Pencil, Pen, or Pad?: A Guide to Pilot Logbook Requirements and Options - by Taylor Rawley

Pencil, Pen, or Pad?: A Guide to Pilot Logbook Requirements and Options

For pilots, keeping an accurate and up-to-date logbook is not just a regulatory requirement; it's a crucial tool for tracking flight hours, experience, and accomplishments. Whether you're a student pilot embarking on your aviation journey or a seasoned aviator with years of flying under your belt, understanding the logbook requirements and exploring the available options is essential. Whether you want an old-school bound notebook with your daily flights or a sleek (but sometimes expensive) digital record, there's a product out there that fits just about every aviator's record-keeping needs. 

Logbook Requirements:

The aviation industry, regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, mandates logbook requirements for pilots. These regulations ensure safety, accountability, and accurate record-keeping. Key elements include:

  • Flight Hours: Pilots must log specific hours for different types of flights, such as solo, dual, cross-country, and instrument time. 
  • Training and Endorsements: Logbooks must document details of flight training, including the name of the instructor and their certificate number, the type of aircraft, and any endorsements received.

  • Currency Requirements: Pilots must demonstrate recent flight experience to maintain currency, and logbooks serve as proof of meeting these requirements.

It is important to note that not every flight must be logged. 14 CFR §61.51 (Pilot Logbooks) states, "Each person must document and record the following time in a manner acceptable to the Administrator:

(1) Training and aeronautical experience used to meet the requirements for a certificate, rating, or flight review of this part.

(2) The aeronautical experience required for meeting the recent flight experience requirements of this part."

Flights to pick up a student from college, spend a weekend at the beach, or grab the infamous $100 hamburger only need to be logged if you want to use those flights as part of your currency, or as part of training for a new rating.

*NOTE* When in doubt about how and what to log, ask your CFI! Different ratings (private, sport, instrument, commercial) all have unique requirements that must be logged. 

I recommend that pilots log every flight until they have finished all their ratings and are sure they will never want to pursue a higher certificate. I have worked with multiple students who wanted to get their commercial certificate, only to find they still needed more hours logged despite having flown for many years. 

For pilots pursuing an aviation career, a comprehensive logbook is a regulatory necessity and a valuable asset for career advancement. Airlines require straightforward records of flight hours, aircraft types, and specific experiences, making a well-maintained logbook a crucial part of the hiring process. Keeping a logbook of every flight for payroll tracking is also highly encouraged.

Correcting Logbook Errors: 

Making a mistake in your logbook is almost a right-of-passage for most professional and private aviators. To correct an error in a logbook, draw a single line through the mistake and indicate what was adjusted. Please, no whiteout and no Sharpie. Often you will find initials next to a correction as well, to show who made the change. For those particularly large mistakes, a message in the comments or notes section may also give clarity. As you progress in your aviation career your logbook will as well, so don't get too hard on yourself early on. Practice good logbook habits from the beginning, and by your 100th hour you'll be looking like a pro. 

Common logbook errors include: 

  • Logging PIC when flying an aircraft type the pilot is not rated in. 
  • Neglecting to log PIC time when flying solo, even as a student pilot. (log both solo and PIC time, if available) 
  • Logging the entire flight duration as PIC when functioning as a safety pilot. (Only flight time acting as PIC i.e. when the other pilot is under the hood, counts) 
  • Logging cross-country time on a flight less than 50nm when pursuing a Private, Instrument, or Commercial license. 
  • Not signing the end of a page, and not using black ink. 

With practice and good logbook entry habits you can go from this: 

To this: 

Or even this! 

Logbook Options:

Now that you're ready to log, it's your decision what type of logbook to use. All the FAA states is that it "must be acceptable to the Administrator," and that leaves many options.

Traditional Paper Logbooks: Most student pilots start with a paper logbook picked up from their local pilot shop. 

  • Pros: Widely accepted and straightforward to use, paper logbooks are a time-tested option. They are available in various formats, including columnar and grid styles. It's easier to make changes to a paper logbook, and you are forced to take extra care when making entries. It is also a physical memento of your aviation journey and can be as precious to some as a scrapbook. 
  • Cons: Prone to damage or loss, and manually transferring information can be time-consuming. Multiple, compounding mistakes can often lead to an unprofessional or illegible final product. Calculations must be done by hand, which can lead to errors.

Electronic Logbooks: Beginning with the release of the iPad (and similar devices), pilots moved into the digital era. 

  • Pros: Features such as automatic calculations, easy data entry, and the ability to generate reports, including IACRA flight times, effortlessly. For student pilots, CFI signatures can be received and corrected remotely. Endorsements and flight times are stored in the cloud for offsite retrieval. 
  • Cons: Initial cost and the need for electronic devices can be barriers. Some aviators also prefer the tangible nature of traditional logbooks. Remember, as the old saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out." Electronic logbooks are not immune to errors and often require more attention when inputting flight times. 

Online Logbook Services: A new era of electronic logbooks catered toward a diverse mix of pilots from student to professional. 

  • Pros: Online logbook services provide a cloud-based solution, enabling access from multiple devices. They often include features like automatic backups, collaboration tools, and integration with other aviation software. For the professional aviator, some online logbooks even interface with ACARS and automatically import Out, Off, On, and In times and aircraft tail numbers. 
  • Cons: Dependence on internet connectivity and potential concerns about data security. If the company ever goes out of business or has an IT meltdown, backups of your flight time is not ensured. 

Choosing the right logbook method depends on personal preferences, regulatory compliance, and individual needs. Pilots must prioritize accuracy and completeness, whether opting for a traditional paper logbook, embracing the efficiency of electronic solutions, or leveraging online logbook services. A well-maintained logbook not only facilitates regulatory compliance but also serves as a testament to a pilot's experience and dedication to the art and science of aviation.