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A private pilot can avoid the "flight time is sometimes compensation" rule by not logging the flight time.

If Bob, a private pilot, is not logging flight time, what are the limits on reimbursement? In this case, can he be reimbursed for 100% of the expense of the flight, but no more?

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  • $\begingroup$ This may be picky, but your comment "flight time is compensation" is is not a "rule", (not in the CFRs) it is an interpretation, and it isn't necessarily true 100% of the time. Blanket statements like this further a line of reasoning that can lead to rather absurd conclusions such as the one that prompted this question: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/35609/… $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2023 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ As I mentioned in an other comment, the FAA has a lot of tools to prosecute abuse, including the presumption that a pilot receives a tangible benefit when logging flight time. Play by the rules and you generally won't have any problems, just don't get clever or think you've found a new loophole to pull one over on the Feds. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2023 at 16:25

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The hypothetical exchange is something like this:

Pilot holding a PPL: I want to be paid to fly somebody/something from A to B.

FAA: You can't. Paying money is obviously compensation and the PPL generally doesn't allow you to fly for compensation. (FAR 61.113)

Pilot: OK, what about if somebody paid all the operating expenses instead?

FAA: You're getting compensated because you got to go from A to B for free. You have to pay your fair share of the expenses. (FAR 61.113(c))

Pilot: OK, what if they're letting me use their plane for free? It's banner towing or glider towing, so I don't get a free trip anywhere.

FAA: Why would you want to fly their plane in circles for free?

Pilot: I can log hours.

FAA: That's compensation. Those hours have an obvious value to you for your future airline pilot job. Otherwise why would you provide labor?

Pilot: What can I do in that situation?

FAA: Don't log the hours. Then the flying is totally worthless to you, so you're not being compensated.

Pilot: Nuts to that. I'm not flying a banner around for no money or logbook hours.

FAA: Mission accomplished.

The key is in the linked scenario, the pilot is providing their labor for free because they are receiving logbook hours. The logbook hours have value, so that's compensation, just like cash. Not logging hours (in this scenario) is just like not accepting cash: you can't take either.

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    $\begingroup$ Except that some people, (many even…) for the sheer joy of flying, would be happy to fly for nothing! $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2023 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Is enjoyment of flying compensation? @MichaelHall $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Aug 29, 2023 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Someone, It depends on how you define it. For the person willing to fly for joy, yes. But not legally, although there is the catch-all “goodwill”. If you abuse a situation the FAA will find a way to drop the hammer… $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2023 at 14:15
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Nothing in the CFRs say you can be compensated at 100% as long as you don't log the time.

The standard is: "A private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees."

There are a few exceptions, but they don’t have anything to do with not logging time.

Private Pilot Privileges and Limitations

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