The Great Debate: do you have to have an instrument rating to travel by GA?

Instrument rating certificate
Required for serious travel?

“If you really want to use your license, you’d better get an instrument rating.” This is fairly common advice for new pilots–the implication being that you can’t travel in a general aviation airplane very effectively without an instrument rating. While the instrument rating is undeniably a powerful tool, is it really essential?

Proponents argue that it is. Without an instrument rating, you’ll either cancel too many flights or you’ll compromise safety in an effort to complete the trip. And because weather can be so unpredictable, it’s hard to make firm plans–that Tuesday morning arrival can easily become a Friday night arrival. Even if you don’t fly hard IFR, an instrument rating gives you the ability to pop through a thin layer to get on top or shoot an instrument approach when the ceiling goes down unexpectedly.

Many VFR pilots disagree, and point to their years of experience traveling by light aircraft without an instrument rating. Or look at Oshkosh–thousands of VFR-only airplanes make the trip, usually over hundreds of miles. With some good planning, schedule flexibility and realistic personal minimums, cross country trips are easily done VFR. They’re often more fun, too.

What do you think? Is an instrument rating a must for serious travel? Or just a bonus? Add your comment below.

48 Comments

  • Duane Cole never missed an airshow flying his no electric system Taylorcraft all over the continental USA. No, you do not need an instrument rating to fly GA for travel.

  • I flew cross country flights without an instrument rating for 4 years between getting my pilot certificate and getting my instrument rating. On one flight, I almost got caught flying VMC into IMC. After getting safely out of that situation, I made a full commitment into getting my instrument rating. It was the best aviation decision I made. I file an IFR flight plan everywhere I go nowadays – regardless of the weather. With an instrument rating the only primary concerns are convection and icing. Flight preparation is more detailed and structured, which adds to the safety factor. You may not need an instrument rating to fly GA, but it will make you a safer and better pilot.

  • It probably depends on where you live, what kind of travel you do, and how comfortable you are dodging towers.

    In the 11 months between my PPL and my instrument rating, I went on two longer cross-countries (> 3 hours from home) in my PA-28 and had problems on both. The first was from Ottawa to Sault Ste Marie, where, on the return, a VFR forecast went bad and started forcing me lower and lower, until I was about 1,000 ft AGL just below the bases, with maybe 2-3 miles visibility underneath. Airports are very sparse on the north shore of Lake Huron, but I made it to North Bay and spent the night. In the morning, the city was fogged in, but the airport (on a high plateau) was CAVU, so I made it the rest of the way home no problem.

    The second was from Ottawa to New York City. This time, I knew there was trouble before the flight — I had an evening speaking engagement in lower Manhattan, and had planned to sleep overnight and fly home the next day; however, the forecast changed around dinner time, and it was calling for at least three days of IFR weather starting before dawn the next morning, so as a VFR-only pilot, I would have been trapped for quite a while. I made a decision to fly out that night (in the still-CAVOK weather), got a lift out to New Jersey (CDW) from the event organiser, and took off around 11:30 pm — with a cross-border flight, I had the added stress of trying to arrange after-hours customs in Ottawa. The flight, again, went smoothly in the end, though I was a little dopey during the first part, and had to focus more on the basic mechanics of flying.

    My lesson from both of those flights was that — for *me* and *my* type of flying — I really needed an instrument rating, and not having one, combined with my underdeveloped judgement as a new pilot, was putting me in risky situations. In the nine years since then, I’ve logged only about 120 hours of actual IMC right in the clouds (mostly without an autopilot), but that simple little rating made an enormous difference in my dispatch rate, knowing that I can climb above that low layer of stratus and go on with my flight. Icing is, of course, a big issue where I live, and I know that there will still be cancelled or postponed flights between October and May (maybe 1 out of 4), but even in the winter, my instrument rating gives me a good-enough dispatch rate to fly Hope Air flights and usually not have to cancel on the patients.

    As with everything in flying, YYMV. One extra point (that remains controversial): here in Canada, we have to retake the IFR flight test every 24 months. On the down side, that’s a hassle; on the plus side, it means we can’t let our skills rust too much, even if we have a couple of years where we don’t get in much IFR.

  • I have flown across the United States VFR, sectionals only, no problem…but I believe that instrument TRAINING is incredibly valuable in terms of refining and improving flying skills.

  • The more important question is are you a safer pilot with the knowledge and experience associated with instrument training. That answer is fairly obvious and given the dreadful statistics associated with inadvertant VFR into IMC flight, I would recommend an instrument rating even if you never plan on filing an IFR flight plan.

    • CZ – your statement, “I would recommend an instrument rating even if you never plan on filing an IFR flight plan” seems rather counter-intuitive.

      If a pilot earns an instrument rating but never or rarely files an IFR flight plan, chances are very high that such a pilot is not proficient on instruments – and probably also is not legally current either, unless they fly simulators or regularly obtain dual instruction on IAPs.

      That’s why pilots should understand that before investing in the instrument rating, they need to know that they’re making a commitment to continuing proficiency and not just initial certification. Without currency and proficiency, the rating is just a phrase printed on their pilot’s license.

      Frankly, it’s safer to be a competent VFR pilot who knows and respects his or her own skill limitations, especially if flying an aircraft equipped with a good wing leveler autopilot … and who accidentally flies momentarily into IMC and then has the good sense to engage the autopilot and make a 180 … than it is to be a non-proficient instrument pilot who overestimates his or her skills flying instruments in unaccustomed hard IFR while shooting an IAP to or near minimums.

      Three aviator friends of mine are retired career Air Force officers, two of them retired as generals, and all three were jet pilots … they advised me to stay the heck away from single pilot IFR flying in general aviation aircraft. Or as one of them put it to me, “the only single pilot IFR flying I do in GA aircraft is “I Fly Roads”. This advice comes from guys who are not especially risk averse pilots, inasmuch as they used to dodge SAMs for a living!

  • Over the years, I have missed many trips VFR. By staying IFR current, I have been able to make many more trips on my intended schedule. I also enjoy being in the IFR system. Your mileage may vary, but for me, the IFR rating has been a valuable addition.

  • CJ wrote “The more important question is are you a safer pilot with the knowledge and experience associated with instrument training.”

    I don’t think the answer to that question is entirely obvious — it would depend on the pilot’s personality and judgement.

    An instrument rating gives you extra tools to deal with a dangerous situation, but it might also make you more likely to put yourself into a dangerous situation in the first place (the way airbags make some drivers more reckless). For example, let’s say you set out westbound VFR on an mVFR day to avoid 30kt headwinds up at the IFR altitudes: you have your instrument rating, so you know you can just ask for a clearance if things get too bad. An hour in, things have gotten bad, but you can’t actually raise ATC on the radio because you’re too low, perhaps shrouded by the hills that you’re now increasingly worried about your ability to avoid … you get the point. I think I remember Richard Collins writing once about how many VFR-into-IMC fatalities are actually instrument-rated pilots (Richard: correct me if I’m wrong).

    I haven’t put myself in that particular trap, but I have certainly exposed myself to embedded convective weather and icing conditions, dangers that I would would never have faced as a VFR-only pilot. Most of us survive our mistakes and learn from them, but for the first couple of hundred hours after a pilot gets his/her instrument rating, I would not bet much money on him/her being safer than a VFR-only pilot.

  • IFR changed my pilot’s life. Even my VFR life. I feel more confident even if I am now aware of much more threats than when I was as a VFR pilot.

    IFR is an other World.

  • “Is an instrument rating a must for serious travel?”

    That depends on your definition of “serious travel.” With apologies to the Mamas and Papas, if it means “go where you wanna go,” whenever you want to go, you’ll need far more than an instrument rating.

    That said, for most people, the answer to the question is “yes.” But the rating alone won’t be enough to ensure “serious travel” capability. The most important instrument flying skill a pilot ever acquires is knowing how to recognize and avoid weather that exceeds the capabilities of his/her aircraft (and of him/herself).

  • I ferry helicopters all over the country, from one coast to the other and from to bottom. I have an instrument rating, but don’t fly helicopters that are equipped. So, sometimes I get delayed by weather. It’s just a fact of life. However, if one pays attention to weather patterns and trends long enough, one can make good plans for long cross country flights and enjoy every minute, plane or helicopter. Just be safe, never stop learning, and listen to the old timers’ tales of old for wisdom.

  • Anyone of average skill trying to get decent utility out of private air travel must be IFR rated, current and proficient.

    Period.

    • Mark – I disagree with your statement about the utility of flying VFR. Of course, the whole point of this thread was to get pilots to argue with each other!

      My own experience is that I’ve derived a great deal of utility from flying my Cherokee 180, flying many hundreds of VFR hours on weekly round trips 250-nm one way, in varying weather year round. IFR flying perhaps would have reduced some (but not all) of the weather delays I encountered. But in doing that weekly milk run for over three years, I only needed to cancel a flight due to weather maybe twice per year on average – usually due to thunderstorms or heavy snowstorms, which grounded IFR flights too.

      Delays? Sure, I experienced delays waiting for low clouds and fog to clear (on average, that happened about one weekly trip every other month). But of course IFR pilots are still delayed by fog and by clouds below minimums. And of course we all get stymied by thunderstorms and high winds.

      On the other hand, we VFR pilots also don’t need to worry much about icing in the clouds, or embedded thunderstorms, or dealing with destination airports and alternates at or near IFR minimums, either.

      Even the most capable (and expensive) GA aircraft in the fleet are still subject to weather constraints and resulting delays – just marginally fewer of them than do VFR-only spam cans that cost a tiny fraction of the cost of high capability aircraft to buy and fly.

      The notion that having an IFR rating makes anyone an “all weather pilot” is a myth. The myth is propagated by flight schools, who simply want to sell flight instruction to aspiring airline pilots as well as to other GA pilots who are sold the storyline of “IFR utility”. You can see that mindset in some of the comments here on this page and similar discussion threads, when people write things like “Even if you never file IFR, the skills you learn will make you a much better pilot”. See my response to CZ on that point elsewhere in this thread.

      As most general aviation experts will tell you, if you absolutely have to be somewhere in particular on schedule – then buy an airline ticket … and even then you still may get delayed!

  • Not a pilot here, or even much of a student — I’m just an enthusiast who grabs a lesson here and there when he can with aspirations of getting a PPL one day.

    Anyway, as others have said, it all depends on how you do your flying, etc. For me, I’d want to get my instrument rating as it’s purely a safety thing. I’d probably do a fair bit of flying with just a PPL, but I’d limit myself to day time under near ideal conditions. With an instrument rating, I’d be more willing to do night and deal with more marginal conditions.

  • Like others have said, it’s situational. If you do most of your flying in arid conditions without much weather, you’re probably OK without it. If you’re east of the Mississippi, you’ll need it for any sort of dispatch reliability. You may even need an aircraft equipped for flight into known icing.

    Go back and read Richard’s old columns, he couldn’t have done the flying he did without the instrument ticket.

  • Without question, an instrument rating will add to the safety margin of any flight. However, the over riding issue of any flight is that “grey matter” between your ears. Regardless of the number of ratings you have, common “flying” sense is the key factor in a safe and enjoyable flight. Don’t let your IFR rating ruin your day.

  • Matt makes a good point about flying east of the Mississippi. And if you really want to understand why some of us believe we need instrument ratings for cross-country flying, try living east of the Mississippi *and* beside one of those weather factories we call the “Great Lakes”. The TAF for your destination when you leave often has little relation to what you’ll find two hours later on arrival.

  • The instrument rating, assuming reasonable experience, proficiency and airplane capability, can give one about a 90% or better on schedule dispatch and arrival probability. Comfortable VFR travel would go down to about 60% in some areas of the country (the desert states excepted). What that means is that you don’t often want to make reservations or important appointments if you are VFR only. But if the purpose of the flight is flying and not just the destination, VFR is great. Some of my best destinations have been unplanned weather stops.

  • We had a visitor for a presentation at our chapter 92 EAA meeting, and he traveled west coast to east coast and back in an old cub, circa’40 and he said that he never talked to ATC at all. He planned a lot of flexibility into his schedule and had no “have to” destinations. He took about 6 weeks to do it and said that about 1 day out of 5 he would be weathered in. It depends what kind of flying you want to do. Oh and he had done that more than once.

  • It would be interesting to hear where people live since that may affect their attitudes. Up here around the Great Lakes, an instrument rating is probably a lot more useful than in the southwest. I’m still working on my IR so I don’t have much else to add other than I’ve had to cancel a couple trips because of extended bad weather. Of course, when it’s “extended” it often includes thunderstorms so having the IR may not have helped much in those cases.

  • having had my private license for 11 years, i just passed my instrument check-ride a couple weeks ago. besides the fact that I no longer worry about getting stuck somewhere with a rented aircraft due to clouds, I have become a much better vfr pilot as well. i no longer vary my altitude like i used to, overshoot runways and airways like i used too, and now understand what ifr pilots are doing when they shoot approaches which i never cared about before but should have as it effects traffic in and around the pattern. is it required? no. is it worth it? YES.

  • I primarily fly cross-country flights, and the difference before and after I got the IR couldn’t be more significant. Can you travel VFR? Absolutely, as long as you’re willing to move your schedule around a day or so either way. But if you’ve got a job and other commitments, flying IFR is really the only way to do it comfortably in the Northeast. Note that the instrument rating doesn’t mean you’re an all-weather pilot; thunderstorms, high winds, fog, and icing will all keep you on the ground. But it turns marginal VFR into a cake-walk, and greatly reduces the stress and anxiety of planning weekend trips. You may still need to be taking vacation days to make sure you get back safely, but they’ll be few and far between.

  • I would say yes, with one caveat. For single pilot IFR I really think a working 2 axis autopilot should be on the MEL. Yes we can hand fly, but it is very tiring to do this for hour after hour in the soup whilst juggling ATC, charts, avionics etc. As for the original question, for the type of flying I do and living in the PNW, absolutely it is necessary. I’s also say that FIKI and a pressurized turbine twin would be high on my list, but now I am only dreaming…

  • Tim Fountain – I think the need for an autopilot for single-pilot IFR is related to the type of plane you’re flying. I had over 100 hours actual IMC over 8 years, including some very long, very rough flights, all hand-flown before I installed my one-axis autopilot a couple of years ago.

    However, I fly a fixed-gear Cherokee, which is a very draggy plane, so if my attention lapses for 45 seconds, not much happens (maybe the plane drifts 10 degrees off course); if my attention lapsed in actual IMC for 45 seconds in something slick like a Mooney, I might already be in a spiral. There’s no one-size-fits-fits-all rule for that kind of thing.

    That said, I do enjoy my autopilot now that I have it. It makes an eight-hour day of flying feel more like four, and a four-hour day feel like a hamburger run.

  • Both VFR and IFR trips can be flown safely. As the old saying goes, if you have the time, fly. I would suggest you may need more time if you are not instrument rated.

  • For me, the instrument ticket has been an essential contribution to my flying. Apart from making me a better pilot, I fly 200 to 250 hours a year on combined business and pleasure. I am fortunate to live in one of the best areas for flying weather in the country (a separate debate), based in CA and flying mostly western states; but we get coastal marine layers daily for many months of the year. The ability to get out or in with the IFR rating provides me with about a 95 percent completion rate.

    I would never claim to be an all weather pilot, we get ice and nasty weather out west as well, and the weather over the Rockies is always unpredictable, but you sure feel better setting off on a five or six hour trip knowing you can probably get in on the other end.

    For me the IFR rating is a must. It is September, and I have had four approaches to below six hundred feet in the last two weeks. Last Wednesday the layer never lifted above 2200 all day along the coast, and I had three stops in one day. Even the local ranges require 6000 to 10000 feet MEA, and you are not getting out and back in without being proficient IFR.

    By the way, I am flying a 182. Shy of TS or icing conditions, the rating makes the difference.

  • I’ve been flying for nearly 41 years, with an IR for all but the first year or so. I’ve done many VFR only flights across the country, and many IFR flights across the country. I’ve had some IFR flights that simply could not have been completed VFR. I’ve had some VFR flights which were delayed a couple of days because I was not current and couldn’t complete them IFR. But I’ve also had some IFR flights which were delayed because the weather was more than either I or the airplane I was flying could handle.

    So my answer has to be mixed. I think the IR is an extremely valuable rating, but I also don’t think it’s absolutely essential for everyone. It certainly will positively affect “dispatch reliability”, so that if an airplane is to be a reliable business tool, then it is essential. But there must always be a Plan B, with or without the IR.

  • Have been flying about 35 years. Got my Instrument, after about five years later.
    Probably only have a couple hundred hours IFR flight plan, mostly not needed to, but did.
    My point is – you can be a safer pilot if you take the time + stress to get the rating. Went through the Cessna numbers. 150, 172, 177, 182, then retired – now an Ercoupe, Alon A-2. Love it. Fly around like a real pilot, still watch my behind, as always.
    Am an old pilot, but not a Bold Pilot.

    • There are intangibles that come with the IR – airspace becomes virtually a non-issue, TFR’s can be minimized both in risk of busting one as well as flying in or out.

      Even on a clear day, there is the benefit of traffic advisories. Flight following is great, but I live in the Chicago area, and the only words I ever heard as a VFR pilot from Chicago TRACON were; “Radar services terminated, squawk VFR”. Filing IFR in VFR weather allows me to decide when I no longer need radar services.

      I fly about 60 hours per year with a significant amount for business. And while the majority of the trips could have been accomplished VFR, the extra knowledge and experience that comes with the IR allows me to plan better, making my plane far more useful.

  • I second what Ray said about TFRs. The easiest flying I’ve done in the US was coming into the NYC area during a TFR. I just filed IFR and followed my clearance. There was no VFR traffic to worry about, and no one ahead of me in the circuit (“pattern” to Americans) at KCDW. Filing IFR also made flying into Dulles trivially easy (no “gates”, etc., from the seemingly 1,000-page permanent NOTAM).

  • I don’t fly enough to remain IFR current, so have never pursued the rating. However, my primary training started in LINK trainers, then proceeded under the hood. I had quite a few hours between the two before I was allowed to fly visually (Univ. of Illinois Institute of Aviation). That, plus under the hood refreshers during BFRs, has allowed me to get out of at least 3 inadvertent situations. I do NOT make that a practice. I live and fly my C182 in Alaska, have flown to/from the Lower 48 multiple time, have spent 4 months flying around most of the states west of the Mississippi, another 3 months flying to New England and about, another couple of months to/from and around the Carolinas. Yes, I spent a few nights in towns in which I hadn’t planned on stops. But the longest delays have been in the order of 2-3 days, and my travel plans ALWAYS allowed for that kind of slop. I file flight plans, use flight following heavily, am comfortable working in the ATC system, and LOVE my Garmin 496 with XM data feed. A few of our trips are documented in our travel blog (nikkinne.blogspot.com). VFR has been just fine for my extensive travels, much of it solo.

  • Is IFR rating required? Absolutely not.
    Is an IFR rating a good idea? Absolutely yes.

    It’s very hard to get a multi-hour cross country trip to line up weather-wise on any day. An IFR rating with proficiency removes the fluffy clouds and light rain as obstacles.

    If you have good flexibility, VFR travel is fine.

  • I have flown coast to coast many times, both before and after I earned an instrument ticket., as well as flying right-seat for thousands of miles with a determinedly VFR-only pilot. (There have been few more frustrating experiences in my life than watching perfectly flyable easy IFR days slip away, losing precious time when it counted). My cancelled or postponed flights still happen, despite rating and nicely equipped airplane, but they are rare.

    VFR, low and slow, is a great joy, on a bright calm day. If you live and fly in the desert, staying mainly within 20 miles of home, if you have no need to be at a destination as expected, an instrument ticket is an expensive luxury that is hard to keep fresh. Sure, the training and discipline keeps you sharp and accurate, but could a case be made for spending that money on aerobatic training?

    If you live, as a previous poster noted, in the eastern US as I do, if you do a lot of long cross-country flying, if you fly in congested, complex airspace, if you have a schedule to keep, then that IFR ticket is well worth the effort to earn and keep current. Flying into the DC area or class B airports IFR is a totally seamless operation. Popping up over summer popcorn to smooth cool air on top, taking advantage of tailwinds above the haze and fog below, not sweating the fact that my destination just went IMC, or that I can see clear into the next state beneath an 800 foot coastal overcast, with blue skies just over yonder, are things that make me thankful to have that ticket in my pocket.

  • For 5 years I commuted between the Tahoe Lake region and Palo Alto, CA. VFR. There were days it wasn’t safe to fly my little airplane – period. And there were days it wasn’t a VFR day – so I at times ended up driving – except for those days it wasn’t safe to drive either.

    The point being – even when you drive you have to make your go/no-go decisions based upon the current and near term conditions. Its called reality. Flying is just more demanding of your good choices and unforgiving of your bad.

  • I consider an instrument rating a must for anyone who travels both for business and pleasure in the U.S. and Canada. That said, it is worthless if you do not use it and train on a regular basis. My flying is for business all over the U.S. and Canada. I always file IFR and do approaches regardless of the conditions at all times of the year. Why you may ask? To stay very current, that’s why. I constantly evaluate my level of competence and find that within a 2 week period without flying IFR my skills are not as sharp. Accordingly, I limit my approaches to something like 800 and 2, depending on topography and my familiarity with the airport. After several my confidence and skills become noticeably sharper and I begin accepting lower. Two hundred and a half is acceptable to a skilled and well current pilot. But I would consul these should always be attempted with the aid of a quality autopilot. I can hear the voices now, just another “George” pilot. Well, OK yes and I am still alive and have no bent airplanes to my credit. Single pilot IFR into busy airports or in real “clag” is no fun. Try Detroit Metro or Charlotte or Toronto-Lester Pearson or Montreal at “push time”. Frequent and intense training should be accomplished at least every three months for the serious cross country pilot. Expensive, sure is, but my safety is important (at least to me).

  • Louis: You make excellent points about flying in the system. I’ve found, though, during “push time” at busy airports like YUL or PHL or TEB, it’s a great kindness to controllers if a small-plane pilot is willing to take a visual approach in VFR conditions, even if she’s filed IFR.

    Our approach speeds are so much slower than the jets and turboprops that it really messes up the flow trying to fit us into the IAPs when there’s no need (e.g. CAVOK). If we accept a visual approach (or better, cancel IFR when the airport’s in clear sight), ATC can bring us in on the downwind or base and turn us onto final close to the runway, so that we don’t slow down the airliners for too long.

  • David:
    Good point and you are correct. I fly the approach into those large airports at 140 to 160 knots, depending on what is requested. A Baron can do this and still slow to 120 knots inside the inner marker with no problem. It will land just fine at 120 and bleeds off quickly. It will not stay on the ground at 140–I tried.
    This leads to another problem, you become so used to shooting approaches and landing fast that you create a problem for yourself when landing at shorter airports!!

  • The longer I flew airways (as it is called over the pond) in piston aircraft, the more I developed an affection for turbine equipment. This may be due to the high MEAs generally in Europe, and typical Northern European weather.

    The North American philosophy of encouraging Instrument training is a very good one, and it is a pity that in Europe we only have the UK IMC as an equivalent. Getting an IR is a good thing.

  • I believe an IFR rating is not necessary unless you fly for business and need to meet a schedule frequently, especially given the many weather forecasting tools available to VFR pilots today. (see 7-day VFR planning.) When you consider the time and expense of getting the rating and keeping it current, it just doesn’t make sense for the recreational pilots who don’t have a schedule to keep. But as a VFR only pilot, you MUST make the commitment to NOT fly in unacceptable weather.

    My wife and I have discussed this very issue at length. If you remove flying in the soup and fuel mismanagement, 95% of GA accidents go away, and most of the IMC accidents happen to IFR rated pilots simply because they are in the soup more often. For now we prefer to stay VFR for that reason alone.

    Is an IFR rating worth having? Absolutely… If you need it and are willing to pay the time and money to keep it. Is it necessary? No.

  • One more point: It was pointed out that multiple airspace restrictions disappear when you file IFR. The same thing happens when you request ATC to provide VFR flight following. True, they are only required to help you if they have time available, but they cannot deny you services if your departure or destination is inside of one of these controlled areas. So that advantage is mute.

  • “It was pointed out that multiple airspace restrictions disappear when you file IFR. The same thing happens when you request ATC to provide VFR flight following.”

    It’s not quite the same, though I agree that you get some of the advantages. Flying into IAD or into a presidential TFR VFR still requires memorizing pages of procedures, and even in more normal circumstances, VFR flight following enroute does not normally include vectors around special-use airspace. That’s not a big consideration with modern GPS’s showing the airspace you’re in, but it’s still a difference.

  • VFR flight following will include vector recomendations if the controller deems it necessary or desirable, or if you request an avoidance suggestion. ATC does not control a VFR flight and usually only suggests rather than orders a change in direction or altitude. Compliance is not always mandatory unless flight safety of another flight is involved.

    We were cruising at 7500 when ATC called “November 86F decend an maintain 7 thousand 3 hundred for traffic, 1 o’clock 6 miles opposite direction” I complied immediately and we passed about a mile apart . The jetliner was 200 feet above and crossed my flight path in front of me from right to left. A few minutes passed and I heard “November 86F altitude your discretion. ”

    That is a good example of ATC making adjustments to a VFR flight for safety. I have also had them vector me around airspace for the same reason.

    • Yes, William, it’s true that ATC will often treat VFR flight following the same as IFR – I’ve experienced that on most of my VFR cross-country flights as well – but you can’t count on it if the controller is having a bad day or the sector is busy. In the end, though, I agree that the difference isn’t huge. For me, the rating means that I don’t usually have to cancel flights because of localised low viz/ceiling that I can climb through in 90 seconds to get to blue skies. That kind of weather is very common around the coasts and the Great Lakes, and I’d have trouble completing a quarter to a third of my flights without a rating (unless I were willing to scud around down low, skimming the tops of towers).

  • IFR requires better equipment than VFR.
    Recent lack of support for VORs limits IFR options to only a certified GPS.
    A quote for installing a basic certified GPS/Nav/Com + Audio Panel is north of $25,000.
    That’s equivalent to 125 nights in a luxury hotel at $200 a night.
    I’ll fly VFR and park it overnight when the weather is iffy.

    • @flatbill wrote “Recent lack of support for VORs limits IFR options to only a certified GPS.”

      That’s not true yet, fortunately, but I suspect it will be in a few years. For now, I have no problem flying IFR all over Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US using VOR/DME and NDB as my navigation sources (with a VFR GPS for situational awareness). Both Canadian and US ATC are very cooperative about routing me, and I rarely go more than a few minutes out of my way (unless airspace like MOAs intervenes).

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