I am a computer programmer and student pilot. I want to make a computer program I can use to store my logs. Can I legally do this? Can I legally store Logbook endorsements with this? Are there any rules I need to be aware of? For the signatures can I use a pilot's certificate number instead?
Short answer: an electronic logbook is legal; the FAA will accept almost anything as an endorsement; it's often most practical to collect endorsements on paper but electronic versions are also fine.
First, the fundamental point about logbook formats is that the FAA defines what you have to log (14 CFR 61.51), but not how you log it. And clearly electronic logbooks are "legal" in the sense that there's no law against using them.
However, I suspect that the main question you're asking is, how can I gather endorsements in an electronic logbook? AC 61-65E is essentially the FAA's practical guide to 14 CFR 61, and Appendix 1 lists recommended sample endorsements, with this comment:
The following examples are recommended sample endorsements for use by authorized instructors when endorsing logbooks for airmen applying for a knowledge or practical test, or when certifying accomplishment of requirements for pilot operating privileges. Each endorsement must be legible and include the instructor's signature, date of signature, certificated flight instructor (CFI) or certificated ground instructor (CGI) certificate number, and certificate expiration date, if applicable.
So it's clear that you need a "signature" from your instructor and for most people that means paper. But you might start questioning what a "signature" really is and if you can substitute something else. Fortunately the FAA has an entire AC (AC 120-78) on electronic signatures that applies to part 61 and it says:
An electronic signature may be in the following forms.
- A digital signature
- A digitized image of a paper signature
- A typed notation
- An electronic code
- Any other unique form of individual identification that can be used as a means of authenticating a record, record entry, or document
That's a very broad definition of an electronic signature, although it seems clear that the FAA wants it to be "individual" and non-repudiation is a requirement:
An electronic signature should prevent a signatory from denying that he or she affixed a signature to a specific record, record entry, or document
However, there's also the practical question of how you collect endorsements. If you demand that your CFI creates an account in your logbook software, or generates his own digital certificate, or whatever else will make your electronic life easy, he may simply refuse. And how do get his endorsement when you're at that grass strip in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal or WiFi? How do you explain AC 120-78 to a skeptical DPE or FBO owner who's never heard of it before?
In the end, the simplest solution is often to just to get a physical signature on a piece of paper with all the necessary information as per AC 61-65E. If you then want to go digital and shred the paper, you can always scan it and add it to your electronic logbook as per AC 120-78.
But, if you want an electronic endorsement or signature and your CFI is willing to provide it, that's also fine. I use MyFlightbook for logging (no other connection and I'm not endorsing it) and their FAQ addresses whether electronic signatures are valid (links not preserved from the original):
The FAA does accept digital signatures, and outlines the criteria for doing so in FAA circular AC No: 120-78A. While we believe MyFlightbook is compliant with this AC (and we explain why we believe MyFlightbook is compliant here), the FAA has thus far not indicated willingness to even evaluate, much less certify, online logbook systems for compliance.
My personal experience so far has been that DPEs have no problem with accepting electronic logbook printouts and endorsements. If something seemed suspicious then I assume they would investigate and ask some questions.
I've been using myflightbook.com for a couple of years now. It is free, easy to use, and very comprehensive. I've flown over 100 different aircraft types and am rated in several different categories so it's important to me that the elogbook that I use is capable of handling all of the oddball piloting stuff that I do and myflightbook does it all.
As to the question about endorsements. The FAA does allow for electronic signatures as one of the previous posters correctly pointed out (AC 120-78) and myflightbook supports this feature which is a good way to collect endorsements for "dual received" flights. With respect to endorsements that give a pilot an operating privilege, such as high-performance or a flight review, you can have the instructor write it out on paper and then snap a pic of it with your smartphone. Then just attach or upload the pic to your elogbook.
The last time I needed an R44 SFAR flight review the instructor asked for my logbook and I just slid him a piece of scratch paper and snapped the pic. Myflighbook allowed me to quickly type in the flight entry and attach the pic. I've also had to show a part 121 carrier that I was going to work for my logbook and they were fine with a printout from my elogbook.
I hope that helps answer the question.
Regards, Alan Brown ATP: ASEL, AMEL, LR-Jet, SA-2000 Commercial: Helicopter, Glider, ASES CFI: ASE, AME, IA, Glider