An instrument rating provides both options and opportunities that are not available to a VFR pilot. But in order for an instrument rated pilot to legally exercise the privileges of the instrument rating, he or she must be current. 14 C.F.R. § 61.57(c) lists the tasks that must be accomplished within the six calendar months preceding the month of the IFR flight, and logged under 14 C.F.R. § 61.51 in order for the pilot to be instrument legal for that flight.
But what happens if you are a pilot who lives in an area of the country where the weather, along with personal scheduling issues (since we few of us have the luxury of flying whenever we want, even though we wish we could) make it difficult to complete these tasks? Or maybe you are looking for a way to lower the cost of flying. Is it possible to safely stay instrument current while saving some money?
Well, one way to meet instrument currency requirements is to use a flight simulator, flight training device or aviation training device ("simulator"). In addition to the lower costs and safety benefits a simulator provides to a pilot, one of the specific advantages is that a pilot may use time in a simulator for instrument currency experience.
However, use of a simulator for logging instrument flight time isn't without conditions. First, the simulator must be "approved" by the FAA (a topic for another day, but if you are curious you can review the FAA's Advisory Circular AC 61-136 for more information). Second, and equally important, in order for a pilot to log simulator time and have it count towards instrument currency, 14 C.F.R. § 61.5l(g)(4) requires that "an authorized instructor is present to observe that time and signs the person's logbook or training record to verify the time and the content of the training session."
As all instrument rated pilots should already be aware, this second condition is different than simply performing the necessary instrument approaches and procedures in an actual aircraft. In the aircraft, an instructor's presence is not required. And, unfortunately, some instructors and flight schools believe that if an instructor is not required to be present when a pilot is performing the necessary approaches etc. in an aircraft, then an instructor should not be required to be present when the pilot is performing the same tasks in a simulator. However, that is not the case.
Additionally, keep in mind 14 C.F.R. § 61.57(c)(3) requires that a pilot who accomplishes instrument experience exclusively in a simulator must have performed the instrument tasks and maneuvers listed in that section within two calendar months before the month of the flight.
If you are going to use a simulator for instrument currency, make sure you are familiar with the requirements that apply to your training. When in doubt, review the regulations and associated FAA guidance. If you still have questions, contact your CFI or a knowledgeable aviation attorney.
If you are an instrument rated pilot, you know that you have to be "current" in order to legally exercise the privileges of the instrument rating as pilot in command. Specifically, in order to act as pilot in command of an instrument flight FAR § 61.57(c) requires that the airman must have performed and logged (1) six instrument approaches; (2) holding procedures and tasks; and (3) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems, all within the preceding 6 calendar months. Although these task may be performed in instrument conditions, they may also be performed in visual conditions by "simulating" instrument conditions.
As you might expect, in order to operate an aircraft in simulated instrument conditions, certain requirements must be met. FAR § 91.109(b) allows this type of operation in an aircraft equipped with fully functioning dual controls as long as ("1) the other control seat is occupied by a safety pilot who possesses at least a private pilot certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown; and (2) The safety pilot has adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft, or a competent observer in the aircraft adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot."
Unfortunately, some airman can be confused about the role of the safety pilot during a simulated instrument flight. It isn't uncommon for airmen to refer to their safety pilot as being "second in command." However, unless the aircraft being used is type certificated for operation by more than one pilot or the operation conducted by the pilots requires a designated second in command (e.g. an operation conducted under FAR § 135.101 which requires a second in command for IFR operations), the designation of a safety pilot as an acting second in command crewmember is not accurate.
Now, you might be wondering how a safety pilot may "log" his or her flight time while acting as a safety pilot in that situation. Well, you need to keep in mind that "acting" as a second in command during a flight is different than "logging time" for acting as a safety pilot. Under the regulations, an airman may log second in command time for the portion of the flight during which he or she was acting as safety pilot because the safety pilot was a required flight crewmember for that portion of the flight under FAR § 91.109(b). In that situation the airman is only acting as a safety pilot, not as second in command for the flight.
The distinction between "acting" as second in command, or pilot in command for that matter, versus "logging" second in command or pilot in command time is an important one. Depending upon the circumstances, an airman may be able to both "act" as second in command or pilot in command and "log time" as second in command or pilot in command. In other situations, he or she may only be able to do one or the other.
Although it can be tricky, airmen need to make sure they understand the distinction to ensure that they are logging their time accurately and in compliance with the regulations.