Once you have your pilot certificate it never expires but there are things you need to do to exercise all of the privileges associated with your certificate. I thought I’d put all of the currency rules in one place and annotate them.
Biennial Flight Review §61.56
A pilot needs a Flight Review every 24 months. Like most other flying related things, the 24 month period goes thru the end of the month. For example; my last flight review was on October 25, 2005 so I was legal to fly thru October 31, 2007. I had a flight review on November 28, 2007 that now makes me current until November 30, 2009.
There are several things that restart the clock, just like a Flight Review. Passing a pilot proficiency check for a pilot certificate, rating, or operating privilege; or completing a phase Wings program, count as a Flight Review. So getting an instrument rating, or adding a category or class rating, like Multi-engine eliminate the need for a Flight Review. Getting a CFI or CFII certificate does _not_ count since it is not a pilot proficiency check. (FAA Opinion pdf) Getting a high-performance, complex, or tail-wheel endorsement do not count, unless you specifically make it part of your Flight Review and your instructor concurs and and signs your logbook appropriately.
There are two parts to a flight review, 1 hour of ground and 1 hour of flight training. The FARs are fairly vague on what is required so I usually pick something that I’d like to know more about or that I think I need practice in for the review. I have just started flying a Cessna T210, so we did crosswind landings for 2 hours and spent the ground time talking about landing characteristics of the airplane. This was enough to persuade my CFI that I have the skills necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.
You can do your flight review in any aircraft for which you are rated and it counts for all of the aircraft for which you are rated. You can do your review in a Cherokee and then fly a tailwheel Citabria, a twin Cessna 310, Lake Amphibian, or any other aircraft for which you are rated.
Recent Flight Experience – Carrying Passengers §61.57
No person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers… unless that person has made three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days, and—
(i) The person acted as sole manipulator of the controls; and
(ii) The required takeoffs and landings were performed in the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required), and, if the aircraft to be flown is an airplane with a tailwheel, the takeoffs and landings must have been made to a full stop in an airplane with a tailwheel.
These are the rules for part 91 pilots, there are exceptions for pilots flying for airline operations and turbine-powered aircraft.
Recent Flight Experience – Carrying Passengers at Night §61.57
…no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, and—
(i) That person acted as sole manipulator of the flight controls; and
(ii) The required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required).
This is one of the three “dark periods” that the regulations refer to. Refer to Day and Night for Pilots” for more info. Note also that the regulations refer to Category and Class. If you make the required takeoffs and landings in a Cessna 152 (Single engine land) then you are legal to carry passengers in a Cessna 210, Bonanza A36, or any other single engine tri-cycle gear plane.
Carrying passengers – Summary
For Part 91 operations,
Day/Night – 3 takeoffs and 3 landings within 90 days. Full stop at night and if carrying passengers in a taildragger. Must be made in category, class, and type of aircraft that is used to carry passengers.
Instrument Experience §61.57
…no person may act as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, unless within the preceding 6 calendar months, that person has:
(1) For the purpose of obtaining instrument experience in an aircraft (other than a glider), performed and logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions, either in flight in the appropriate category of aircraft for the instrument privileges sought or in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of the aircraft category for the instrument privileges sought—
(i) At least six instrument approaches;
(ii) Holding procedures; and
(iii) Intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems.
(d) Instrument proficiency check. Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, a person who does not meet the instrument experience requirements of paragraph (c) of this section within the prescribed time, or within 6 calendar months after the prescribed time, may not serve as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR until that person passes an instrument proficiency check consisting of a representative number of tasks required by the instrument rating practical test.
The instrument proficiency check must be in an aircraft that is appropriate to the aircraft category
and given by an examiner, a company check pilot, an authorized instructor, or a person approved by the Administrator to conduct instrument practical tests.
I omitted the parts relating to gliders in the section above. The rule is pretty self-explantory. If you haven’t made the required flights in the previous six-month period, you have a six month period to get current on your own (with a safety pilot) before you need to take an instrument proficiency check with an instructor or examiner. The use of months in the regulation implies that it follows the usual month rule in the regulations. In Section 31 of this document the FAA clarified its rule.
For example, if a pilot is intending to act as pilot in command under IFR (or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR) on a flight on February 24, 2007, and the pilot has not completed the required instrument recent flight experience of proposed Sec. 61.57(c), then the pilot would count backwards 12 calendar months from the date of the flight. Thus, the pilot would have to have performed and logged the instrument recent flight experience requirements at sometime between February 24, 2007, and February 1, 2006, to avoid being required to submit to an instrument proficiency check.
Student Pilot Certificates §61.19
The student pilot certificate expires 24 calendar months from the month in which it is issued.
Instructor Certificates §61.19
A flight instructor certificate is effective only while the holder has a current pilot certificate and expires in 24 calendar months. Details on how to renew are contained in § 61.197(b)
Ground Instructors §61.217
Ground instructor certificates don’t expire, but instructors must perform ground instruction for at least 3 months in a 12 month period, or receive an endorsement from an authorized ground or flight instructor.
Medical certificates are required on a regular basis in order to exercise the privileges of the pilot certificate. I’ll cover those in a later post.