Eye of Experience #9:
Consistency and Logic in the FAA?

No one has ever accused the FAA of being either logical or consistent in the interpretation of its regulations. AVweb's Howard Fried examines some classic examples of the FAA's often less-than-sensible approach, both in regulations and in how we train to fly. We've sent Howard our Kevlar flack jacket.


Eye Of ExperienceAs far as I can recall, no one has ever accused the FAA of beingeither logical or consistent in the interpretation of its regulations.The recent changes in Part 61 of the regulations provide severalglaring examples of the inconsistent and illogical manner in whichthe regulations are interpreted by the FAA. Of course, from thattime beyond which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary,the Friendly Feds have followed the policy of first deciding justwhat they want to accomplish, and then bending or interpretingthe regulations to permit them to do it. A prime example is thenew interpretation of flight instruction as not being acommercial activity.

Always before, flight instructors, if they were being paid fortheir services, were required to hold second-class medical certification. A flight school airplane, if somebody (an instructor) was beingpaid to sit in it, was considered to be involved in a commercialoperation. But, as of August 1997, the FAA has determined thatinstructors are being paid to teach, not to fly, and thus requireonly third-class medical certificates when administering primarydual, and no medical at all when teaching students who, by virtueof their own certificates, are qualified to fly the aircraft.

Now, this raises a question. Always before, a rental aircraft,unless there was an instructor being paid to sit in it, did notrequire one-hundred-hour inspections, since it was not consideredto be a commercial operation. Now, under the new interpretationof instruction as not being a commercial activity, must schoolairplanes still be subject to one-hundred-hour inspections? Goodquestion. I’d like to see just how the FAA General Counsel justifiesthe answer to that one. The answer is no doubt, of course schoolairplanes require one-hundred-hour inspections, but then, maybenot. Who knows? Not me.


A glaring example of how differently the regulations can be interpretedby those in authority emerged from a question asked at a CFI revalidationclinic a couple of years ago. An instructor in attendance askedthe speaker if the safety pilot who is looking out for trafficwhile the pilot, practicing instrument procedures, is operatingthe controls with a view-limiting device in place, should loghis time as second-in-command. Now the regulation appears tobe quite clear (or is it?). Second-in-command time may only belogged if the EQUIPMENT (the airplane by virtue of weighingover 12,500 pounds maximum gross takeoffweight, or a jet), or the OPERATION (such as a charterflight carrying passengers on an IFR flight plan under FAR Part135) requires a second-in-command. The lecturer turned to anFAA Inspector from the local FSDO who was sharing the platformwith him for an answer to the question of how the safety pilotshould log his time, and the inspector in a very positive tonesaid, “They should both log the time as PIC (Pilot-in-Command)because the manipulator of the controls is ACTING as PICand the safety pilot may LOG PIC, since he or she is responsiblefor the safety of the flight.” Sounds reasonable, right? Just wait.

Not being satisfied with this answer, the guy in charge of theprogram called the FAA Regional Office and asked an AssociateRegional Counsel (Government Lawyer) for an opinion and was toldthat since the operation required a safety pilot, he/she shouldlog it as SIC, but added, “You’d better check with Washington.” So Washington was called, and their answer was that the safetypilot shouldn’t log it at all! I suppose he/she is considereda mere passenger. How’s that for consistency?


The evolution of the Flight Instructor Certificate has traveledthe following path: First, the CFI was a rating on a pilot certificateand the instructor was authorized to teach whatever category andclass of aircraft was listed on his or her pilot certificate. Then, in 1957, the CFI became a separate certificate, renewableevery twenty-four calendar months, and the holder was authorizedto teach whatever was on his or her pilot certificate. Then,later it was decided to put ratings on the CFI certificate, forcategory of aircraft and for instruments. Finally, it was decidedto require the teacher of multiengine procedures to have a separatemultiengine rating on his or her flight instructor certificate,because it is a class rating.

Well, if this is the reasoning, why not have a seaplane ratingon the CFI certificate? Isn’t that a separate class ratingas well? But, no, if an airplane flight instructor has a seaplanerating on his or her pilot certificate, he or she is entitledto teach seaplane students. Again, how’s that for being logicaland consistent?

Logging Time

The whole subject of logging time is full of inconsistencies. Until the requirement of complex airplane time was added to thequalifications needed for the commercial certificate, when anapplicant (even one who was qualified to fly the airplane) wasbeing given instruction, only the instructor could log the timeas PIC, and the applicant was limited to entering the time inthe dual-received column. However, since most (if not all) insurancecarriers require a considerable amount of time in any complexairplane before the pilot may be covered, the FAA in its infinitewisdom decided that both the instructor and the applicant (advancedstudent) should log it as PIC. That way both the requirementfor PIC time in a complex airplane and the insurance industrycould both be satisfied. In this case, the student (who is operatingthe controls) is acting as pilot in command and the instructorwho is giving dual instruction may log it as PIC time sincehe is responsible for the overall safety of the flight.

Many knowledgeable pilots fail to understand the difference betweenacting as pilot in command and logging PIC time. And, it gets even more complicated in the courtroom situation. Setting aside the concept of vicarious liability which fallson the owner/operator, some jurisdictions (states) have statutesthat hold a CFI responsible if one is aboard (or was aboard whenthe crash occurred). In others this is a rebuttable presumptionif there is evidence that someone else was in charge of the flight. In still others, the airman holding the highest grade of certificationis deemed to have been in command. When two (dead) pilots weresitting in the front seats, some jurisdictions hold that the onetalking on the radio was PIC, while others reason that the oneworking the radio was not the one flying the airplane. Of course,the question of who was sitting in which seat frequently comesinto play. See how complicated it gets? I could go on and on,but you get the idea.

Four Pilots in Command

Picture this situation if you will: an advanced student sittingin the left front seat is manipulating the controls. He logsPIC time, because he is acting as PIC. Next to him is a CFI givinghim instruction. He logs PIC time. In one of the rear seatssits a pilot who holds an ATP Certificate. He’s supervising theCFI, so he logs PIC time. And in the other rear seat of the fourplace airplane is the owner/operator (perhaps even a non-pilot).He is responsible for the safety of the flight, so he, too, isentitled to log PIC time. You think this is ridiculous? So doI. The point I’m attempting to make is that the regulations arefull of inconsistencies, some of which are downright silly-irrational to say the least.


Having demonstrated a few inconsistencies, we can now turn ourattention to just how hidebound the agency is in refusing to permitprogress to creep into the world of aviation. In the name ofsafety, the insist on seeing that things are done in the triedand proven way. The ignition systems in virtually all certifiedgeneral aviation light planes are magneto driven. Most modernautomobiles are fired by electronic ignition, which has no movingparts, and which is extremely accurate as regards timing. Notonly that, but it costs much less to produce than magnetos whichare full of gears and moving parts. It certainly makes senseto use this form of ignition in airplanes, even if a backup sourceof electric energy were to be required, but since when has whatmakes sense had any influence on the FAA?

An electronic tachometer can be reliable within a single revolution,but are electronic tachs in widespread use in general aviationaircraft? No, we must still live with the old definitely unreliablemechanical tachometers, with lots of moving parts, gears, andcables, all subject to failure. When electronic tachs are allowed,the FAA, in its infinite wisdom, required them to show RPM tosingle revolution accuracy, even though plenty of research hasshown that to be distracting and unnecessary. The more complicatedyou make something, the more there is to go wrong. It is my contentionthat a simple design is better, and I’m sure most pilots wouldagree with me.

Slow to Catch Up

Flight training has consistently been running ten to twenty yearsbehind the state of the art. A prime example of this is the wayI was trained in the early 1940s. Back in the early 1930s (andbefore), aircraft engines were so undependable that every timeyou took off you could toss a coin as to whether or not the enginewould quit. Consequently a great deal of time in primary trainingwas devoted to the practice of “forced landings.”

The instructor would reduce the power to idle at several unexpectedtimes during every training flight and the student wouldpick out a suitable landing area and glide toward it, explainingto the instructor just how he planned his approach (into the wind,parallel to the plowed furrows, etc.). Out in the open countrywe would glide right down to the flare before the instructor wouldgive the engine back for the climb out. Now, since engines areinfinitely more dependable, we still teach the technique, butwith not nearly the emphasis we did back then, nor do we bringthe airplane down anywhere near as low to the ground as we didthen.

Those days, on virtually every session with the instructor, thestudent would get a simulated engine failure during the performanceof one or another of the high-altitude maneuvers, and the bestsuitable field would be right below the airplane. A one-eightyoverhead approach is required to set up the forced landing. Fromthis evolved the three-turn spiral that is required of commercialapplicants today.

Revise or Eliminate Maneuvers

There are several other maneuvers and procedures in the trainingcurriculum that probably ought to be revised or eliminated. Theoriginal purpose of the ground reference maneuvers was twofold.First, to train the student to divide his attention between insideand outside references. The student is required to constantlybe checking their altitude, while also carefully observing hisground track as well as planning ahead to correct for wind drift. Even more important, however, was the objective of making thestudent aware of what the wind is doing to his flight path atall times and this is just as important today as it was back then.

Formerly, when the primary training airplanes were the J3 Cuband the 7AC Champ, the ground reference maneuvers were very validprocedures. The airplanes were going fifty or sixty miles perhour and the maneuvers were performed at four to six hundred feetabove the surface, so the wind drift was readily apparent. Today,however, with training airplanes that are going ninety to onehundred knots, and the maneuvers being accomplished ten to twelvehundred feet above the surface, it requires a substantial windfor the drift to become apparent to the pilot.

The bottom line purpose of all these ground reference maneuvers(S turns across a road, turns about a point, eights along a road,and the rectangular course) was to prepare the student to flya proper pattern at the airport, to shade the bank on the firstturn to crosswind so that the crosswind leg is perpendicular tothe departure path, to crab to the right while on the crosswindleg, to again shade the bank on the turn to downwind leg, to flythe downwind leg parallel to the runway, to again shade the bankon the turn to the base leg, ending with a crab to the left, andfinally, to shade the bank on the turn to final, ending up alignedwith the runway.

In those days the traffic pattern at uncontrolled (non-tower)airports (and the vast majority of training was done at such fields)was four to six hundred feet above the ground, and again, winddrift was readily apparent. It was essential to train the studentwith the ground reference maneuvers away from the airport to preparethe student for flying a good pattern at the airport. A goodlanding follows a good pattern. Today, with ten- to twelve-hundred-foot patterns and faster airplanes, the time spent on the crosswindand base legs is so short that the student hardly has an opportunityto observe what the wind is doing to his flight path. In thosedays we flew much tighter patterns than is common in today’s training. We stayed close enough so that once we had reached six hundredfeet above the ground, we could make the airport from any pointin the pattern. We might not make the runway, but at least we’dbe in a position to land (not crash) on the airport property.

In most cases, someone else has already gained the experienceyou need the hard way-keep an eye out!

I have been getting a fair amount of email about these columns,and please don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy getting email and Ianswer all of it, but if your comments have any validity, whynot share them with other readers? If you have a question, oddsare many others, too shy to speak up, do as well. So, I’d reallyappreciate it if those desiring to comment upon these columnswould post them using the “Post your thoughts about the column” link below, rather than emailing medirectly. Thanks very much.