The Student Certificate Only Goes So Far

After you have made the big decision to pursue flying lessons one of the first items to accomplish is to become a Student Pilot. It always sounds a little strange that you can get a Student Pilot certificate without ever flying or even going to an airport, but the fact is that you get the Student Pilot certificate from a doctor — an Aviation Medical Examiner — not an instructor. Because of this, it may be worth asking what the Student certificate entitles you to do?

The Student Pilot certificate actually allows you a single privilege — and that only comes after a flight instructor has properly endorsed you — you can fly an airplane solo. Of course it will take a good deal of work, practice, and study before the instructor will give you any endorsements, but the Student Pilot certificate opens that door.

Regulation 61.89 is a list of situations where a Student Pilot certificate cannot be used. The list falls into three distinct categories: The prohibition of passengers, the rules that make the Student Certificate for training purposes only, and the rules limiting Student Pilots to almost ideal weather conditions.

No Passengers Allowed
On the Student certificate itself, there is a warning about carrying passengers. The Student Pilot certificate allows a person to fly solo or fly with their instructor — it does not allow for the carriage of passengers. The sanction placed on a Student Pilot who carries a passenger is usually revocation. That would mean that the dream of learning to fly would stop right here.

Important Legal Snafu: If a Student Pilot ever rides along in an airplane with a pilot of higher certificate but who is not an instructor, the student should clarify that the pilot of higher certificate must act as Pilot in Command for the duration of the flight. This clarification must be made prior to takeoff or else confusion could take place. Without this clarification it could appear that the Student Pilot was carrying a passenger who happened to be a pilot. The pilot with the higher certificate would have to meet all recent experience requirements, have a current medical certificate, and be capable of acting in every way as the PIC of the flight. Don’t mess around with this rule.

And Other No-No’s: I once taxied around a corner and saw a person run from the tree line, across a field, onto the taxiway, and into a small airplane. The airplane then hastily took off. Did I witness a passenger coming back from a ‘restroom stop‘ or a secretly arranged meeting between a Student Pilot and a passenger?

Flight Training Only
A Student Pilot Certificate must only be used for training. FAR 61.89 prohibits Student Pilots from using the certificate for any form of compensation or hire. This includes carrying property or using the certificate for travel in the ‘furtherance of a business.’ In other words, a person cannot use the Student Certificate to fly to another city and call on a client. A person cannot take along a package on one of their solo cross-country flights for the purpose of delivering that package. A person could not take a solo flight and snap photos of their home. Once again, for those of you in back: The sole purpose of the Student Pilot certificate is to facilitate flight training — it can be used for nothing else.

Almost Ideal Weather
Regulation 61.89 also outlines the weather conditions that are considered suitable for Student Pilots to fly in. Student pilots must have at least 3 miles visibility in the daytime and 5 miles visibility at night. Does this mean it would be illegal for a Student Pilot to ask for and receive a Special VFR clearance? Yes. You can’t get a Special VFR clearance when the visibility is 3 miles or more. If a student needs a Special VFR they are in violation of 61.89. Nevertheless, Student Pilots should know what a Special VFR is and how to get one for an emergency return.

Instructor Authority
To a Flight Instructor, regulation 61.89(a)(8) is the best rule in the entire FARs. This part of the regulation says that a Student Pilot cannot fly the airplane, ‘in a manner contrary to any limitation placed in the pilot’s logbook by an authorized instructor.’ Translation: This rule gives instructors the authority to write their own regulations pertaining to their students. If I write in your logbook that you can only fly while wearing yellow socks, but you fly while wearing blue socks — you have violated federal law! Rather than using the rule to enforce a dress code, instructors usually use the rule to place restriction on students about wind velocities, and ceilings that are not otherwise stated in the regulation.

Inside Information: I once worked with a Student Pilot who co-owned an airplane with his brother. The brother was a Private Pilot and the two of them were also in business together. One day I noticed that their airplane was not in its parking space. I hoped that it was the Private Pilot brother who was out flying, and not my student — I had soloed the student the week before, but had not approved any additional solo flights. To ease my mind, I called their place of business. Imagine my shock when the Private Pilot brother answered the phone. ‘Hello is John there?’ I said. ‘No he flew up to Jonesville this afternoon to pick up a contract.’ I think I dropped the telephone. I waited — paced — in their airplane’s parking space until he returned. He did not have a passenger with him — thank God — but I think he violated every other limitation in the book.

I have since invoked my authority under 61.89(a)(8) and have written: ‘solo flight only with my knowledge and consent‘ in the logbook of every Student Pilot I have soloed since.

BOTTOM LINE: Student pilots should become very familiar with the purpose and limitations of their Student Pilot Certificate. A student cannot rely just on what the instructor may or may not tell you. As in all cases, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Regulation 61.89 addresses the Student Pilot directly and puts the responsibility on the student to understand the do’s and don’ts of their certificate. If you have any questions about the regulations, ask your instructor.