From time to time, the FAA changes the qualifications for a license or rating and even adds a new designation of pilot. Steve Phoenix has made a study of the pilot population and gives here his recommendation for a new category of instrument pilots.
It seems to me that GA is rapidly sorting itself into three distinct levels:
- The High Flyers – turbine operators out there mixing it up with the airlines
- The Middle Levelers – A declining segment of high performance piston airplanes
- The LSA – What the rest of us will be flying
The High Flyers and Middle Levelers are adequately, if not inefficiently, served by the ATC system for weather flying. But the LSA types are left to VFR which, I’m not saying is bad, but instrument flying can be just as fun as visual flying even if it’s not used for the utility aspects. So what I am proposing here is what I will call Low Altitude IFR (LAIFR). This category would have the following basic ground rules:
- LSA qualified aircraft only.
- Flight in instrument conditions below 3000 ft. AGL only.
- No flight into Class B or C airspace.
- Aircraft must be equipped with a suitable synthetic vision display and at least a wing leveler autopilot which is independent of the synthetic vision driver.
- Full ADS-B with traffic display.
- Suitable backup attitude, altitude, airspeed and navigation device/devices (at operator’s discretion: could be an iPhone or some such).
The pilot would have at least a Light Sport Pilot license and would be LAIFR qualified by an instructor endorsement after demonstrating knowledge of LAIFR regulations (minimal with an instructor conducted written test and oral test) and demonstrating flight proficiency in actual instrument conditions.
The unique concept here is that there would be no instrument procedures to follow and no flight plan required. The flights would be flown just as if they were VFR except when in controlled airspace at an airport without a tower. In other words, you take off (if at a towered field, just tell them you’re LAIFR), fly to an airport, enter the pattern and land.
You can see all of the terrain and traffic just like VFR (maybe better). If there is a control tower, they would sequence you just like VFR after you verify that you have the other traffic in “sight” (on your display). If there is no tower but an instrument approach, the difference would be a call to Approach for sequencing before entering the controlled airspace.
There would be no special procedure turns and approach fixes to look up and follow. There would be no minimums; one could tackle any weather they felt up to. Remember you have a good view of the environment and traffic; it’s just virtual. From a practical standpoint this would give LSAs at least the same operational capability as a motorcycle by being able to climb up through a low cloud layer or run along in low visibility conditions. The weather down low is often less challenging than up in the mid-levels. The LSA category is specified because I think it is important that the speeds be kept down. Lower speeds allow more time to develop situational awareness and recover from mistakes.
Now I realize that it is unlikely that the FAA would immediately embrace this idea (numerous others probably have some concerns also) so I would expect that a demonstration project would be undertaken to prove the viability of the operations; similar to the ADS-B program. But when you consider that we have technology now that did not exist 60 years ago when the current ATC system was formulated, it may be time to consider new methods which actually utilize the technology rather than make it fit into the old system.
Phoenix adds: This is kind of a short, roughed out idea here, but what do you think? Does it only have a chance of a snowball in a microwave or better than that? Any ideas to add? We welcome your comments.