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Federal Aviation Regulations Explained

FAA online ground school

Federal Aviation Regulations


Hope you’re still awake there guys!  Understandably the “book work” side of things with ADM, Medical Factors, etc. isn’t quite as exciting as watching videos on flying around busy airspace, but it is what will ultimately keep you safe and legal in the sky.  Below we have some more rules for you to follow.  Most important here is you understand these rules, why they exist, and how to apply them.  If you have questions on any of the regulations we discuss below, leave them in the comments below and I’m sure someone can explain to you why we have that rule.  REMEMBER: just about every rule out there in flying is written in blood (meaning the rule exists because one or usually more pilots killed themselves and others, and the rule is meant to try to prevent that from happening again, thus if you follow the rules, you are more likely to be safe!)


Aircraft Operating Category

Different from the categories and classes we talked about before, the category the aircraft is operating in depends on what it is certified to do as well as the weight and CG it is at (see the specific airplane’s POH to see the exact details).  The Categories are:

  • Tansport = Airliners
  • Normal = Max Takeoff Weight of 12,500lbs Load limit: +3.8G / -1.52G Limit (see FAR 23.3 for more info)
  • Utility = Max Takeoff Weight of 12,500lbs Load limit: +4.2G / -1.76G Limit (see FAR 23.3 for more info)
  • Limited
  • Restricted = Cannot be operated over densely populated areas, congested airways, or near a busy airport where passenger transport is conducted
  • Acrobatic
  • Provisional

(don’t worry too much about the bottom 4 categories as a private pilot)

Part 21

Airworthiness Certificates

Airworthiness Certificates remain in effect as long as maintenance and alteration of the aircraft are performed per the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Part 39

ADs (Airworthiness Directives)

AD’s are issued under part 39 of the FARs to correct unsafe conditions found in an airplane or its parts.  They are issued by the FAA when the FAA or manufacture finds repeat problems occurring in a certain model aircraft.  You find out about ADs either by mail or most likely through your mechanic who checks the “bi-weekly” or AD database on the FAA website that is updated every two weeks.  ADs are mandatory and the owner typically bears the expense of complying with the AD (buying new parts, paying for the required inspection, etc.)

It is the Owner / Operators responsibility to ensure compliance with ADs (just because you don’t own the airplane and you rent it, you as PIC are still the operator!  You need to check maintenance logs before going flying).

Part 43

Preventative Maintenance

A person who holds a pilot certificate may perform preventative maintenance on any airplane owned or operated by that pilot that is not used in air carrier services.  Basically, you can replace light bulbs and top up some of the fluids, it is for simple or minor preservation between regular maintenance inspections.  To see a whole list of what you can do, reference 14CFR 43.3(g) and Part 43 appendix (a).

Return To Service

To return an aircraft to service after any maintenance the appropriate log entries must be made by the person performing the work.  If it was preventative maintenance, then at least a private pilot, if more complex, then the A&P mechanic or IA mechanic must make the log entries.

Maintenance Records

After maintenance is performed, the signature, certificate number, type of certificate held by the person approving the work, the date, and a description of the work performed must be entered in the aircraft maintenance records (logbook).

Part 47


Registration is good for 3 years expiring on the last day of the month it was issued 36 months later.  If you sell an aircraft, 14CFR47.41(b) requires you to mail the registration back to the FAA with the information of the buyer filled in on the backside.

Part 61


When acting as PIC or as a required crew member you must have a valid pilot certificate and current and appropriate medical certificate in your personal possession or readily accessible in the aircraft.  You must present your documents upon the request of the Administrator of the FAA or his or her representative, the NTSB, or any state, federal, or local law enforcement officer.

Offense involving alcohol or drugs

Each person holding a certificate under Part 61 (pilot certificate or medical certificate) shall provide a written report of each motor vehicle action involving alcohol or drugs to the FAA, Civil Aviation Security Division, no later than 60 days after the motor vehicle action.

Medical Certificates Requirement and Duration

Who needs what medical:

  • 1st class = airline pilots
  • 2nd class = pilots working for hire (charter pilots, banner tow pilots, etc.)
  • 3rd class = pilots not being paid to fly (private pilots, sport pilots, and CFIs, because according to the FAA, CFIs are paid to teach, not to fly).


  • 1st class = 6mo over 40 years old, 12mo under 40 years old
  • 2nd class = 12mo
  • 3rd class = 24mo over 40 years old, 60mo under 40 years old
  • Duration is all “calendar months” meaning the medical will expire on the last day of the month it was issued. (i.e. you get your 3rd class medical October 5th 2018 and you are over 40 years old, it expires October 31st, 2020)

Endorsements, Type Rating, Etc

To act as PIC in a complex airplane you must receive and log ground and flight instruction from an authorized instructor.

  • Complex airplane is defined as: airplane having retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller.

To act as PIC in a high performance airplane you must receive and log ground and flight instruction from an authorized instructor.

  • A high performance airplane is defined as an airplane having MORE than 200 horsepower

Other airplanes you need endorsements same as above for are:

  • Tailwheel
  • Pressurized / High Altitude

You must have a type rating (specific training and a checkride in the airplane) for any airplane:

  • over 12,500lbs takeoff weight
  • Turbojet powered
  • Other aircraft specified by the FAA through aircraft type certification procedures

Pilot Logbooks

You must log what you need to be legally current and legal to act as PIC in the airplane you are flying.  You do not have to legally log every flight you do.

Flight Review

You must have a flight review completed within the past 24 calendar months to act as PIC.  Getting an additional Certificate or Rating counts as a flight review (i.e. getting your instrument rating and passing the checkride resets the 24 calendar month clock).

A Flight Review consists of a minimum of 1 hour ground instruction and 1 hour flight instruction by an authorized instructor

Recent Experience

To carry passengers you need to have made three takeoffs and landings in the past 90 days

If you are carrying passengers more then 59 minutes after sunset or more than 59 minutes prior to sunrise (AKA, at night) you need to have made three full stop takeoffs and landings in the past 90 days.

Your full stop night landings count as currency for daytime flying with passengers.

If you are flying with passengers in a tailwheel airplane, you must make the three required takeoffs and landings to a full stop regardless of whether it is day or night.

The landings must be made in the aircraft of the same CATEGORY and CLASS, and if a TYPE RATING is required, the same type as the one in which passengers will be carried.

Nighttime landings only count when they are done more than 1 hour after sunset or more than 1 hour before sunrise.

Change of Address

You must notify the FAA Airmen Certification Branch of any changes in your mailing address.  You can do so by going to www.FAA.gov

You have 30 days to notify the FAA you moved, after that, you cannot exercise your airmen privileges (it’s easy to go online and fill out the form on the FAA.gov website).

Glider Towing

Any pilot may tow a glider if:

  • You have at least a private pilot certificate
  • 100 hours of PIC time in the aircraft of the same CATEGORY and CLASS, and if a TYPE RATING is required, the same type as the one you will be towing with.
  • A logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that you have received ground and flight training in gliders
  • Within the past 24 months made at least 3 actual or simulated glider tows while accompanied by a qualified pilot OR made at least 3 flights as PIC of a glider towed by an aircraft

Private Pilot Privileges and Limitations Acting as PIC

You may not pay less than the “pro rata” share of costs when sharing costs flying (you CANNOT make money as a private pilot) I.E. You any your buddy fly somewhere and it costs $150 to rent the plane.  You must pay at least $75.01 of the rental, if you pay less and your buddy pays more than $74.99, you are not complying with the regulations.  Expenses for flying can only involve things like:

  • fuel
  • oil
  • airport fees
  • rental fees

You can only fly an aircraft with passengers on business if the flight is incidental to that business. I.E.  A real estate agent flies a client to go look at a home somewhere and does not charge them for the flight.

You can act as PIC of an airplane carrying passengers for hire when sponsored by a charitable organization and the passengers have paid for the flight via donations to the charitable organization AND:

  • The local FSDO is notified at least 7 days before the flight
  • The flight is conducted from an adequate public airport
  • The pilot has logged at least 500 hours
  • No aerobatic of formation flights are performed
  • The aircraft holds a standard airworthiness certificate and is airworthy
  • The flight is day VFR
  • The flight is non-stop, begins and ends at the same airport, and is conducted within a 25nm radius of the airport.

Part 71

Federal Airways

Federal Airways are class E airspace from 1,200′ agl to 17,999′ msl and are 4nm wide on each side of centerline (8nm wide total)

Part 91

Right of Way

Aircraft in distress have the right of way over all other aircraft

When two airplanes are approaching head-on, both pilots should turn right to avoid a collision

When two aircraft of different categories are approaching each other, the less maneuverable has the right of way. I.E. glider has right of way over a powered airplane

Just like driving, when approaching another aircraft at the same altitude, the aircraft to the right has the right of way

When two aircraft are approaching for landing, the aircraft that is lower has the right of way (except this is not to be taken advantage of, i.e. diving lower to make you be that aircraft with the “right of way”)

When an aircraft (seaplane) and a vessel are on crossing courses the aircraft or vessel to the other’s right has the right of way.

An aircraft towing or refueling another aircraft has the right of way over all engine driven aircraft

Speed Limits

  • 250 knots IAS below 10,000’msl
  • 250 knots IAS in Class B airspace
  • 200 knots IAS underneath Class B airspace
  • 200 knots IAS when within 4nm of the primary airport and lower than 2,500′ agl in class C or D airspace.

Minimum Altitudes

Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Altimeter Settings

You must set your altimeter to 29.92″ when operating at 18,000′ msl or above (in class A airspace)

Prior to takeoff you should set the altimeter to the local altimeter setting, if no altimeter setting is available, use the field elevation.

ATC Clearances and Instructions

When you obtain an ATC clearance, you may not deviate from that clearance without permission from ATC unless you have an emergency

If you receive priority from ATC during an emergency, you must, UPON REQUEST, file a report with the manager of that ATC facility within 48 hours.

During an emergency you may deviate from any rule necessary to maintain safety.  You should notify ATC of the deviation as soon as possible.

Aircraft Certifications

You must have your Airworthiness and Registration Certificate on board and visible to passengers (really only the Airworthiness has to technically be visible to passengers and crew).

ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitter)

ELT Batteries must be replaced or recharged after either 1 hour of continuous use or after 50% of their useful life expires

ELTs may only be tested on the ground during the first 5 mins after the hour, no airborne tests are allowed.

Aircraft Lights

Airplanes operating on the ground or in the air between sunset and sunrise must use their lighted position lights (navigation lights, red, green, white).  (does not apply to Alaska)

ATC Transponders

Must be equipped and operating:

  • Above 10,000′ msl (unless within 2,500′ of the surface)
  • In Class A airspace
  • In the Class B Mode C ring and Class B airspace
  • Within and above Class C airspace
  • International Airspace

Aerobatic Maneuvers

Defined as:

  • Nose up or down of more than 30 degrees pitch
  • Bank of more than 60 degrees
  • an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.

Each occupant must have an approved parachute, certified and repacked by an approved parachute rigger within the past 180 days (for parachutes made of synthetic fibers).  (60 days if the parachute is made of silk or other natural fibers).

No person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight—

(a) Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement;

(b) Over an open air assembly of persons;

(c) Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport;

(d) Within 4 nautical miles of the center line of any Federal airway;

(e) Below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface; or

(f) When flight visibility is less than 3 statute miles.

Maintenance Responsibility

The owner / operator is responsible for ensuring ADs are complied with.

The owner / operator shall ensure maintenance personnel make the appropriate entries in the aircraft maintenance logs, indicating the aircraft has been approved for return to service.

When alterations or repairs are made to an aircraft that change the flight characteristics of the aircraft, it must be test flown and approved for return to service prior to carrying passengers.  It has to be test flown by at least a private pilot rated for the type of aircraft being test flown.

Required Inspections

  • 100hr inspection if used for hire or flight instruction rental
  • Annual inspection (12 calendar months)
  • 24 calendar month Transponder inspection
  • ELT as discussed above
  • ADs being checked at annual

If the airplane is “out of annual” it was not done before it expired, it is not a problem. The aircraft can be flown again once it has an annual inspection and is returned to service by an IA mechanic (the airworthiness certificate is not valid when the airplane is out of annual, but is valid again once the airplane gets an annual inspection).

You must determine the airworthiness of an aircraft by doing a preflight inspection and checking the maintenance logs.

Accident Notification

NTSB part 830 requires notification of any aircraft accident that causes substantial damage to the aircraft to be reported to the nearest NTSB field office. (you have 10 days to file the paper report)

The following incidents must also be reported to the NTSB:

  • Inability of a required flight crew member to perform their duties due to illness or injury
  • In-flight fire
  • Flight control system malfunction or failure
  • An overdue airplane that is believed to be involved in an accident (report must be filed within 7 days)
  • An airplane collision in flight
  • Jet engine failures (interestingly enough they do not want you to report engine failures on your Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee)

Report of an incident that required immediate notification only has to be filled when requested by the board.