Definitions and Night Operations – Legal and Medical Services (PPS)


How does the FAA define night?

14 CFR § 1.1 defines “night” as “the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time”.

What is sunset?

FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (OBJECTIVE) provides the following information:

Sunrise and sunset “refers to times when the upper edge of the Sun’s disk is on the horizon, considered clear with respect to the location of interest. Atmospheric conditions are assumed to be average and the location is in a flat region at Earth’s surface.

The twilight stages are based on the solar angle, and civil twilight “is defined as beginning in the morning and ending in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit from which the twilight illumination is sufficient, in good meteorological conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished.

United States Naval Observatory explains the various twilight phases and provides sunrise, sunset, and the start and end of civil twilight here: the OBJECTIVE offers detailed guidance on how to use the “Complete Sun and Moon Data for a Day” interactive portal. Additionally, sunrise, sunset, and civil twilight times can be obtained from the Air Almanac, purchased from the US Government Printing Office or consulted free of charge at the nearest Federal Depository Libraries Program.

With these definitions in mind, what are the applicable FARs?

To reduce the likelihood of pilot diversions regarding night operations, it is advisable to learn as much as possible about your operation, the necessary qualifications, current events and relevant information. Federal Aviation Regulations. You should also be familiar with tips such as the Aeronautical Information Manual and Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. AOPA recommends that pilots contact the Legal Services Plan and read on Gap Mitigation if there is concern about possible regulatory non-compliance associated with night operations.

For holders of a pilot certificate:

14 CFR § 61.101(e)(6) provides that if you hold a recreational pilot certificate, you cannot act as PIC of an aircraft between sunset and sunrise.

14 CFR § 61.315(c)(5) provides that if you hold a sport pilot certificate, you cannot act as the PIC of a light sport aircraft at night.

14 CFR § 61.51(a) requires each person to document and record aeronautical training and experience used to meet the requirements for a certificate, rating, flight review and recent flight experience. When you make entries in the logbook, 14 CFR 61.51(b)(3)(ii) provides that flight conditions, such as day or night, must be entered. Read this series of articles from AOPA on issues with logbook inspections:

14 CFR § 61.57(b)(1), titled “Night Take-off and Landing Experience”, requires that before acting as a PIC carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, the pilot must have performed at least 3 take-offs and 3 landings until a complete stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise during the previous 90 days. Please read these rules fully to ensure that your recorded flights are accounted for in your overnight currency, including the requirement that take-offs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class and type (if a type rating is required). The pilot must also have been the sole manipulator of the flight controls; see this AAF legal interpretation for more information.

Flight operations:

14 CFR § 91.205(c) provides the basic instrument and equipment requirements for operating a civil powered aircraft with a standard certificate of airworthiness for night visual flight rules. Do not fly unairworthy aircraft; see this AOPA article, “If it’s broken, fix it.”

Additionally, it is important to note that equipment other than that listed in 91.205 may be required by other regulations. For example, included on the 14 CFR § 91.205(c) list are approved position lights and an approved Aviation Red or Aviation White anti-collision light system. During the period from sunset to sunrise, 14 CFR 91.209(a)(1) provides that no one may “operate an aircraft unless it has illuminated position lights”. However, at any time, 14 CFR 91.209(b) requires that no person may “operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anti-collision light system unless it has anti-collision lights activated”. The captain may determine that “in the interest of safety” the anti-collision lights “do not need to be on”, but this determination does not authorize flight with the anti-collision lights inoperative. look at this article regarding inoperative anti-collision lights.

Pre-flight planning is important for all flights. Especially for night operations, 14 CFR § 91.151(a)(2) provides fuel reserve requirements for night VFR conditions, and AOPA article covers FAA resources for requirements and best practices for pre-flight briefings.

Good night.


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