.

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