Does the Complex Plane Requirement Matter?

Times have changed post-2018, and based on where you are and where you wish to go with your training, there are a few things you'll need to know about when it comes to complex aircraft.

We'll cover them all in this guide.

Let's get to it!

A beechcraft Bonanza Complex Airplane with Mountains in the background - Pilot Mall

What is a complex airplane?

The FAA’s CFR definition of a complex airplane is an airplane that has:

  • A retractable landing gear
  • Flaps
  • A controllable pitch propeller

The definition also includes:

“-airplanes equipped with an engine control system consisting of a digital computer and associated accessories for controlling the engine and propeller, such as a full authority digital engine control; or, in the case of a seaplane, flaps and a controllable pitch propeller, including seaplanes equipped with an engine control system consisting of a digital computer and associated accessories for controlling the engine and propeller, such as a full authority digital engine control.”

A beechcraft Bonanza in the sky - Pilot MallHow to Earn a Complex Aircraft Endorsement

The process to obtain a complex aircraft endorsement has 3 steps.

1. Ground Training

This portion of the training will focus on the systems of the aircraft and the best methods for operating the complex aircraft. The flight instructor will want to make sure the pilot properly understands how to use a retractable-gear airplane before getting them seated in the cockpit.

Pilots will review safety procedures and any limitations the aircraft may have.

2. Flight Training

The flight instructor will train the pilot on the handling, flight operations, and how to land the aircraft. This will involve the pilot adjusting to new habits that add more complexity than they may have previously been experienced on.

There is not an FAA-required amount of time, it is left up to the Flight Instructor to determine if the pilot has grasped the concepts and exhibits proficiency with the aircraft.

3. Endorsement in Logbook

The logbook endorsement does not expire and will list the specific aircraft make and model the pilot flew during their training, and can be used for complex aircraft.

Beechcraft Bonanza in the Sky Flying Over mountains- Pilot MallComplex endorsement requirements pre-2018

As the AOPA and other groups saw it, this requirement “often proved to be a costly and time-consuming impediment to advanced certification for many pilots.”

After receiving and reviewing multiple petitions, in April of 2018, the FAA officially eliminated this requirement stating that they would allow “applicants to use less-expensive airplanes on the practical test that are not complex or turbine-powered.”

So, no more complex airplane requirements, right? Not so fast.

Complex airplane requirements post-2018

You may not need to fly a complex plane for your CPL or CFI check ride, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are completely off the hook.  The FAA’s final rule still requires you to spend a minimum of 10 hours training on a more advanced aircraft for your CPL.

Here’s the thing: to fulfill your 10-hour training requirement, you can fly either a complex airplane or a technologically advanced airplane (TAA)

The FAA defines a technologically advanced airplane in 61.129(j) as:

  • (j) Technically advanced airplane. Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator, a technically advanced airplane must be equipped with an electronically advanced avionics system that includes the following installed components:

    (1) An electronic Primary Flight Display (PFD) that includes, at a minimum, an airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, attitude indicator, heading indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator;

    (2) An electronic Multifunction Display (MFD) that includes, at a minimum, a moving map using Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation with the aircraft position displayed;

    (3) A two axis autopilot integrated with the navigation and heading guidance system; and

    (4) The display elements described in paragraphs (j)(1) and (2) of this section must be continuously visible.

Newer aircraft that are equipped with a full glass cockpit qualify as TAA, as do older aircraft that have been retrofitted with the appropriate new avionics. If you have a TAA, you can train in that and still avoid the need for a complex airplane.

At this point, you may be wondering, “Does the complex plane requirement even matter anymore? Who is actually required to train in a complex plane in 2020?”

Who needs to train in a complex plane?

The bottom line is that as of 2018, only pilots who are pursuing a complex aircraft rating must actually train in a complex plane, and even then, the FAA has allowed some leeway to use a simulator.

FAR Part 61 Sec. 61.31e states that in order to act as pilot in command (PIC) of a complex airplane, a pilot must have:

  • Received and logged ground and flight training from an authorized instructor in a complex airplane or a flight simulator/flight training device that is representative of a complex airplane.
  • Been found to be proficient in the operation and systems of the airplane
  • Received a one-time logbook endorsement from the instructor

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you need an endorsement for complex airplane?

    To act as Pilot-in-Command of a complex aircraft you will need an endorsement.

  • How much does a complex aircraft endorsement cost?

    On average you can expect to spend $165-$210 an hour for the aircraft and $50-$65 an hour for flight instruction. Set aside $1100-$3000 for complex training.

    Keep in mind that the prices vary and depend on the flight school attended in combination with the pilot's ability to pick up on the training quickly.

  • Can a private pilot fly a complex aircraft?

    Yes, as long as they are properly endorsed.

  • What is required for complex endorsement?

    You must hold at minimum a Private Pilot license and demonstrate competency for flying the aircraft under the training of a Certified Flight instructor.

  • How long does it take to get a complex endorsement?

    This varies depending on the pilot, but can be gained in as little as 4 flight training hours.

Summary

If you are pursuing your commercial pilot certificate (CPL) with single-engine rating or your certified flight instructor certificate (CFI) with single-engine rating, you can train in and use for your check ride any aircraft that qualifies as technologically advanced. The complex plane requirement no longer applies to you.

Pilots who want a complex airplane endorsement may train and prove competency in either a complex airplane or a simulator.

Want to learn about ratings and endorsements?

Check out these guides to help you get on your way to becoming a more proficient pilot! 

 Rod Machado's Private Pilot/Commercial Handbook

Rod Machado's Private Pilot/Commercial Handbook

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