Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, better known as theFARs, applies various concepts and definitions in addressing the concept of night. Section 1.1 provides the “definition” of night related to the logging of night time. Additionally, there is the requirement for aircraft lighting found in Section 91.209, night currency requirements found in Section 61.57, and if you’re operating as a Sport, Recreational or Student pilot, there are additional limitations related to “night” operations.
Section 1.1 defines night as the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac (available from the Government Printing Office if you’re really interested). This information is also available in detail from the Astronomical Applications Department at the U.S.Naval Observatory https://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php.
Morning civil twilight at ClermontCountyAirportbegins about 07:00 this time of yearand will begin as late as 07:28 at the beginning of January. Civil twilight ends at about 17:50 and will end as early as 17:45 at the beginning of December. Therefore, night time may be logged between approximately 17:45 and 07:15.
Also applicable to the Section 1.1 definition of night is the limitation of Sport and Student pilots to operate at night without a logbook endorsement. In a confusing and unexplainable inconsistency, Recreational pilots are not permitted to fly between sunset and sunrise (slightly different from Sport or Student pilots).
Section 91.209 requires position lights be on from sunset to sunrise. The sun sets currently about 17:20 and will set as early as 17:15 in mid December. The sun rises at about 07:30 and will rise as late as about 08:00 in early January. To summarize, we have about 30 minutes of “twilight” this time of year at each end of the day.
Section 61.57(b) describes night takeoff and landing experience and states that, as PIC, in order to carry passengers between 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise, the pilot must have completed three takeoffs and landings to a full stop during that same period within the preceding 90 days. The obvious word of caution here is that there is a 30 minute period this time of year, where you may be perfectly legal to carry passengers at night, yet you could be absolutely making a night landing for all practical purposes.
Further, just because the regulations allow you to gain night currency on your own, doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so. This is certainly a case where common sense should prevail and you should error on the side of caution.