Checkride Denied!

How could a student work with his instructor all the way to the Private Pilot checkride simply to be sent home by the Examiner? What should you know that that student pilot — and his instructor — should have known?

In this case, the student was not allowed to take the Private Pilot practical test, because the Examiner determined that the student did not meet the requirements for cross-country flying — in spite of what the student, and his instructor, thought.

Regulation 61.109(a)(5)(i) says that you must have 5 hours of solo cross-country flight time to be eligible for the Private Pilot checkride. This student had 6 hours of cross-country in his logbook. The 6 hours had come from two solo cross-country flights: one was to an airport that was 59 nautical miles away and the other to an airport that was 45 nautical miles away. The student and instructor said that regulation 61.93(a)(i) had been their guide because this rule seems to say that a flight of 25 nautical miles can be considered a cross-country. Regulation 61.93(a)(i) says: ‘A student pilot must meet the requirements of this section before conducting a solo cross-country flight, or any flight greater than 25 nautical miles from the airport from where the flight originated.’ The student and instructor may have read just what they wanted to read, or may simply be guilty of not reading this very carefully. What does it really say?

To understand what is really being said here you must back up and view this passage in the context of the entire regulation. FAR 61.93 are the rules that flight instructors must follow before allowing a Student Pilot to venture too far away from their familiar airport. Student Pilots must be taught to navigate before they can be allowed to get too far from home. While every pilot has from time to time been ‘misplaced‘ there are a few who would actually admit that they were in fact ‘lost.’ As a pilot, getting lost is not really a big deal… provided you are able to find yourself again.

In the early stages of flight training the Student Pilot just has not gotten as far as navigation training yet and therefore is more vulnerable to getting lost. Regulation 61.93 sets a ring, 25-miles in radius, around your airport. Student Pilots can come and go within that ring prior to receiving navigation training all they want — but the FAA believes that outside that 25-mile ring, students would need navigation knowledge to get home. My home airport has unofficial practice areas that we use to practice maneuvers. These practice areas are all within the 25-mile ring so that Student Pilots also can use the areas in solo flight.

Important: That 25-mile ring pertains to whether or not a student needs navigation training — it has nothing to do with the legal definition of a cross-country flight.

The definition of cross-country flight is found in FAR 61.1. The purpose of part 61 is the certification of pilots. The first paragraph of part 61 sets all the ground rules and definitions for the rest of the part. FAR 61.1(3) (ii) clears up all confusion about what is and what is not a cross-country. This rule says that if you want to become a Private Pilot, a Commercial Pilot, or get an Instrument Rating you must meet certain ‘aeronautical experience‘ requirements. Among these requirements are cross-country flights. The only flights that can be used to meet the cross country requirements must

  1. be conducted in an appropriate aircraft
  2. include a point of landing that was at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original departure point, and
  3. involves the use of dead reckoning*, pilotage*, electronic navigation, radio aids, or other navigation system to navigate to the landing point.
    (*dead reckoning and pilotage remain in the regulation so pilots cannot rely solely on GPS! Navigation plotters, flight computers, and paper charts are still required!)

BOTTOM LINE: Since the Student Pilot had completed the required navigation training of FAR 61.93, he could have logged the flight time from the 45-mile flight under the cross-country column in his logbook. But only those flights that are 50 nautical miles and greater can be counted toward the cross-country requirements needed to become eligible for a checkride. When the Examiner subtracted the solo cross-country time obtained on the 45-mile flight, the student no longer had enough ‘qualifying‘ cross-country time to be eligible for a Private Pilot Certificate — the checkride had to be cancelled and everyone went home disappointed.