In a recent Legal Interpretation, the FAA Office of the Chief Counsel responded to questions regarding the logging of pilot in command ("PIC") time and distribution of expenses when a safety pilot is used. The scenario presented involved two pilots, A and B, planning a Part 91 local VFR flight for the purpose of Pilot A satisfying instrument time or instrument currency requirements. Pilot A secured the aircraft (type certificated for one pilot crewmember), and Pilot B agreed to serve as a safety pilot during the portion of the flight that required a safety pilot. Both pilots held private pilot certificates and were qualified to act as PIC.
In addressing the logging of flight time, the Interpretation observed that FAR 91.109(b) prohibits a pilot from operating in simulated instrument flight without a safety pilot. Thus, during the simulated instrument portions of the flight Pilot B was a required crewmember. As a result, the Interpretation stated that Pilot B could log second in command ("SIC") time for the time in which Pilot A acted as PIC and was the sole manipulator of the controls during simulated instrument flight. It also noted that since Pilot A was acting as PIC during the simulated instrument portion of the flight, Pilot B would not be able to log PIC time under FAR 61.51(e). However, if Pilot B agreed to act as PIC for the simulated instrument portion of the flight, the Interpretation concludes "then Pilot B could log that time as PIC time under FAR 61.51 (e)(1)(iii) because he is acting as PIC of an aircraft for which more than one pilot is required under the regulation under which the flight is being conducted." Additionally, as the sole manipulator of the controls of the aircraft for which Pilot A is rated, Pilot A would also be permitted to log the time as PIC time under FAR 61.51(e)(1)(i).
With respect to the question of whether Pilot B would be obligated to share expenses for the flight, the Interpretation initially observed that FAR 61.113(c) prohibits a private pilot acting as pilot in command from paying less than his or her pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers. In the scenario presented, Pilots A and B were both required crewmembers during the portion of the flight that is conducted in simulated instrument conditions. As a result, the Interpretation concludes that if Pilot B acts as PIC only during the simulated instrument portions of the flight, Pilot B would not be required to pay a pro-rata share of the operating expense of the flight under FAR 61.113(c) since Pilot B would not be acting as PIC on a flight carrying passengers.
This Interpretation highlights the FAA's distinction between "acting" as PIC for a flight versus logging time as PIC by virtue of being the sole manipulator of the controls of the aircraft. As you can see, this distinction has a direct bearing on how a safety pilot, or any other pilot for that matter, logs flight time. Understanding this distinction will help ensure that you are logging your flight time correctly whether you are acting as, or flying with, a safety pilot.