More on using Flight Training Devices to maintain IFR currency

Much confusion followed the last major update to 14 CFR Part 61 in 2009, especially the provisions in 61.57 that specify the requirements for maintaining IFR currency when using a flight training device (FTD) or simulator.

As I discussed in a post at the time, the initial notice of the changes the in the Federal Register on August 21, 2009 (Vol. 74, No. 161) included comments in the preamble that suggested that pilots who do not yet require an instrument proficiency check (IPC) to restore IFR currency could use an appropriate FTD to log approaches and other required tasks without having an instructor present. According that preamble:

Provided the person is instrument current or is within the second 6-calendar month period’’ (See § 61.57(d) for currency). A person would not need a flight instructor or ground instructor present when accomplishing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks of § 61.57(c)(1)(i), (ii), and (iii) in an approved flight training device or flight simulator. Only when a person is required to submit to an instrument proficiency check must a flight instructor or ground instructor be present. The rationale is that a person is not required to have a flight instructor or ground instructor present when performing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks in an aircraft. If the person is using a view-limiting device (i.e., hood device) when performing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks in an aircraft, only a safety pilot is required to be present. If a person is performing approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks in an aircraft in IMC, it is permissible to log the tasks without a flight instructor being present. Therefore, a person who is instrument current or is within the second 6-calendar month period (See § 61.57(d) for currency) need not have a flight instructor or ground instructor present when accomplishing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks of § 61.57(c)(1)(i), (ii), and (iii) in an approved flight training
device or flight simulator.

The FAA issued a revision to the new rules on October 20, 2009 to clarify several issues. That revision included the following statements about using FTDs and simulators:

27. This revision of Sec. 61.51(g)(4) conforms the rule for logging of instrument time in a flight simulator, flight training device, and aviation training device to existing policy.

This final rule amends Sec. 61.51(g)(4) to allow logging of instrument time in a flight simulator (FS), flight training device (FTD), or aviation training device (ATD) conforming to existing regulation or policy. An authorized instructor (See Sec. 61.1(b)(2)) must be present in the FS, FTD, or ATD when instrument training time is logged for training and aeronautical experience for meeting the requirements for a certificate, rating, or flight review (See Sec. 61.51(a)) [emphasis added]. The instructor must sign the person’s logbook verifying training time and session content. Examples of situations in which an authorized instructor will be considered present would be where an authorized instructor is seated at a center control panel in a flight simulation lab and is monitoring each student’s performance from control panel display. Another example would be a situation where an instructor assigns a student several instrument tasks and then leaves the room. In such cases, if the flight training device has a monitoring and tracking system that allows the authorized instructor to review the entire training session, the instructor need not be physically present. Another example would be a situation where one authorized instructor monitors several students simultaneously in the same room at a flight simulation lab.

That update contradicted the preamble in the original publication of the new regulations, more questions followed, and the FAA Office of Chief Counsel ultimately replied to one inquiry on August 6, 2010. That letter (PDF), addressed to Terrence K. Keller, Jr., offers the following guidance:

This responds to your request for a legal interpretation clarifying whether a flight instructor must observe an individual using a flight training device or flight simulator to maintain instrument recency experience under 14 C.F.R. §61.51(g)(4)…. The preamble language you quote states, “a person who is instrument current or is within the second 6-calendar month period … need not have a flight instructor or ground instructor present when accomplishing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks of §61.57 (c )(1)(i), (ii), and (iii) in an approved flight training device or flight simulator.”

 …Preambles to final rules serve two purposes; they explain the reasons for adopting the new rule, including responses to public comments, and they provide interpretive guidance on operation of the rule. However, when the rule and the preamble conflict, the rule controls. Accordingly, the regulatory text of §61.51(g)(4) is clear that in order to log the time an instructor must be present to observe an individual using a flight training device or flight simulator to maintain instrument recency experience [emphasis added]. We acknowledge that the preamble language indicates some intent to change the rule. For that reason, this issue has been forwarded to the Flight Standards Service.

The final sentence seems to hold out some hope that FAA may reconsider its interpretation of the rules, but at present, the the letter seems to be official FAA policy on the matter.

(If you’re interested in reading other legal opinions from the FAA, see the FAA Legal Interpretations & Chief Counsel’s Opinions website.)

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3 Responses to More on using Flight Training Devices to maintain IFR currency

  1. Matthew Yarnall says:

    Bruce,
    I am also going to post this on Beechtalk, because I think you visit that site. Am I wrong to interpret this to mean I can use an FTD for CURRENCY without an instructor present, but I would not be able to use an FTD to log time without an instructor for the purposes of obtaining an IFR rating.

    • bruceair says:

      As I noted in a new post at Beechtalk, I think think you’re over-analyzing the FAA’s position. For now, the rules and FAA legal interpretations are clear. If you want to log FTD time for currency or for credit toward the requirements for an instrument rating, an authorized instructor must be present during FTD training sessions and that instructor must endorse your logbook.

    • Martin Kosina says:

      That is exactly the position Lance Nuckolls (then of AFS-810) seems to have taken in his November 2010 letter to John King:

      http://www.kingschools.com/flight-simulators/redbird/docs/approved-instrument-recency-experience-without-a-flight-instructor.pdf

      So another interesting wrinkle ?

      Personally, I find BATD currency maintenance very transferable up to a light twin (I have an Elite PI-135 and fly an Arrow, Mooney, and a Seneca in real life), *if* one is disciplined about the usage: takeoff to landing, no interruptions, keep it realtime, use real charts and checklists, etc.

      Perhaps best of both worlds is to build an ongoing relationship with a CFI-I who has flown with you before IRL, is familiar with that BATD model, and is willing to, perhaps after couple in-person sessions, assign some approaches/tasks and replay the stored sim flights for a signoff. The final rule’s rather liberal definition of “present” seems to address just such use case already.

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