All Aviation Articles By Greg Reigel

Can You Buy Replacement Aircraft Data Plates on the Internet?

The internet can be a wonderful thing. From the convenience of your computer you can buy most things aviation. Whether you are looking for pilot supplies, aviation paraphernalia or even an aircraft, it is quite likely that you can locate, and complete, your purchase via the internet. But, the convenience of buying through the internet doesn't always mean that you are really receiving the item for which you paid, or that you will be able to actually use the item as anticipated. A recent Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel illustrates this point.

This particular Legal Interpretation responded to a request from an individual regarding an advertisement on an internet auction site promoting the sale of "high quality reproduction aircraft identification plates." Specifically, the individual wanted to know how to determine "whether a reproduction plate is 'eligible for installation on a type certificated product.'"

The Interpretation initially notes 14 C.F.R. § 21.8 states that a part which must be approved by the FAA, such as an aircraft data plate, must be approved for production under a parts manufacturing authority (PMA), a type supplemental order (TSO), in conjunction with type certification procedures, or the catchall: "in any other manner approved by the FAA." It goes on to observe that, not surprisingly, when it comes to installation of data plates on aircraft, the FAA usually relies upon the original aircraft manufacturer to install the data plates on its aircraft.

According to the FAA Chief Counsel, the FAA views the aircraft manufacturer's installation of the data plates as a declaration or representation that the aircraft conforms to its type design. If for some reason the aircraft manufacturer refuses to issue or install data plates, the FAA assumes (yes, the Legal Interpretation actually uses the word "assumes") the aircraft does not conform to its type design.

With that background, the Interpretation then addressed several situations in which the aircraft owner may not have original identification plates issued by the aircraft manufacturer. First, if the data plate is lost, stolen or damaged during maintenance operations, the Interpretation states that the aircraft owner should "seek a replacement from the aircraft's original manufacturer." Unfortunately, since product liability exposure is always a concern for manufacturers, they are reluctant to issue a new data plate and expose themselves to additional potential liability for an aircraft whose condition they have been unable or unwilling to verify. As a result, that option is seldom successful.

Next, the Interpretation addressed the situation in which "the aircraft's original manufacturer is no longer in business or is otherwise unable or unwilling to produce a replacement plate for reasons unrelated to the condition of the aircraft. It observed that FAA Advisory Circular 45-2D, Identification and Registration Marking provides a means of compliance. Referencing Section 6(i)(3) of AC 45-2D, the Interpretation states than an owner or operator may only buy data plates from an approved source after "going through the process" of contacting the local Flight Safety Standards District Office (FSDO) or Manufacturing Inspection District Office (MIDO) for assistance and approval in obtaining a replacement. Unfortunately, neither the Interpretation nor AC 45-2D provide any explanation for what this "process" involves or requires from the aircraft owner or operator, nor does it state what the FSDO or MIDO are obligated to do in assisting or providing approval of a replacement data plate. As a result, it is unclear whether this is truly a practical or viable option.

Finally, in addressing the specific request before it, the Interpretation concludes that "[a] reproduction identification plate sold on an online auction website would presumably be produced by neither the manufacturer nor an FAA-approved alternative source (such as a PMA holder for the article), and therefore it could not indicate to the FAA that an aircraft conforms to its type design." And without an approved data plate to "prove" conformity with the type design, the aircraft would be ineligible for a standard airworthiness certificate.

So, the moral of the story: Simply because you can buy replacement data plates on the internet (or anything else for that matter), that doesn't mean you can use them. At least the individual in this case asked the question before, rather than after, spending good money on "reproduction" data plates. But, as with most purchases, some degree of "caveat emptor" is almost always a good thing.

Does Your CFI Have to Look Over Your Shoulder When You Are Maintaining Instrument Currency in a Simulator?

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.

When Does an Individual's Employment Record Relate to Pilot Performance or Professional Competence Under PRIA?

When an individual applies for a pilot position with a Part 121 or 135 air carrier, 49 USC §44703(h)-(j), the Pilot Records Improvement Act ("PRIA"), requires that air carrier to make certain requests to the FAA and the pilot's other employers for records relating to the pilot. In addition to certain specific information air carriers must request from the FAA, air carriers and employers, PRIA also includes a catch-all provision requiring a pilot's other employers (both past and present) to furnish other records maintained by the air carrier or person pertaining to the individual's performance as a pilot and that relate to

  • the training, qualifications, proficiency, or professional competence of the individual, including comments and evaluations made by a check airman;

  • any disciplinary action taken with respect to the individual that was not subsequently overturned; and

  • any release from employment or resignation, termination, or disqualification with respect to employment.

Advisory Circular (AC) 120-68F provides guidance to air carriers and other employers for compliance with PRIA by identifying and explaining the information that must be disclosed in response to a PRIA request. Although AC 120-68F provides examples and methods of compliance, not all situations and circumstances are addressed. As a result, sometimes situations arise that are not specifically addressed in AC 120-68F, leaving the pilot or his/her employer(s) with questions regarding PRIA compliance.

Fortunately, an individual in this situation who has a question regarding interpretation of PRIA, or any of the other aviation regulations, and who doesn't feel he or she has received a consistent or correct answer from the FAA (e.g. the local FSDO or FAA aviation inspectors), may submit a request to the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel for an official interpretation that will be binding upon all of the FAA's inspectors and FSDOs. A pilot did just that recently when he asked the FAA's Office of Chief Counsel for a legal interpretation regarding PRIA compliance by one of his former employers.

In his request, the pilot asked for an interpretation regarding the meaning of PRIA's reference to "other records pertaining to the individual's performance as a pilot" and also the meaning of the phrase "other records...concerning...professional competence." The pilot was specifically concerned about disciplinary records from two events, as well as his employment termination, and whether those records would have to be disclosed in response to a PRIA request.

In the first disciplinary event, the pilot received a written warning for failing to follow company procedure when he incorrectly entered Hobbs time in place of airframe time in an aircraft logbook entry after the pilot discovered a discrepancy during a flight. This error delayed the aircraft's return to service. The second disciplinary event involved the pilot's operation of one of his employer's aircraft to a public relations event on behalf of the employer where the employer claimed the pilot did not have permission to attend the event in the its aircraft and on its behalf. The pilot received a written warning for this event based upon his alleged insubordination and failure to follow company procedures. Although the pilot disputed the merits of each disciplinary action, for purposes of the pilot's request the Office of Chief Counsel treated the information in the employer's disciplinary records as true.

Records Related to the Pilot's Performance

Based upon the pilot's interpretation of the meanings of in PRIA terms as applied to the facts of each disciplinary event, the pilot contended that the records from the disciplinary actions in the examples he provided were unrelated to the pilot's performance of aeronautical duties and thus did not have to be disclosed under PRIA. The FAA partially agreed.

In its September 12, 2014 Legal Interpretation, the Chief Counsel initially determined that records related to a pilot's performance include records of an activity or event that is related to his or her completion of the core duties and responsibilities of a pilot, whether assigned by the employer or established by the FAA, to safely operate aircraft. This entails more than just records relating to events while the pilot is seated at the controls of an aircraft. It also includes records in relation to the pilot's compliance with his employer's established procedures during all aspects of aircraft operations, including occurring during ground pre-flight or post-flight, as well as those records relating to the pilot's duty to ensure the safety of crewmembers, passengers, cargo, and the aircraft.

The Chief Counsel further explained that

[r]ecords required to be reported would include records of any relevant disciplinary action as a result of any incident or event that occurs in an operation under any part of title 14 CFR, provided the operation is conducted by a pilot as part of the pilot's duties for that employer. All disciplinary records meeting this definition must be reported in accordance with the statutory requirements. However, records of disciplinary action arising out of the pilot's noncompliance with company policies unrelated to safe aircraft operations (e.g. attendance, company dress codes and other morality or behavior-based policies) are not the type contemplated by PRIA.

Applying this interpretation of the phrase "a pilot's performance", the Chief Counsel concluded the pilot's operation of the aircraft to a public relations event without the employer's permission did not need to be disclosed in response to a PRIA request. The Chief Counsel observed that

the crux of the pilot's dispute with the employer appears to be whether the pilot, in fact, had permission to attend the public relations event, not whether the pilot's actions indicated an error in judgment or performance during any part of the operation of the aircraft for purposes of the public relations event attended.

However, with respect to the records relating to the incorrect maintenance log entry, the Chief Counsel determined those records were subject to disclosure because the event "indicates the pilot failed to comply with post-flight procedures related to the condition of the aircraft for continued flight."

Records Concerning the Pilot's Professional Competence

Turning its attention to the pilot's request for an interpretation of the meaning of the phrase "professional competence", the Chief Counsel stated

[a]s this term is used in PRIA and as it relates to the federal aviation regulations applicable to the aircraft pilot profession, the competency of a pilot to serve as a flightcrew member is dependent upon the sufficiency of the individual's knowledge, skills, judgment and flight experience. In addition, the competency of a pilot is dependent upon the individual's demonstration of compliance with the applicable operating standards.

Thus, "professional competence" is considered merely an extension of PRIA's requirement to provide pilot training, qualifications and performance records. As a result, the phrase did not change the Chief Counsel's conclusion that records related to the public relations flight were not subject to disclosure while records relating to the maintenance logbook error did need to be disclosed.

Records Regarding the Pilot's Termination of Employment

Finally, the Chief Counsel addressed the records relating to the pilot's termination of employment by confirming that

records related to 'any release from employment or resignation, termination, or disqualification with respect to employment' must be furnished in response to a PRIA request if that record 'pertain[s] to the individual's performance as a pilot'...and that record dates within the five years preceding the PRIA request.

Since the pilot had resigned from his position in order to attend school full time, the Chief Counsel concluded that any record related to the pilot's termination of employment was not subject to disclosure under PRIA because it did not relate to "pilot performance."


Not surprisingly, sometimes the meaning of terms or phrases in an aviation regulation or statute are not as precise as we need in order to apply the terms or phrases to actual factual circumstances. That is certainly the case with respect to PRIA. And although AC 120-68F certainly provides examples to assist with PRIA compliance, that isn't always enough. In those situations, it is nice to be able to get the FAA's opinion of how those terms or phrases may apply.

FAA Takes a More Sensible Approach to First-Time, Inadvertent TFR Violations

The FAA recently amended its enforcement guidelines for dealing with airmen who violate temporary flight restriction ("TFR") airspace. In the past, when the FAA alleged that an airman violated a TFR, and the incident was a first-time, inadvertent violation by the airman, that airman would receive a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action ("Notice") proposing suspension of his or her airman certificate for 30 days for violation of a variety of regulations. This was the FAA's "shoot from the hip", no questions asked approach. And once the Notice was issued, the FAA conceded very little, if anything, from that 30 day suspension.

Now, however, it appears the FAA may have recognized that this approach wasn't necessarily the best way of dealing with these types of violations. In June of this year, the FAA amended Order 2150.3(b), the FAA's compliance and enforcement program, to change its approach to dealing with first-time, inadvertent TFR violators. According to the FAA, it is modifying its policy to provide more flexibility in dealing with TFR violators with the intent of reducing "the number of violations occurring in security airspace by using remedial training in appropriate circumstances to prevent repeated inadvertent violations." I'm not sure why it took the FAA this long to figure out that remedial training might be a better alternative to a suspension, but better late than never, I guess.

Under the amended guidelines, the FAA will apply the following sanction policy to TFR violations:

  1. A single, first-time, inadvertent violation will result in a 30 day suspension EXCEPT in circumstances involving:

    1. Inadvertent, first-time violations resulting from aircraft intruding one mile or less into the security airspace and then turning and exiting directly when there are no resulting complications for air traffic control or other aircraft; or

    2. Inadvertent, first time violations resulting from aircraft briefly (two minutes or less) squawking a 1200 code or failing to squawk an assigned discrete code, in security airspace that requires the aircraft to squawk a discrete code when there are no resulting complications for air traffic control or other aircraft.

    3. In situations 1(a) and (b), the FAA will use remedial training, assuming the airman has no prior history of violations. This means the airman would receive a warning letter, remedial training and the airman would not have a finding of violation placed in his or her airman record. (In my opinion, a more appropriate response to this type of situation rather than preventing an airman from staying current and competent by suspending his or her airman certificate, as was the case in the past.)
  2. A new inadvertent violation and a history of 1 prior inadvertent TFR violation will result in a 45 to 90 day suspension of the airman's certificate.

  3. A new inadvertent violation and a history of 2 prior inadvertent TFR violations will result in a 90 to 150 day suspension of the airman's certificate.

  4. A new inadvertent violation and a history of 3 or more inadvertent TFR violations will result in revocation of the airman's certificate.

  5. If the facts and circumstances surrounding the TFR violation call into question the qualifications of the airman, the FAA may also issue the airman a request for re-examination under 49 U.S.C. § 44709 (a "709 Ride").

  6. Intentional TFR violations or "aggravated" violations (which isn't defined or explained in the amended policy) will result in revocation of the airman's certificate.

Unfortunately, informal counseling, whether oral or written, is not a permitted alternative for the FAA to deal with TFR violations. However, at least now the FAA has the option of remedial training to educate, rather than punish, inadvertent violators. Of course, this amended policy begs the question of what constitutes an "inadvertent" violation. Depending upon the FAA's interpretation of "inadvertent", which in the past hasn't always been the most reasonable, the amended policy may be for naught.

But the amended policy definitely appears to be a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this more enlightened approach, and the voice of reason, will prevail in the future. In any event, airmen should continue to check for NOTAMS, understand the scope of any TFR NOTAMS issued for their route of flight, obtain appropriate flight service briefings and updates, and either avoid TFRs or comply with the applicable requirements for operation within the TFR.

Fly smart and stay safe.

Can You Barter For Aircraft Rental And Expenses? FAA Says "Yes"

As you may know, the FAA defines compensation very broadly. Compensation may include not only the exchange of money, but also the exchange of value. With this expansive view of compensation as a backdrop, the FAA was recently asked whether it was permissible to barter services in exchange for (1) a private pilot's pro-rata share of operating expenses under 14 C.F.R. § 61.113(c) and (2) rental of an aircraft.

In the first scenario presented to the FAA, a private pilot (Pilot A) who is also in the business of aircraft detailing desires to barter aircraft detailing services in exchange for Pilot A's pro-rata share of expenses on common-purpose, recreational flights in an aircraft owned by Pilot B, also a private pilot, and with Pilots A and B as the sole occupants of the aircraft during the flights. The common-purpose for the flights would be the building of pilot time as allowed by applicable regulations.

For purposes of the request, the FAA was asked to assume that the aircraft's type certificate does not require operation by two crewmembers, the flights are operated under 14 C.F.R. Part 91, and during the common-purpose flights one pilot is acting as pilot in command and the other pilot is strictly a passenger and not a required crewmember.

Pilot A would perform aircraft detailing services for Pilot B's aircraft. Pilot A and B would determine the fair market value of the aircraft detailing service and that amount would applied to Pilot A's pro-rata share of the operating expenses of the flights shared by Pilots A and B.

Based upon this first scenario, the FAA answered the following questions:

Question 1: Does Pilot A's bartering of services in exchange for Pilot A's pro-rata share of the operating expenses of a common-purpose flight with Pilot B comply with 14 C.F.R. 61.113(c)?

Answer: Yes, as long as the amount of the bartered services did not exceed Pilot A's pro-rata share of the expenses, otherwise Pilot B would be in violation of § 61.113(c).

Question 2: May Pilots A and B agree upon the fair market value of the aircraft detailing services to be bartered against Pilot A's pro-rata share of the operating expenses for the common-purpose flight?

Answer: Yes, the two parties to the transaction would need to reach an agreement with respect to the fair market value and, although FAA regulations do not require a written record of the agreement, they could certainly make such a record. (I would certainly recommend that the parties have a written agreement executed at the time of the transaction, rather than trying to later come up with documentation to prove the agreement as to fair market value.)

Question 3: May the fair market value of the aircraft detailing services be applied prospectively to Pilot A's pro-rata share of operating expenses for future/successive common-purpose flights with Pilot B?

Answer: Yes.

Question 4: What documentation, if any, would Pilots A and B need to evidence their compliance with 14 C.F.R. § 61.113(c) in this scenario?

Answer: None. The FAA does not require any documentation. (However, having appropriate documentation will definitely help in proving compliance.)

In the second scenario provided to the FAA, a private pilot (Pilot A) who is also in the business of aircraft detailing desires to barter aircraft detailing services in exchange for rental of an aircraft owned by Pilot B for personal flights operated under 14 C.F.R. Part 91 and in which Pilot A would be the sole occupant. The FAA was asked to assume for purposes of the request that the aircraft being rented is a type certificated aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate and is not subject to the Truth-in-Leasing requirements of 14 C.F.R. § 91.23.

Question 5: Does Pilot A's bartering of services in exchange for rental of Pilot B's aircraft violate any regulations administered by the Federal Aviation Administration?

Answer: It does not violate any FAA regulations.

Question 6: May Pilot A and B agree upon the fair market value of the aircraft detailing services to be bartered against Pilot A's rental of Pilot B's aircraft?

Answer: Yes, as long as the flight is not for compensation or hire.

Question 7: May the fair market value of the bartered aircraft detailing services be applied prospectively to Pilot A's future/successive rental of Pilot B's aircraft?

Answer: Yes, as long as the flight is not for compensation or hire.

Question 8: What documentation, if any, would Pilots A and B need to evidence the barter arrangement under this scenario in order to comply with any applicable regulations?

Answer: FAA regulations do not require documentation.

Although the FAA's answers were short and sweet, without any in-depth analysis of the regulations' application to the factual scenarios, at least the FAA has provided some guidance regarding the viability of barter transactions in connection with aircraft use, rental and expenses. As with most situations when dealing with the FAA, having a paper trail to document your compliance is a good idea. Thus, if you are going to enter into a barter arrangement, make sure you have something in writing that not only explains the barter transaction but also substantiates the fair market values upon which the barter transaction is based.

Thanks to the FAA's guidance, aircraft owners and pilots now have another option for aircraft use and rental. And that's a good thing.

End of content

No more pages to load