This article lists down the licence requirements for flying after dark, as well as the pros and cons associated with flying at night.
Flying in the daytime is a wonderful experience. Being able to see sprawling cities from up above and take in the breathtaking natural scenery are all part of why pilots love what they do. However, flying when the sun is out is not the only option out there for pilots. There is a unique thrill in flying after dark.
Night-time flying may seem scary at first, but for pilots who are equipped with the proper tools and skills, it can be a wonderful experience!
Flying over glittering cities after dark allows pilots to see some breathtaking views, and the added peace of flying after the sun goes down thanks to lower air traffic makes night flying rather attractive to many pilots. While flying at night is something many pilots want to do, there are certain steps that they must undertake in order to be deemed eligible to fly after dark.
Beginner pilots may feel anxious at the prospect of flying after dark, but given the right certification and training, many will find night-time flying quite pleasurable. There are many reasons that lead to pilots preferring night-time flights over daytime ones, and the process of being able to fly after dark is a relatively simple one.
This article lists down the licence requirements for flying after dark, as well as the pros and cons associated with taking to the skies after the sun goes down to help you decide on whether a Night Rating is something you wish to add to your Private Pilot Licence (PPL) or not.
WHAT LICENCE DO YOU NEED TO FLY AT NIGHT?
For those who wish to fly their aeroplane after the sun goes down, they should be pleased to know that there is no particular licence requirement. You can fly after dark on a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), as well as the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL).
For recreational pilots, the licence of choice is the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) for pilots who are interested in international travel, and the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL) for hobbyists that wish to stay within the borders of the United Kingdom.
When applying for the PPL, the applicant must have a total of 45 hours of flight time in their logbook. 10 hours out of these 45 hours must be of solo flight, which means the pilot should not be accompanied by a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). A Class 2 medical certificate is also required, which is relatively less stringent than the Class 1 medical certificate required for commercial licences.
The LAPL requirements are relatively less stringent, with the applicant only having to display a total of 12 hours of flight time. However, it must be understood that none of these licences, whether general or commercial, automatically qualify the holder to be able to fly at night. In order to fly at night, the pilot must apply for a Night Rating to be added on top of their existing pilot licence.
The Night Rating is very easy to obtain, with the process being easier for PPL and CPL holders as opposed to LAPL holders. This is mainly because, in order to apply for the Night Rating, the pilot must also have a valid Instrument Rating (IR).
An Instrument Rating allows a pilot to fly in conditions of impaired visibility with the help of avionics. This allows the pilot to fly in accordance with the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).
The Instrument Rating is part of the PPL and CPL licences, and the training for the rating occurs alongside the training for the licences. However, a LAPL holder will have to apply for the IR separately. It is important to note that it is illegal to fly at night without the required rating, and pilots who violate the law may have their pilot licence suspended or even face prosecution and jail time.
In order to get the Night Rating on top of the PPL or CPL, the pilot must show at least five hours of night-time flying in an appropriate aircraft. This should include at least one cross-country flight totalling 50 km. Five solo take-offs and landings are also required.
WHY DO PILOTS PREFER TO FLY AT NIGHT?
There are several reasons why pilots would like to take to the skies at night. While it’s true that the inability to see where you’re going with your own eyes may be a cause of fear or anxiety for some beginner pilots, once you are comfortable with in-fight avionics, things become much easier.
Here are some of the top reasons why pilots would like to embark on a night-time flight.
One of the biggest benefits of flying at night is that there are very few other aeroplanes in the sky with you. This means you do not have to worry about other possible aircraft in your path or whether the runway may be occupied by another pilot.
Since most flights happen during the day, flying at night can be a relatively relaxing experience. All you need to do is make sure the airports you want to fly out of and into are operational at night. While several airports run 24 hours, many operate on a daytime basis. It is best to call in advance and confirm.
Also, not only is the sky free of most human traffic, but many animals are also asleep during this time. With the exception of a few nocturnal birds, pilots can rest assured that no winged animals will be crashing into their aeroplane’s windshield!
This lack of obstructions means the flight is much smoother and the pilot can fly in a relatively relaxed environment (as long as they are comfortable with the in-flight instruments!)
Clear radio communication
The lower traffic and less busy airports mean the radio waves aren’t as crowded as they would normally be during the daytime. Since the number of pilots using the radio communication system is fewer at night, messages are relayed more clearly.
This means there is seamless communication between the control tower and the aeroplane or two different flights. Smoother communication results in pilots being less frustrated by lag in messaging or static interference, which can get quite infuriating!
No nagging passengers
For pilots who are flying with passengers, such as in the case of commercial airliners, chances are the others on the flight are probably asleep given the odd timing of the flight. This usually means there is less room for requests and complaints that the crew may find distracting.
The quiet that comes with sleeping passengers is also a welcome break from daytime chatter, and can be especially useful when it comes to long-haul flights!
CONS OF NIGHTTIME FLYING
While flying at night is great for many different reasons, it is true that it is riskier than daytime flying. There are many factors that contribute to this, most of which can be dealt with given some preparation and training.
Goes against your biological clock
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of flying an aeroplane at night is the fact that it may interfere with your regular sleep cycle. This is especially true for flights that take place very late at night.
The disturbed sleep may result in grogginess during the flight, which is something that must be avoided at all costs. Sleepiness can impair the pilot’s ability to make quick and positively impactful decisions and can also lead to blurred vision and brain fog.
One of the most obvious drawbacks of flying at night is the fact that the pilot cannot see what is ahead of them. The impaired vision can lead to the pilot feeling uncomfortable and anxious, especially if they are new to flying in conditions of reduced visibility.
Dependence on avionics
Humans like to rely on their five senses, and impaired vision when flying at night is not something most pilots prefer. The decreased visibility leads to a higher dependence on avionics. Pilots are unable to spot weather themselves and have to instead rely on machinery, which may take some time to master.
HOW TO ENSURE A SAFE NIGHT-TIME FLIGHT?
While the risks associated with night-time flying are real, they are easy to mitigate if the pilot displays preparedness and is equipped to handle a range of different situations.
Here are some tips on how to ensure your next night-time flight is a smooth, safe, and peaceful one.
Catch up on sleep beforehand
Do not try to fly an aeroplane on no sleep. If you are not well-rested, you run the risk of making mistakes during the flight which can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences.
Before you are scheduled to fly at night, spend a few days altering your sleep cycle beforehand. Try to catch up on sleep during daylight hours so that you are fully alert and ready to respond to any dangerous situation.
If you are feeling tired and are experiencing the need to rest, it is best to schedule your flight for another time. It’s okay to delay a flight, but it is not okay to fly when you feel like you are not 100% physically fit to do so.
Make sure you aren’t eating any heavy foods that may result in you feeling sleepy while in the cockpit and do not, under any circumstances, consume alcohol or any other brain-altering substances before or during your flight.
Flying under the influence of alcohol is a crime and is akin to drinking and driving. Not only will you be putting your own life at risk, but you will also be endangering the lives of those who are on the ground.
Fly at a higher altitude
When flying at night, it is a good idea to fly at a higher altitude. This is mainly a precautionary measure. In the event that the aeroplane loses power and an emergency landing must be made, the few extra miles to the ground can make a lot of difference.
The extra time it will take to glide towards the ground can allow the pilot to make life-saving decisions.
Keep a heavy-duty flashlight on hand
When you go in to inspect your aeroplane before the flight, know that your smartphone flashlight just won’t cut it. You will need to have a heavy-duty flashlight on hand in order to see properly.
In the event that you have to make an emergency landing in a remote area with no electricity, you should have your torch as a source of light. In order to be completely safe, keep a spare set of batteries as well so that they can be replaced if the original ones run out.
Don’t forget the supplemental oxygen
When you are cruising at higher altitudes, you may find that there is a decrease in pressure and the oxygen level is lower. For this purpose, it is always best to carry supplemental oxygen.
A lack of oxygen can leave you feeling restless and confused, and long-term oxygen deprivation can even lead to brain damage. It is important to ensure you always have a sufficient inflow of oxygen, which is necessary in order to stay alert and make important decisions.
WHERE CAN YOU LEARN TO FLY AT NIGHT?
There are many flight training programs that have a separate component for Night Rating. While you can choose to learn to fly in a dedicated flight academy, many aero clubs also offer pilot training services.
Not only do clubs such as Sherburn help train beginner pilots, but they also allow them to access a community of aviation enthusiasts. In addition to this, pilots can rent out the club’s aircraft if they are not ready to or are not interested in purchasing an aeroplane of their own.
Sherburn offers its members private pilot training, but many of the students at Sherburn go on to get their Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and build successful careers in aviation.
WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB?
Sherburn Aero Club has been operational since 1964 and is the ideal place for all of your training and flying needs. We cater to brand new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licenses, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.
Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.
The club also has a dedicated weather webcam that constantly monitors the meteorological conditions in the aerodrome to help pilots decide whether it's safe to take to the skies or not.
For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran. The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.
Call us on 01977 682 674, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us via our online contact form for more information on flying after dark and adding a Night Rating on top of your Private Pilot Licence (PPL).
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash