Highlights of FAR Part 61 Changes

On August 4, 1997, a massive change to the regulations governing certification of U.S. pilots and instructors went into effect. Two years earlier, the FAA issued the largest NPRM in its history that proposed a massive rewrite of FAR Part 61. This NPRM provoked the largest number of public comments ever, and the FAA actually listened! In April 1997, the FAA finally issued its Final Rule. Then just days before the August 4th effective date, the FAA published a long list of corrections. (The Final Final Rule, we hope!) Here's AVweb's synopsis of the most important rule changes that every U.S. airman needs to know.


The full textof the FAA’s Final Rule amending Part 61 of the FARs is available in itsentirety here on AVweb in both HTMLand PDF formats, as is the rathersubstantial list of eleventh-hour correctionsthat the FAA published just days before the new rule became effective.

The intent of the rewrite is to clarify and simplify the rules andregulations that govern the certification of pilots, flight instructorsand ground instructors. And it does that. But it’s a massive rewrite and notexactly a quick read.

So to help you get up to speed, here’s our brief synopsis of the most importantchanges. Once you think you’ve got it figured out, try our interactive quizand see how much you really know.

  • 61.1. Applicability and definitions.
    This section defines some new terms and changes the definitions of some old ones. The most important new term is “Authorized Flight Instructor” which means a certificated flight or ground instructor who holds the appropriate ratings to conduct the flight or ground training in question. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s still okay to call your CFI a “CFI”; you need not start calling him an “AFI”!) The definition of “cross-country time” is amended to eliminate previous ambiguities, and eliminates a loophole that prevented Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager from logging their round-the-world Voyager flight as cross-country time. Finally, the terms “flight simulator” and “flight training device” are defined; the former must have both motion and visual systems, while the latter does not.

  • Federal Aviation Regulations61.3. Requirement for certificates, ratings, and authorizations.
    This section now makes clear that to act as PIC, you must have your valid pilot certificate in your “physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft.” Telling the inspector you left your ticket at home no longer cuts the mustard.

  • 61.4. Approval of flight simulators and flight training devices.
    This section says that sims and FTDs must be FAA-approved before they can be used to log required training time, and adds some wording that opens the door for FAA approval of other kinds of devices (such as PC-based trainers).

  • 61.5. Certificates and ratings issued under this part.
    A new aircraft category — “powered-lift” — has been added to the four that we’ve come to know and love (airplane, rotorcraft, glider, lighter-than-air).

  • 61.13. Issuance of airman certificates, ratings, and authorizations.
    As a result of simplification of this section, there appears no longer to be a provision for issuance of limitations resulting from taking a practical test in an aircraft incapable of all required pilot operations for the certificate or rating being sought. For example, it appears that one may no longer take a multi-engine checkride in a Cessna Skymaster and receive a certificate limited to center-line thrust.

  • 61.23. Medical certificates: Requirement and duration.
    There are some very important changes here. Under the new rules, an applicant for a Commercial, ATP, or CFI need only have a third-class medical certificate; a higher-grade medical may be required to exercise some of the privileges of the certificate, but not to obtain the certificate. Furthermore, the new rules make clear that a CFI need not have any current medical certificate to instruct, provided he is not acting as PIC, and that a CFI may receive compensation for giving flight instruction even though he has only a third-class medical or no current medical at all.

  • 61.29. Replacement of a lost or destroyed airman or medical certificate or knowledge test report.
    Under the old rules, if you lost your certificate, you could call the FAA and get a telegram that was good for 60 days until your new certificate was issued. Under the new rules, the temporary is issued by FAX. (When’s the last time you saw a telegram?)

  • 61.31. Type rating requirements, additional training, and authorization requirements.
    The required CFI endorsements for a “complex” or “high-performance” airplanes have been separated into two separate endorsements, grandfathered for those who have logged flight time as PIC in a complex or high-performance airplane prior to August 4, 1997. The required CFI endorsements for tailwheel airplanes and high-altitude pressurized airplanes are grandfathered for those who have logged flight time as PIC in such airplanes prior to April 15, 1991.

  • 61.35, 61.37, 61.39. Tests.
    What used to be called “written tests” are now called “knowledge tests.” What used to be called “flight tests” are now called “practical tests.” Big deal.

  • 61.49. Retesting after failure.
    The new rules drop the old 30-day waiting period for retesting after a second failure. You may take a retest as soon as your CFI says you’re ready to take the test again.

  • 61.51. Pilot logbooks.
    Several important changes here. Student pilots are now explicitly permitted to log solo flights as PIC time. Student pilots are now required to carry their pilot logbook on all solo cross-country flights. The new rules also make it clear that a CFI may log as PIC all flight time during which he or she is acting as an “Authorized Instructor.”

  • 61.55. Second-in-command qualifications.
    To serve as second-in-command of an aircraft that requires more than one pilot, a pilot must now have received crew resource management training within the previous 12 calendar months.

  • 61.56. Flight review.
    The new rule makes it clear that participation in an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency award program (i.e., “Wings” program) is a valid substitute for a (biennial) flight review.

  • Summit CD-ROM61.57. Recent flight experience: Pilot in command.
    A major change here in the requirement for recent instrument experience to operate under IFR or in IMC: the “six, six and six” has become just “six and six.” Under the new rules, you need six instrument approaches in the past six calendar months, but you no longer need to have logged six hours of instrument time. Instead, you must have logged “holding procedures” and “intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems” (the reg doesn’t say how much). Alternatively, you may establish your instrument currency by taking an “instrument proficiency check” (which used to be called an “instrument competancy check”) with a CFII, examiner, or check airman. ICCs are dead; long live IPCs!

  • 61.65. Instrument rating requirements.
    The old requirement for 125 hours of pilot time has been dropped from the new rule. An instrument rating applicant now needs only 50 hours of cross-country time as PIC, 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, and 15 hours of instruction from a CFII. Up to 20 hours of the required training may be done in an approved flight simulator or flight training device (or up to 30 hours under a Part 142 training center program).

  • 61.109. Private pilots. Aeronautical experience.
    Big changes here. The solo flight time requirement for the private has been reduced from 20 hours to 10. Minimum total flight time remains at 40 hours. The minimum required length of the "long cross-country" has been cut in half (from 300 to 150 NM), but a new requirement for a night X-C of at least 100 NM has been added.

  • 61.113. Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command.
    The requirements for a private pilot to share expenses with his passengers has been clarified. The new rules state that the private pilot may not pay less than “the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.”

  • 61.195. Flight instructor limitations and qualifications.
    Paragraph (i) of this section has our vote for the most hilarious change to Part 61! It’s entitled “Prohibition against self-endorsements” and forbids a CFI from signing himself off for a certificate, rating, flight review, authorization, operating privilege, practical test or knowledge test. Believe it or not, the old rules had no such prohibition. The FAA has always “frowned upon” a CFI signing himself off, but it was legal and the FAA actually lost a court case on this awhile back.

  • 61.197. Renewal of flight instructor certificates.
    A CFI may renew his certificate by presenting to his FSDO a record of training that shows that he has endorsed at least five students for a practical test for a certificate or rating, and that at least four of them passed the checkride on the first try.

  • 61.211, 61.213, 61.215, 61.217. Ground Instructors.
    The rules governing ground instructors has now been moved into Part 61.

That’s it! There are hundreds of additional minor changes in the new Part61, but these are the ones we think are most important, and the ones thateach U.S. pilot and instructor really ought to know about.