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In one answer to a similar question I found a hint to 14 CFR 91.105:

(b) Each required flight crewmember of a U.S.-registered civil aircraft shall, during takeoff and landing, keep his or her shoulder harness fastened while at his or her assigned duty station.

Now, I assume this also applies to Part 121 operations?

What exactly does that mean with regards to when are the shoulder harnesses released in practice? Is there an altitude (i.e. 10000ft) at which pilots usually release the shoulder straps - is that maybe company-specific?

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You essentially have two questions, which I will answer in turn:

  1. When may commerical pilots release their shoulder harnesses when operating under commercial operations rules such as §121
  2. When do such pilots actually release their harnesses in practice

Regarding your first question:

14 CFR 91.105 does generally apply to commercial operators and air carriers. However, §121, §135, and §137 each provide equivalent regulations which duplicate or exceed the language found in §91.105.

14 CFR 91.105 states, in pertinent part:

(b) Each required flight crewmember of a U.S.-registered civil aircraft shall, during takeoff and landing, keep his or her shoulder harness fastened while at his or her assigned duty station. This paragraph does not apply if—

(1) The seat at the crewmember's station is not equipped with a shoulder harness; or

(2) The crewmember would be unable to perform required duties with the shoulder harness fastened.

14 CFR 121.311 states, in pertinent part:

(h) Each occupant of a seat equipped with a shoulder harness or with a combined safety belt and shoulder harness must have the shoulder harness or combined safety belt and shoulder harness properly secured about that occupant during takeoff and landing, except that a shoulder harness that is not combined with a safety belt may be unfastened if the occupant cannot perform the required duties with the shoulder harness fastened.

14 CFR 135.171 states, in pertinent part:

(b) Each flight crewmember occupying a station equipped with a shoulder harness must fasten the shoulder harness during takeoff and landing, except that the shoulder harness may be unfastened if the crewmember cannot perform the required duties with the shoulder harness fastened.

14 CFR 137.42 states, in pertinent part:

No person may operate an aircraft in operations required to be conducted under part 137 without a safety belt and shoulder harness properly secured about that person except that the shoulder harness need not be fastened if that person would be unable to perform required duties with the shoulder harness fastened.

Under each regulation, the flight crewmember may generally unfasten his or her shoulder harness at any times other than during takeoff and landing, or if the shoulder harness would interfere with performing required duties. The one exception to these allowances is found under §121 in instances where the shoulder harness and safety belt are combined1.

These allowances notwithstanding, a certificate holder may include in its General Operating Manual provisions that flight crewmembers must adhere to requirements that exceed those given by regulation.


Regarding your second question:

In practice I never release my shoulder harnesses from the time I seat myself and fasten my safety belt and shoulder harness until the aircraft has come to a stop and I am ready to leave my seat at the end of the flight. I have also never seen a fellow pilot at my air carrier release his or her shoulder harnesses while in flight. Others will doubtless have different experiences.

Prior to my time with my present employer I have witnessed pilots who make a practice of not wearing the installed shoulder harness at all (given the circumstances I don't think they would have had a very good argument that it would otherwise interfere with performing their duties). I have also witnessed pilots who unfasten both the shoulder harness and safety belt after landing while still taxing at the end of a flight. This later practice is not against regulation2 but may be of questionable judgment in some cases.


1 §121 requirements for combined safety belt and shoulder harness:

14 CFR 121.311 also gives the following, in regards to the requirements for aircraft to be equipped with combined safety belts and shoulder harnesses:

(f) No person may operate a transport category airplane that was type certificated after January 1, 1958, or a nontransport category airplane manufactured after March 20, 1997, unless it is equipped at each flight deck station with a combined safety belt and shoulder harness that meets the applicable requirements specified in §25.785 of this chapter, effective March 6, 1980, except that—

(1) Shoulder harnesses and combined safety belt and shoulder harnesses that were approved and installed before March 6, 1980, may continue to be used; and

(2) Safety belt and shoulder harness restraint systems may be designed to the inertia load factors established under the certification basis of the airplane.

I read this to mean that, for aircraft specified under §121.311(f) above, unless a shoulder harness was approved and installed before 6 March 1980, then the aircraft must be equipped at each flight deck station with a combined safety belt and shoulder harness. Furthermore, under the requirements of §121.311(h), when the flight deck stations is so equipped with the combined safety belt and shoulder harness, no provision of §121 allows for that shoulder harness to be unfastened during takeoff and landing, even if the shoulder harness would interfere with performing required duties. Presumably the approval process for those harness systems would ensure that no interference would be possible.


2 14 CFR 91.107 does generally require that each person on board a U.S.-registered civil aircraft must have a safety belt and any installed shoulder harness properly secured about him or her during movement on the surface. However, this requirement does not apply to required flight crewmembers or to any operations conducted under §121, §125, or §135. See §91.107(b).

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  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvote? Did I get something wrong? $\endgroup$ – J Walters Apr 20 '17 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ My guess on the down vote: You very thoroughly address shoulder harnesses during take off and landing, but the question is when are they released in practice. You briefly mention it in your first sentence, but none of the CFR refs address anything else. There may not be any CFRs about any other segment of the flight, though, so there may not be anything else for you to address... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 20 '17 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan With that in mind I have edited to attempt to more clearly address each part of the question. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Apr 20 '17 at 21:29
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Company-specific as far as I know. My operation uses flaps retracted for releasing the shoulder harness, and the descent checklist for putting them back on, but I doubt that there is a requirement to pick either of those exact points. Above/below 10,000' would probably work equally well.

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    $\begingroup$ Does this mean that the pilots usually spend the flight with just a lap belt fastened as is recommended for passengers? $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 19 '17 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Yes, 91.105(a) requires the crew to use "safety belts" for takeoff, landing and while en route. And I can't speak for airline pilots, but in light aircraft it's common to just loosen the shoulder straps and then tighten them up when needed, for landing or turbulence. It does depend on the configuration, though: newer Cessnas typically have a car-style seatbelt so there's no separate shoulder part to loosen or remove anyway. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 19 '17 at 14:31
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Read the reg, it says during takeoff and landing. That is all. Once you are in a departure climb, you can unsecure your harness. When you are on an approach to landing, you should verify it is secure. Altitudes are rather irrelevant, because they are not in the regulation.

Naturally best practice is to keep the belts on. The pilot flying usually has his a little tighter than the pilot not manipulating the controls in the event of unexpected CAT or whatever.

However, the regulation is simple, and as usually is the case with regulations, specifies a minimum acceptable behavior. If your company manual or policy is different, that is something that is not regulation based.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not just best practice to keep the belts on, it's required by 91.105(a) "During takeoff and landing, and while en route" $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 21 '17 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Forgive me, I was using belts generically, lumping shoulder harness and seat belt together. The reality is that in virtually every plane I have flown commercially since 1980, there are 5 point harnesses for the front crew positions. So most of the time it is difficult to take off just the shoulder harness. Some of the older aircraft, ones which have not been recently refurbished, have separate shoulder harnesses and separate lap seat belts. Also, it is customary to loosen belts a bit for comfort during long cruises, and to tighten them up when there is risk of any turbulence. $\endgroup$ – mongo Apr 21 '17 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ One additional note, we all have experiences, but I clearly remember flying a piston aircraft, over the Blue Ridge Mts area, and suddenly having my head slammed against the interior ceiling of the aircraft. My belt was snug, and I was close to getting seriously hurt or LOC. Since then I make belts real snug when there is any chance of turbulence. $\endgroup$ – mongo Apr 21 '17 at 14:28

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