Copyright © 2011 Liz Sommers
When is Night?
In these fall and winter months, night is upon us much earlier in the evening, and chances are that you may be flying more often at night. The FAA has a few things to say about night flying. The hardest thing is trying to figure out when night is.
First, we have a requirement for night landings if you are planning on taking passengers.
FAR 61.57b states that….no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise…it further stipulates that the takeoff and landings must me in the same category and class.
The sun currently sets at 4:51. If I plan on landing at 5:50 with passengers, I am fine if I didn’t have the 3 takeoff and landings within the past 90 days. If I plan on landing at 5:52, I then must meet the night landing currency requirements. To get night current for the flight, I could have taken off at 5:52 the previous evening, landed, taxied back for takeoff and completed that two more times to have met the requirements.
Thus for night currency: night = one hour before sunrise or one hour after sunset
Second is the requirement for lights.
FAR 91.205c is the list of equipment list which is required for night flight. It includes: position lights, aviation red or aviation white anti-collision lights, (a beacon OR strobe) and, if the aircraft is operated for hire: one electric landing light. (Since we do not operate our airplanes for hire, we are not required to have a working landing light. A taxi light could be used in lieu of a landing light, should you need it for the requirements.)
Third is the requirement for actually using our lights.
91.209 states that…during the period from sunset to sunrise…you may not operate an aircraft unless it has lighted position lights (left/green, right/red, and aft/white), and you must have anti-collision lights (which you are required to have during the day, too!)
Thus for having and using your position lights: night = sunset to sunrise
Now, as for the real FAA definition of night, as per Part 1: Definitions and Abbreviations, Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the American Air Almanac, converted to local time.
You can access the times for morning civil twilight and evening civil twilight at http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services/rs-one-day-us. However, I find it easy to locate the sunrise and sunset times at http://www.sunrisesunset.com/. Then I just add roughly ½ hour prior to sunrise and after sunset to get civil twilight.
Thus night now = ½ hour before sunrise and ½ hour after sunset
Now, the very important question is, which definition do you use to log night flight time?
For logging time in the night column of your logbook, you will need to use the FAA definition of night, using civil twilight.
By the way, if you haven’t flown at night lately, there are some great advantages, such as the easy visibility of other traffic, less planes flying, so it is much quieter on ATC, typically smoother air, and the view is just amazing! If you have not yet done a Bay Tour at night, it is simply incredible!
Fly safe, have fun, and take advantage of the early sunset to log some night flying!