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FAR/AIM: What to Know About Federal Aviation Regulations and the Airman’s Information Manual

As a flight student, your instructor will spend some time discussing the FAR/AIM, or the Federal Aviation Regulations and Aeronautical Information Manual.

When you do so, you will share in the responsibility of every active pilot in the United States, no matter how many hours he or she may have logged. These documents form the core of the rules and laws governing aviation, and it’s important to know the difference between them, as well as understand what they cover. Pilots, air traffic controllers, airport administrators, and airline employees are all under the sway of these documents.

Working With the FAR/AIM: What Is It?

The Federal Aviation Regulations, FAR, discusses the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that govern aviation; these are active under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation and have the power of federal law. The AIM, or the Aeronautical Information Manual, focuses on elementary flight information about America’s National Airspace System. It encompasses such topics as:

  • Working with air traffic control (ATC)
  • The process of reporting flight hazards
  • A glossary of aviation and ATC terms

Even if you have a working knowledge of these words, it is important to know how the FAA defines FAR/AIM.

Although these are technically separate documents, when discussing the rules and regulations of anything in the aviation world, they tend to be regarded together. Some pilots prefer to refer to the FAR/AIM in paper form, as a book; it is available at most pilot shops. Others access it online or via an app. While it might seem difficult to navigate at first, your ground school training will offer information about how to read and understand the FAR/AIM.


Federal Aviation Regulations: Parts of the FAR

Since each FAR is separate, these are sometimes discussed individually. The regulations are coded to help aviators and others find what they are looking for. In the Code of Federal Regulations, aviation falls under Title 14, Aeronautics and Space. The categories are:

Volumes 1-3, Chapter 1, Parts 1-199: Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

Volume 4, Chapter II, Parts 200-399: Office of the Secretary, Department of Transportation (Aviation Proceedings)

Volume 4, Chapter III, 400-1199: Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

Volume 5, Chapter V, Parts 1200-1299: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Volume 5, Chapter VI, Parts 1300-1399: Air Transportation System Stabilization

As you can see, these regulations are extremely far-reaching, and govern NASA as well as how the FAA operates as part of the Department of Transportation. However, it is still the responsibility of pilots to become familiarized with Title 14.

The FAR is constantly updated as Congress, Presidential administrations, and aviation technology changes. For example, twenty years ago, there was little thought as to how to address drones, either flown for profit or as a hobby. Now, as drones become more affordable and popular, the FAA finds itself defining “small unmanned aircraft”, setting rules about registering them and issuing regulations on how and when they may fly as the market for them expands.


How does the FAR Apply to Pilots?

The FAA also defines what is an airline and what is not in the FAR. Pilots who fly for pay are constantly concerned with what the FAR has to say about aircraft airworthiness, what an aircraft for hire must contain, and how maintenance should take place. For example, Part 91 of the FAR, which is titled “General Operating and Flight Rules,” contains details of operating limitations and requirements of civil (non-commercial) aircraft. These refer to general aviation, or airplanes that are not in the skies for hire.

Part 135, on the other hand, focuses on commercial aviation. It governs air carrier, or charter, certificates, and in general raises thresholds of acceptability for pilots, airworthiness, and operation. Pilots closely adhere to these guidelines, which affect practically every aspect of flight. For example, a pilot which is flying himself for fun can spend as much time as he likes in the air, but a commercial pilot must follow Part 135 regulations about rest and duty time. These are designed with passenger as well as pilot safety in mind.


The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)

The AIM, or the Aeronautical Information Manual, was formerly referred to as the Airman’s Information Manual. It is more universal than the FAR, which is specific to the United States. Every nation has an AIM, which operates as that country’s defining guide to ATC procedures, as well as information about flight fundamentals.

Here is what the FAA’s AIM contains, in addition to some general information about changes from the last form of the AIM and publication policies of flight information:

Chapter 1: Air Navigation

Chapter 2: Aeronautical Lighting and Other Airport Visual Aids

Chapter 3: Airspace

Chapter 4: Air Traffic Control

Chapter 5: Air Traffic Procedures

Chapter 6: Emergency Procedures

Chapter 7: Safety of Flight

Chapter 8: Medical Facts for Pilots

Chapter 9: Aeronautical Charts and Related Publications

Chapter 10: Helicopter Operations

Appedix 1: Bird/Other Wildlife Strike Report

Appendix 2: Volcanic Activity Reporting Form (VAR)

Appendix 3: Abbreviations/Acronyms


How does AIM Apply to Pilots?

While the AIM does not carry the force of federal law, as the FAR does, it echoes the same information and helps the aviation world update all flight information. The AIM also provides vital updates to navigation charts. The former expiration date for these was about six months, but charts are now updated much more frequently. Navigation information that is older than two months is usually considered out of date. Thanks to GPS systems and real-time flight following, this information is now available digitally and can be automatically downloaded as it is released.

The AIM is updated every four weeks, and professionals and students of the aviation world subscribe to the FAA for alerts and links to new documents. Pilots and air traffic controllers are expected to remain current on what the FAA expects of them; all of this is detailed in the AIM, and some of this, in addition to certain aspects of the FAR, are present on the FAA’s knowledge test for various certificates and ratings.


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