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There Are 7 Different Ways To Log Cross Country Time, And One Of Them Applies To You

Did you know that there are seven different definitions for "cross country" time? The definition you use depends on what you need cross country time for.

You'll use several of varieties of "cross country" time throughout your career. It pays to know them now, so that you can count the time in your logbook when you need it. Here's the rundown...

Swayne Martin

1) Legal Interpretation

Any person who holds a pilot certificate (Anything from a student to an ATP pilot certificate) that flies from one point of takeoff to a different point of landing can log "cross country" flight time. According to FAR 61.1(b)(i), you'll also need to use navigation like:

  • Dead Reckoning
  • Pilotage
  • Electronic Navigation Aids
  • Radio Aids
  • "Other" Navigation Systems

So yes, under this legal FAA definition, a 10 mile repositioning flight from Colorado Springs to Meadow Lake counts is cross country flight time.

But wait, not so fast. While this is legally cross country time, you can't count all of it toward the aeronautical experience requirements for your pilot certificate...

2) Sport Pilots In Training

To meet the aeronautical experience requirements of a sport pilot certificate, cross country flight time must include a landing at least a straight line distance of more than 25 nautical miles from the original point of departure.

FAR 61.1(b)(iii)

3) Private Pilot, Instrument, And Commercial Certificate Students

To meet the aeronautical experience requirements for a private pilot certificate, a commercial pilot certificate, an instrument rating, or for the purpose of exercising recreational pilot privileges, cross country flight time must include a landing at least a straight line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure.

FAR 61.1(b)(ii)

So does each flight leg have to be over 50NM for it to count as "cross country" time under this definition? Nope! According to this 2008 Legal Interpretation by the FAA, as long as one point of landing is a straight line distance of at least 50nm away from the original point of departure, the entire route can count as "cross country" flight time for certificate training requirements under FAR 61.1(b)(ii).

There's one catch to this 50NM rule, however. Don't forget that under FAR 61.109, private pilot students must fly a 150NM long cross country with at least one entire leg greater than 50NM straight line distance takeoff to landing, among a few other requirements. Similarly, commercial pilot students have a two hour long cross country experience requirement that asks pilots to include a single leg of at least 100NM takeoff to landing, among a few other requirements.

This specific experience requirement does not allow for any intermediate stops during the respective 50NM or 100NM leg of flight. Don't miss this - it's stopped many check rides before the oral starts. Check out this 2009 FAA Legal Interpretation to learn more.

4) Airline Transport Pilot Certificate Requirements

Here's where things get tricky. An ATP certificate requires 200 hours of cross country time, some of which must have been flown as the PIC. To meet these requirements, any flight that is a straight line distance of more than 50NM away from the point of departure counts as "cross country" time under FAR 61.1(b)(vi).

What does that mean exactly? For the ATP certificate, you could, in theory, fly a straight line distance of 50NM away from your point of departure, turn around, fly back, and log cross country time without even landing at a different airport.

If you find yourself flying a route like this, consider adding a brief note in the comments portion of your logbook. If you're working toward your private or commercial certificate, you probably won't make too many flights like this. But, if you're a commercial pilot flying pipeline patrol or aerial photography, this could be your average flight.

5) Military Pilots Qualifying For Commercial Pilot Certificates

Under FAR 61.1(b)(vii), a military pilot qualifying for a commercial pilot certificate may count any flight that is at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure toward their cross country time requirements.

This regulation provides an exception for military pilots to log cross country time towards a commercial certificate as an ATP candidate would, without a landing requirement separate of the point of departure.

6) Pilots Based On Small Islands

FAR 61.111 is a rarely reviewed regulation that allows pilots based on small islands to disregard the cross country flight requirement for a private pilot certificate. This applies only to routes requiring flight over 10NM from shoreline over open water. If there are other airports available that do not necessitate over-water flights, the student must show completion of two round-trip solo flights between those two airports that are farthest apart. A landing at each airport must be made on both flights.

If you earn your certificate using this exception, the FAA places a limitation on your certificate. It states, "Passenger carrying prohibited on flights more than 10 nautical miles from (the appropriate island)." Once you meet the normal cross country requirements under 61.109, the FAA removes the restriction.

7) Part 135 Pilot Qualifications

To act as PIC under FAR Part 135, pilots must have either 100 hours of cross country time for VFR flights or 500 hours of cross country time for IFR flights. These Part 135 requirements follow the FAA's basic definition of cross country flight as being "point to point."

FAR 135.243(b/c)

Any flight, no matter how short, if taken from one point of departure to a separate point of landing may be counted towards these requirements!

How To Fill Out Your Logbook

Now comes the real question... With all of those exceptions and certificate requirements, how and when should you fill out the "cross country" time block in your logbook?

Since private and commercial pilots certificates are the most restrictive when it comes to logging cross country time, consider only logging flight time as "cross country" when it meets the 50NM requirement under FAR 61.1(b)(ii). If you do that during training, it'll be much easier to tell when you've met time requirements for those certificates.

Boldmethod

If you often fly more than 50NM from your point of departure, but don't land more than 50NM from your point of departure, consider logging that time under one of the blank columns in your logbook. You could title the column "ATP XC Time." And, reference where you flew in the comments section.

If you're trying to qualify as a Part 135 Pilot in Command and don't have enough cross country time using traditional 50NM legs, sum up all of the time you've flown with landings at points other than your departure airport. Electronic logbooks are a real help here - they can help identify this cross country time.

Logging cross country time is tricky, and everyone seems to do it differently. What were you taught during training? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He holds multi-engine and instrument ratings, and is an aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.

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