So we fly a 1973 Piper Archer, with shoulder harnesses installed from the factory. The question is:

Would the shoulder harness becoming INOP (jamming & not coming loose) ground this airplane or could you fly without it, since the FAA required shoulder harnesses as of 1978 (or some other year...?)?


2 Answers 2


Shoulder harnesses have been required for all aircraft manufactured since December 12, 1986 for all seats, July 19, 1978 for front seats.

14 CFR 91.107 (2) and (3) is pretty clear:

(2) No pilot may cause to be moved on the surface, take off, or land a U.S.-registered civil aircraft (except a free balloon that incorporates a basket or gondola, or an airship type certificated before November 2, 1987) unless the pilot in command of that aircraft ensures that each person on board has been notified to fasten his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness.

(3) Except as provided in this paragraph, each person on board a U.S.-registered civil aircraft (except a free balloon that incorporates a basket or gondola or an airship type certificated before November 2, 1987) must occupy an approved seat or berth with a safety belt and, if installed, shoulder harness, properly secured about him or her during movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing.

So what I read above can be interpreted as "if it's installed, it's required".

Some aircraft required an STC to retrofit the belts, you'll need to find out if that is the case (if it is, you can't remove it, but if there is no STC it could possibly be removed, a call to your local FSDO can clear that up). However I've been told that if the aircraft is equipped with shoulder harnesses, then they are required to be used.

  • $\begingroup$ You wouldn't necessarily need an STC, you could just do a 337 for an alteration. Either way, maintenance work would probably be required beyond the capabilities of a non-mechanic pilot. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Feb 12, 2016 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters As far as I've read, originally the FAA was requiring STCs but stopped that so they could be retrofitted with less certification. Some aircraft as a result may be modified under an STC. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 12, 2016 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ FAR 91.105 also applies - specifically paragraph B, subparagraph 2 which says you don't have to wear the shoulder harness if it interferes with performing your crewmember duties (an inop shoulder harness that doesn't let you move to reach all of the controls would prevent you from performing your duties). That would then fall to 91.213 like Steve mentions. All that said, it'd be dumb not to get it fixed before flying. Shoulder harnesses save lives! $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Feb 13, 2016 at 3:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 I'm not sure the spirit of 91.105 (B)(2) means you can inop a shoulder harness and say it interferes with your duties. I think it allows you to undo your shoulder harness to reach critical controls that may be out of reach, like breakers or other things... 91.105 also says you can get out of your seat if it is required to perform your duties, but under the same line of thought, you can't say an inop seat "interferes with duties" and pilot on the floor with an inop seat... $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 13, 2016 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I would also agree that it isn't in the spirit of the regulation, and I imagine the FAA would take a dim view of an argument based on it. The only case I can see for it applying at all would be a harness stuck (or more likely locked by a maintenance action) in partially extended position such that it could be worn for some portion of the flight, but would have to be removed for others. Of course if you're performing maintenance to freeze the inertia reel so it acts as a fixed strap there'd be no reason not to fix the stupid thing properly... $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Feb 13, 2016 at 5:33

You're good to go... most likely:

There are decisions based on FAR 91.213 (d) that would have to be answered first but if you run down those, odds are favorable that you will find that you can legally de-activate or remove the shoulder harness in an airworthy manner.

To be considered airworthy your aircraft must meet its FAA approved type design or be in a properly altered state. That means everything installed must work or be altered "properly".

So how would you "properly" alter your Piper with the shoulder harness issue?

FAR 91.213 (d) allows you to fly with inoperative instruments or equipment.

(d) Except for operations conducted in accordance with paragraph (a) or (c) of this section, a person may takeoff an aircraft in operations conducted under this part with inoperative instruments and equipment without an approved Minimum Equipment List provided—

(1) The flight operation is conducted in a—

(i) Rotorcraft, non-turbine-powered airplane, glider, lighter-than-air aircraft, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft, for which a master minimum equipment list has not been developed; or

(ii) Small rotorcraft, nonturbine-powered small airplane, glider, or lighter-than-air aircraft for which a Master Minimum Equipment List has been developed; and

OK, your piper clears #1.

(2) The inoperative instruments and equipment are not—

(i) Part of the VFR-day type certification instruments and equipment prescribed in the applicable airworthiness regulations under which the aircraft was type certificated;

Your Piper was certificated under CAR3... just try to find anything about shoulder harnesses there... So far so good...

(ii) Indicated as required on the aircraft's equipment list, or on the Kinds of Operations Equipment List for the kind of flight operation being conducted;

Read through your AFM or POH to see if it requires it. Maybe it does but I doubt it.

(iii) Required by §91.205 or any other rule of this part for the specific kind of flight operation being conducted; or

91.205 requires lap belt only (metal type) but does not mention shoulder harness. I'm assuming the shoulder harness is not an integral part of the lap belt. This is key... you need a lap belt.

(iv) Required to be operational by an airworthiness directive; and

Been doing this my whole career and I'm not aware of an AD about it that is applicable to your aircraft.

(3) The inoperative instruments and equipment are—

(i) Removed from the aircraft, the cockpit control placarded, and the maintenance recorded in accordance with §43.9 of this chapter; or

(ii) Deactivated and placarded “Inoperative.” If deactivation of the inoperative instrument or equipment involves maintenance, it must be accomplished and recorded in accordance with part 43 of this chapter; and

Ok, you need to have an A&P remove or deactivate it, write a maintenance entry about removing it and placard it as "inop" if necessary.

(4) A determination is made by a pilot, who is certificated and appropriately rated under part 61 of this chapter, or by a person, who is certificated and appropriately rated to perform maintenance on the aircraft, that the inoperative instrument or equipment does not constitute a hazard to the aircraft.

Well, it could constitute a risk to the occupant I suppose, but not a hazard to the aircraft.

An aircraft with inoperative instruments or equipment as provided in paragraph (d) of this section is considered to be in a properly altered condition acceptable to the Administrator.

That's how you properly alter your shoulder harness issue to a manner acceptable to the FAA...

  • $\begingroup$ An argument could be made under sub-paragraph 4 that if you get bounced around and hit your head on the panel you could be knocked out, and that would then pose a hazard to the aircraft as the PIC would be incapacitated -- Of course the case could also be made that conditions rendering that likely would also be a hazard to the aircraft, and raise questions about how you encountered such conditions. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Feb 13, 2016 at 3:43

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