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Why Give a Pilot a Night Rating and Not Let Them Use It?

Even with a night rating, private pilots like me may never experience the beauty of the Nairobi night lights from above unless we get instrument rated and fly an instrument rated plane or fly for an airline.
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Every passenger who flies has had memorable moments while looking out of the window and getting a bird’s eye view of the world. Sometimes, just viewing the clouds from above is all one needs to make their flight memorable. This view becomes even more memorable for the crew in the flight deck who have an 180-degree view of the skies and the world from above. In my personal experience as an aviator, the most spectacular view I came across was flying through a rainbow in light showers of rain. But as amazing as this experience was, it doesn’t come close to the splendid view that a night sky offers. When night flying, everything about the night sky is award winning from the thousand of stars in the sky, to the moon, to the city lights down below.

Training for My Night Rating in South Africa

During my time in a South African flight school, I went through the scariest part of my training which was getting my night rating. And I had to do solo night navigation before I could get night rated. Funny enough, it turned out not to be the Boogie Man I had thought it was. During my night check flight, the instructor (in all his wisdom) decided I should know how to judge my landing height and that I should conduct the landing with no runway lights and no PAPI (precision approach path indicator). The activation of runway lights is usually done by a fascinating but simple concept where you tune into the aerodrome frequency and by clicking the PTT (push to talk) button a number of times, you can either switch on or off the runway lights.

This exercise was done to simulate a worst case scenario where an approach was made into a runway with inoperative lights. Somehow, by God’s grace, I executed the landing safely and that was the point I graduated from being a pilot to an aviator.

Navigating by night is one the most memorable experiences I have had in life. It’s relatively straightforward, because once you’re on the correct heading all you have to do is to follow highway lights or the city lights of the town you’re heading to. And finding the airport is a simple as looking for a stretch of lights with no cars driving up and down on it, as very frequently street lights are confused for the runway.

Regulations for Night Flying in Kenya

This brings me to my view on night flying in Kenya and the experiences we go through this side of the Sahara. Under the Kenya Civil Aviation Regulations part 71 to 74 of Personnel Licensing, it is prescribed out as to how to obtain the night rating, including the aeronautical requirements. This is further clarified in an Advisory Circular, CAA-AC-PEL004A, dated July 2008, that spells out the specifics for the issuance and renewal of a night rating.

In a nutshell, the Advisory Circular indicates that in order to be eligible for a night rating, a pilot must be a holder of a Private Pilot Licence and have logged at least ten hours Pilot In Command after obtaining the PPL. It further indicates that instruction time for the night rating should include a minimum of 5 hours flying on basic instruments and a further 5 hours of night flying instruction, with at least 3 hours dual instruction of which at least 1 hour should be night navigation. And finally, 5 takeoffs and landings as PIC at night.

What fascinates me about this advisory is that it concludes that relying solely on “TOUCH and GO” takeoffs and landings is NOT acceptable as night rating training, and that “each flight must terminate in a full stop landing.” This requirement is further made confusing in the Aeronautical Information Publication, which prohibits night VFR flights. Under ENR Part 5.3 Night Operations subsection 5.3.6, the law states that night training will be conducted as special VFR and only within the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome and that no aircraft shall leave the traffic pattern without permission. It further reads that pilots are permitted to carry out special VFR cross-country flight over a notified route for the purpose of obtaining the required 1-hour cross country of which prior permission from Nairobi Approach Control must be sought.

With the above standards set by the CAA, it’s still sad to realise that flight schools do not conform to them, as practically all night ratings done in Kenya are done in the circuit and no night navigation in included in the training. This begs the question of how well a trainee who does night flying only in the circuit can perform if that pilot ends up in a night navigation flight. Although, this generally isn’t a problem since no tower will allow a private pilot to set off on a night flight. The reality is that Kenya does not allow night flight for a PPL or CPL holder unless that pilot and aircraft is instrument rated. Should a pilot finds himself returning from a day VFR flight and night approaches, then the scenario is deemed as a special VFR although it is logged as night time.

The long and short of it all is that private pilots and aviation enthusiasts like me may never experience the beauty of the Nairobi night lights from above unless we get instrument rated and fly an instrument rated plane or fly for an airline, neither of which are in my current flight plan.

I have not fully interrogated the good lads at the CAA to find out all the reasons as to why no night VFR is allowed, but according to a few staff I talked to, one concern is that the airspace isn’t safe enough to handle night flights, in regards to the fact that most general aviation airports are not well lit and fit for night ops and also that our radar facilities do not cover sufficient area, leading to the need for higher flight altitudes which goes to the IFR part.

I have sought views from pilots and instructors as well, and the main reason I get from them is also the safety aspect. But this then causes one to wonder, why give a pilot a night rating and not empower the aviator to exercise that privilege?

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