So, when do pilots need to wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses again? And don’t PICs have to brief passengers?
Here’s the simple answer with some practical application.
Pilot requirements to wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses:
Bottom line: You need to wear your lap belt all the time when you are seated at the controls.
Obviously you can take it off if you need to get up and use the bathroom or stretch. Once you get back from the bathroom and sit back down at the controls, you need to put your seat belt on.
There aren’t any exceptions to this rule according to 14 CFR 91.105.
Where you have a little fudge room is on the shoulder harnesses. You don’t have to wear them in these situations:
- While en-route
- If it interferes with pilot duties
- If they aren’t installed
So that’s what the regulations say, but what do pilots do in real life?
Well, when I fly the King Air I make it part cruise checklist to take off the shoulder harness. It’s more comfortable to remove it on long flights.
Conversely, I put my shoulder harness on when I do the descent checklist.
I also, and so should you, put it on during any turbulence. Many pilots have smashed their heads on the ceiling from unexpected turbulence.
The last thing you want to fool around with in turbulence is a damn seat belt.
Putting your shoulder harness on before descending usually takes care of the turbulence issue. A lot of turbulence shows up during the descent below FL180.
If the entire flight is turbulent, or I am flying at lower altitudes (below FL180), I keep the shoulder harness on. Likewise if it gets really bad, I ratchet down the seat belt so I won’t go anywhere.
You only have to experience bad turbulence once before you make this a habit.
What about wearing it while taxiing?
Another regulation, 14 CFR 91.107 covers surface movement. If you read 14 CFR 91.105 it says nothing about taxiing, only takeoff, landing and en-route.
The CFR is pretty straightforward: everyone in the aircraft needs to be in their seat with their seat belts fastened for taxiing, takeoff and landing.
You knew this already, though, because you have flown on a commercial airplane.
There are some exceptions for children and parachuting operations I won’t go into. Feel free to look it up yourself here: 14 CFR 91.107 (a) (3).
The regulation doesn’t specify pilots it just says everyone in the aircraft, so it can be a little confusing. Why doesn’t 14 CFR 91.105 add in taxiing? I think it’s a bit of an over site.
Anyway, the 91.107 reg says the “pilot in command” has some additional requirements. I believe they define the “pilot in command” not as the pilot on the controls, but rather the person responsible for the flight.
The PIC must do the following:
- Ensure each person on board is briefed on how to fasten and unfasten their seat belts and shoulder harnesses (if installed)
- Ensure each person on board is notified they need to fasten their seat belts
The second one is interesting because it says nothing about making sure everyone has their seat belt on, it just says they need to be “notified.”
So that’s the gist of it.
For additional reading check out this article: Legal Briefing: Aircraft Seat Belt Safety
To keep it simple I recommend you do the following:
- Always brief your passengers on how to use the seat belt even if they have used it a million times before. Their knowledge doesn’t absolve you of your requirement as the PIC to brief them.
- Always keep your seat belt fastened when you’re at the controls (except the shoulder harness while en-route.)
- Tie the shoulder harness wear/removal to a checklist so you don’t forget it for takeoff and landing.
- Wear your shoulder harness during turbulence or if you expect turbulence.
- Seriously encourage your passengers to wear their belts all the time and do this before you start your taxi and before you land.
That’s it for the seat belt discussion. Be smart about it.
Seat belts are a good thing.
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