You’ve been stuck teaching primary maneuvers to new students in a Robinson helicopter for the past three months. Next week, you finally have an initial night cross country flight with a student pilot, but you also realize that you won’t have met the night passenger carrying requirements of 14 CFR 61.57(b). Do you need to get current before you fly with the student? Is the student a “passenger”?
20171018 NOTE: A day after this posting, the FAA Legal Interpretation page URL changed and their database search appears to not be functioning correctly. I’ll update as appropriate.
Standard Night Currency
First, let’s review the night currency requirements of 14 CFR 61.57(b):
(b) Night takeoff and landing experience. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, 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).
The key word for this discussion is “passengers.” Neither 14 CFR 1.1 nor 61.1—the two definition sections in the regulations to check for this scenario—define this term.
It’s logical, however, to assume that a student is not a passenger with regards to flight instruction, as an instructor has to have a student to conduct flight training with, which means that the student would be a required crewmember, not a passenger. Vice versa, the instructor is also a required crewmember in relation to the student receiving flight instruction, not a passenger.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agrees, and discussed this issue with 14 CFR 61.57(b) in a Legal Interpretation on August 22, 2006 in response to a letter sent by Kris Kortokrax:
The instructor is not a passenger because he is present specifically to train the person receiving instruction. Neither is the person receiving instruction a passenger with respect to the instructor.
The Robinson Helicopter Special Regulation
The second issue was with regards to Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 73(2)(d)’s requirement, which basically adds that the currency needs to be in an R-22 or R-44, as appropriate:
(d) Currency Requirements: No person may act as pilot in command of a Robinson model R-22 or R-44 helicopter carrying passengers unless the pilot in command has met the recency of flight experience requirements of §61.57 in an R-22 or R-44, as appropriate.
The FAA consistently applied the earlier interpretation to this regulation as well:
We agree with your analysis, that a neither a properly trained and qualified instructor nor the person receiving instruction is a passenger for purposes of SF AR 73(2)(d)… We also note that our interpretation of passenger is limited to the instructor scenario. Absent the instructor scenario above, except where any individual is a required flight crewmember, the person would have to meet §61.57(b).
So, there you have it. You can fly in this scenario, as neither yourself as the instructor nor the student are considered “passengers” for this operation.
Reading through the Legal Interpretations periodically is a good way to find answers to questions we may not have even asked yet. Searching the Legal Interpretation Database can be a little tricky as the search tools are not very advanced. However, if you have something you are questioning, it’s worth the time to search.