Per FAR 91.307:

Unless each occupant of the aircraft is wearing an approved parachute, no pilot of a civil aircraft carrying any person (other than a crewmember) may execute any intentional maneuver that exceeds...

So if I'm flying aerobatics solo, I'm not required to have a parachute. But if I have a passenger, both are required to have one.

What is the rationale for that?

I suppose that in something like a Super Decathlon, where the pilot must exit the plane before the passenger, it would be senseless to have one for the passenger but not the pilot. But is there anything more to this?

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    $\begingroup$ As a side note, this is once area where European legislation diverge from that of FAA. Parachutes are not required for aerobatics (but typically used as seats are designed for them). $\endgroup$
    – abey
    Jan 7 '14 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ A basic principle of FAA regulations is that you are allowed to risk your own life, but not the lives of others. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jun 18 '15 at 2:04

Well, as with many issues involving the FAA, the "why" is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they thought that the pilot can "lead by example" if a bail-out is needed. I'd imagine that a lot of passengers would be a little reluctant to jump out of an airplane, but once they see the pilot go I can see them becoming highly motivated!

As far as not needing the parachute if only crew members are on board, the FAA has long held the view that they aren't protecting pilots from doing stupid things to themselves since they are knowledgeable and informed, but their regulations are to protect the "general public", or the passengers in this case, who don't know any better.

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    $\begingroup$ "FAA has long held the view that they aren't protecting pilots from doing stupid things to themselves", well said, I like that :) $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Jan 5 '14 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ Except that the bureaucrats disallow you from doing aerobatics below 1,500 feet, even if you're in the middle of the desert or over a remote forest, and by yourself in the plane. $\endgroup$
    – birdus
    Aug 15 '19 at 6:53

The rules come from a basis at the FAA that a serious accident is one with multiple fatalities, not just one.

From AC-1309: Catastrophic: Failure conditions that are expected to result in multiple fatalities of the occupants...

Aircraft that have only one seat do not need to be designed / certified as stringently as aircraft with 2+ seats. Along with that, if only one person is in the plane, you can't have multiple fatalities, so there's no such thing as a catastrophic risk.


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