Many pilots have interesting things to say about night flights and the soothing atmosphere that makes it different from day flying. The beauty of the lights in night flying, from the twinkling stars and the glow of the cockpit instruments to the geometric patterns of lights on the ground, night flying can be a truly enjoyable activity. While some are at ease with night flying, it could be a moment of anxiety for pilots who don’t do it often.
Night flying presents a few new challenges for pilots that are more familiar with daytime flying but opens up many more opportunities for flying. Having extensive knowledge of the aircraft operations is important when deciding to fly at night. Furthermore, trusting the instruments and having a good knowledge of the regulations and proper procedures that need to be followed will make the challenges of night flying a lot easier to go through.
Regulations for Night Flying
While there are rules and regulations guiding the operations of flying during the day, there are also specialized rules for night flying as outlined by the FAA. It is important to pay attention to those rules and regulations, as failure to comply could lead to unfavorable consequences and penalties. Safety is the most important thing in aviation, and the regulations are there to guide all aircraft safely through the skies at night.
Pilots who intend to fly at night need to perform at least 3 takeoffs and 3 landings to a full stop within the preceding 90 days from 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise. That time period pertains to the time frame that pilots need to be night landing current to carry passengers. According to Federal Air Regulations, unless you have made the required takeoffs and landings in the same category, class, and type of aircraft within the preceding 90 days then you cannot act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers at night.
Whenever possible, the takeoffs and landings should be performed at the airport where the flight will be conducted for familiarity. For pilots that expect to be flying frequently at night, it is important to always have recurrent training flights to satisfy the night flying regulations.
Pilots flying at night should have the amount of fuel that is needed for at least 45 minutes more flight than is required to take the aircraft to the destination. Weather-related delays or alternate flight paths need to be factored into the fuel calculations.
In order for a pilot to perform night flying operations, it is mandatory that some specific aircraft equipment is installed and operating effectively on the aircraft such as all speed, altitude and heading indicators, oil and fuel gauges, and the Emergency Locator Transmitter. Also, the appropriate anti-collision, position and landing lights are required to be installed and working properly.
In the U.S., an instrument rating is not needed to fly at night if you are a private pilot, although for commercial pilots an instrument rating is required to fly at night if in commercial operations. However, VFR visibility requirements in Class G airspace increase at night, from 1 mile to 3 miles and in order to receive a special VFR clearance to fly in other visibility conditions, an instrument rating is required.
Night Flying Considerations
Night flying can be spectacular with the proper training and judgement however, it requires a significant amount of focus. Potential risks are increased, adverse situations are magnified and the options in emergencies are reduced.
Flying at night can make pilots more susceptible to visual illusions like false horizons and autokinesis, which is the false perception of movement. It is important to rely on the aircraft’s instruments when flying at night to reduce the risk of those illusions. Additionally, preparing the eyes prior to night flight helps to reduce the risk of visual illusions. Avoiding bright white lights for at least 30 minutes prior to flying is a common tip for getting the eyes adapted to the dark.
It is also essential to plan for different possible emergencies that could happen, considering the fact that going through an emergency situation at night may not be the same as it would be during the day. It is important to know the layout of the terrain in between the flight path and especially near to the destination airport. It is also important to become familiar with the specific airport lighting including the approach and runway lighting.