Night Flying Regulations for the VFR Pilot

Pilot in cockpit at night

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Whether we fly frequently or hardly at all, it's easy to forget some of the regulations surrounding specific flights and specific operations. Pilots flying at night are often guilty of forgetting some of the basic regulations surrounding night flight. Here's a quick checklist of FARs to review to make sure you're legal to fly at night, including pilot currency and aircraft equipment requirements.

Pilot Currency

Pilots are required to maintain night currency every 90 days to carry passengers at night. Specifically, 61.57(b) 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, and—

  1. That person acted as sole manipulator of the flight controls; and
  2.  The required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required)."

Aircraft Fuel Reserves

FAR 91.151(2) states that "No person may begin a flight in an airplane under VFR conditions unless (considering wind and forecast weather conditions) there is enough fuel to fly to the first point of intended landing and, assuming normal cruising speed… (2) At night, to fly after that for at least 45 minutes."

Aircraft Equipment

All of the equipment required for day VFR (which some of you may know from the acronym "TOMATOFLAMES") is required for night VFR flight, plus a few extras (some use the acronym FLAPS).

Specifically, FAR 91.205 states that "For VFR flight at night, the following instruments and equipment are required:

  1. Instruments and equipment specified in paragraph (b) of this section.
  2. Approved position lights.
  3. An approved aviation red or aviation white anticollision light system on all U.S.-registered civil aircraft.
  4. If the aircraft is operated for hire, one electric landing light.
  5. An adequate source of electrical energy for all installed electrical and radio equipment.
  6. One spare set of fuses, or three spare fuses of each kind required, that are accessible to the pilot in flight.

By the way, the FLAPS acronym goes like this:

  • F- Fuses
  • L- Landing light
  • A- Anticollision lights
  • P- Position Lights
  • S- Source of electrical energy

Aircraft Light Usage

You have to use the aircraft's position lights at night. It's required by FAR 91.209, which states that "No person may, (a) During the period from sunset to sunrise…

  1. Operate an aircraft unless it has lighted position lights;
  2. Park or move an aircraft in, or in dangerous proximity to, a night flight operations area of an airport unless the aircraft—
  • Is illuminated;
  • Has lighted position lights; or
  • Is in an area that is marked by obstruction lights