This question can be quite confusing for aviators because it depends on if you fly for the airlines, the military, Part 135 or Part 91.
There is also great confusion on when you can log Pilot in Command (PIC). You can log PIC time as the “sole manipulator” of the flight controls, but this article will go into why that doesn’t really make you a PIC.
This article will not go in depth into how to log PIC time. Scroll to the bottom for articles on how to log PIC time in different situations.
What I will cover in this article, though, is what it means to be a Pilot in Command. It’s much more than just being a “sole manipulator” of the flight controls.
As a Pilot in Command, you are the ultimate authority. The buck stops with you.
You must be willing to accept responsibility for everything that happens during the flight especially the bad stuff.
Let’s start with the basics first.
Definition of Pilot in command
Here is the FAA’s official definition of PIC:
1. The PIC has the final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of the flight
2. Has been designated as pilot in command before or during the flight; and
3. Holds the appropriate category, class, and type rating, if appropriate, for the conduct of the flight.
This last point is important. You can’t just jump into a random aircraft and start logging PIC time. You must be appropriately rated.
So, if you have a single engine rating but you are at the controls of a multi-engine airplane, you can’t log PIC time. You aren’t rated for multi-engine aircraft.
Or if your friend lets you take the controls of a helicopter but you are airplane rated, you can’t log that time as a PIC.
Do you need help figuring out if you are appropriately rated? Read this article on Category, Class and Type Ratings.
The FAA’s definition of PIC is actually very straight forward. But the confusion comes when the FAA allows pilots to log PIC time even when not acting as a PIC.
Logging PIC time does not make you a real PIC.
The difference between logging PIC time and acting as the PIC
The FARs allow you to log PIC time if you are the sole manipulator of the flight controls in a two person crew.
Note: please go to the bottom of this article to read more about logging PC time. It gets confusing fast in single- pilot, GA, Part 91 aircraft.
I said I wasn’t going to get into logging PIC time, but I want to make a distinction between sole manipulator PIC time and actual designated PIC time.
Let me give you a few examples:
Example 1: When I flew in the airlines, as a First Officer (FO) I logged PIC time when it was my leg to fly. We traded off legs so about half my flight time was “PIC” time.
The Captain, however, always logged PIC time, whether I was flying or not. He was the ultimate authority. He had the responsibility.
Just because you are the sole manipulator of the controls doesn’t make you the PIC. The Captain takes responsibility for a crash even if the FO is flying. Do you see the difference?
Example 2: The other example is when I fly for the Army.
When I have the controls I log PIC time in my personal log book, but that doesn’t mean I am acting as the PIC.
Notice I said my personal log book? That’s because the official Army logbook does not distinguish between sole manipulator of the controls or not.
They don’t care. They only care who is the final authority. That’s the pilot who logs the PIC time.
The PIC is designated before the flight. Only someone who has taken a PIC check ride can act as a PIC.
When both pilots are PIC, though, only one gets to log the “PC” time. Period. There is no switching off during the middle of the flight. The military is a bit different.
I hope those two example help clarify what it means to be a Pilot in Command.
Unlike General Aviation (Part 91), the professionals take a lot of time to develop their aviators before bestowing the Pilot in Command title. It’s a big deal.
In the airlines, it can take years to become a Captain. The military services are also very picky when it comes to that title.
In General Aviation, however, you are a PIC anytime you fly solo. That’s a lot of responsibility for a new aviator.
PICs really make their money when they have to make decisions in usual situations. That’s why it’s difficult for new aviators to be effective PICs.
But, what exactly does the PIC do and what are the FAA’s requirements?
Responsibilities of the PIC
The FAA’s definition of “responsibility” is quite broad:
“The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.”
In other words, the PIC is responsible for everything that does or does not happen.
Did you co-pilot do something wrong? It’s the PIC’s fault.
Did you deviate from a CFR? It’s the PIC’s fault.
Did you takeoff into a dangerous weather situation because your company told you to? It’s the PIC fault. Period.
Qualifications to become a PIC
As a Part 91 General Aviation pilot, your license qualifies you to act as PIC.
Make sure when you fly with your fellow pilot you decide before the flight who the PIC is. You can’t both be in charge of the aircraft.
Part 121 and Part 135 operators have stringent requirements before you can become a PIC.
Click here to read the CFR on Pilot in Command qualifications for Part 135 operators.
Because acting as PIC is such a big deal, it often comes with additional requirements.
Airline Captains are required to get more check rides and training than their First Officers.
Additionally, PICs must meet certain landing requirements every 90 days in order to carry passengers.
In Part 121 and Part 135 operations, the operator must train their Second in Commands to be PICs.
Want to know more? Here are some more resources.
How to log PIC time from AOPA (this is similar to the article above, but more in depth on the PIC issue)
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