Public Aircraft - FAA certificate required?

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Public Aircraft - FAA certificate required?

Postby MerlinFAC » Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:45 am

The Palm Bay (FL) Police have gained some notoriety (mostly disdain, actually) for using Powered Parachutes for... well, nobody's sure why, although the populace is pretty well convinced that it's mostly a tax-funded boondoggle and the PD paying for a few cops to indulge in their hobby on the public dime, and that will be used for little more than looking for topless females sunbathing in their own back yards. But a question has come up to which some of us were wondering about, and we haven't found a clear-cut answer... can government entities legally operate a public aircraft without an FAA-certified pilot at the controls? I know that most public entities w/ aircraft will, for insurance or other reason, be nearly certain to require the logically appropriate FAA ratings (why wouldn't they) of their pilots. BUT it seems that there was an incident a while back where a non-rated pilot crashed a police helicopter, and he was operating legally since it was a public-use aircraft operation. Thus far, it's been determined that Federal law defines a "public aircraft" as being distinctly separate from a "civil aircraft" (US Code, Title 49, Section 40102, Subpart A-37 ) and in reading FAR Part 61, it says only that CIVIL aircraft must have certificated pilots at the controls, with nothing about "public aircraft". We also learned that apparently South Dakota has a law criminalizing flying without an FAA license, but they included an exception specifically for government aircraft, which seems to indirectly also lend some credence to this thought.

So, anyone know for sure? I've gathered that PASSENGER CARRYING public aircraft DO require the pilots to have the appropriate FAA ratings, but what about other public flights? Could a police helicopter (or PPG) pilot (theoretically) fly legally without an FAA rating, or with a rating below what you'd require for similar operations outside the government?

The FAA guidance quoted thus far seems to only discuss the aircraft certifications and the line between public flights and civil ones based on the nature of the operations, but not airman certification requirements for non-passenger flights. It appears as a "loophole" rather than an explicit statement... like so many other things in government!

And yes, I realize that it would be tough to find any gov't organization that wouldn't still choose to go with normal civil aircraft standards for hiring pilots even if they were legally allowed to do otherwise... suspect their insurers and constituents would expect it!

Anyone know for sure?


PS - here's the Palm Bay story link: ... paraglider

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