3 min read

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:

  1. The High Flyers – turbine operators out there mixing it up with the airlines
  2. The Middle Levelers – A declining segment of high performance piston airplanes
  3. The LSA – What the rest of us will be flying
Garmin G3X

Does the latest generation of glass cockpits with synthetic vision open up a new type of Low Altitude IFR 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.

Steve Phoenix
Latest posts by Steve Phoenix (see all)
60 replies
  1. Mark Ackerman
    Mark Ackerman says:

    I’m the new guy in the flying club, so my comments are based on my rather limited experience as PIC….

    Seem like a great idea to me. I’ve spent countless hours flying flight sims before getting my private license. I never had any problem flying on simulated instruments during my flight training – which I credit to the amount of time that I have spent flying by looking at virtual screen to get a sense of what the “aircraft” was doing.

    The new glass cockpit/synthetic vision equipment and apps that are available make this quite doable.

  2. Tom Yarsley
    Tom Yarsley says:

    The notion of “soft IFR” has been with us always. Steve’s piece promotes that idea, with justification and practicality being supported by advanced technology. But it’s insufficient technology for the spontaneous procedures endorsed in Steve’s piece. Sooner or later, everybody has to use that zero-to-3,000-feet-AGL airspace – so there’s no real segregation in play here. Sooner or later, somebody’s two-way communication fails. That’s when adherence to published procedures becomes the lynchpin of separation. No published procedures; no nordo separation (except for ADS-B, which has its own failure-mode problems).

    If Steve’s proposal is a good one, then arguably it is good for all – no reason to restrict it to low-level flyers. But in shared airspace, we all need to adhere to the same rules and procedures – because we all must rely upon each other’s adherence.

    This is where autonomous control systems have the advantage, because they know all of the rules, and always follow those rules – no deviations, ever.

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      All good points here and the low altitude and failure mode considerations were sure to draw attention.

      I picked the low altitude because every idea has to start somewhere. Often new things start out as playful toys and then grow up. Actually, once everyone has a clear view of the traffic and the terrain, whether by visual reality or virtual reality the concept of a book (or iPad) of approach plates kind of seems archaic. There is no reason why the idea could not grow up, literally.

      Failure modes, of course, are a consideration and that’s why I would leave the equipment requirements somewhat generic. If we’re starting out in a new direction I don’t think we want a bunch of hard rules put together by safety bureaucrats that are not doing the flying. Sort of like the early flyers; let them find what works and what doesn’t by actually sticking their toes in it. I’m thinking you will find that the combined probabilities of everything (terrain awareness, traffic awareness and what little comm is necessary)failing at once in heavy weather is pretty small. We often focus on percieved threats much more than real ones.

      I would agree that autonomous control would be safer for transportation aspects. But for the sensations of flying, it doesn’t do much.

  3. Dave
    Dave says:

    The hardest part of IFR training for me was overcoming the “failure modes”. Fighting through a case of the “leans” will wear any pilot out even in soft IFR conditions. While “needle, ball and airspeed” is sufficient, again it taxes a good pilot to keep it all together when the attitude indicator fails. I can’t imagine bouncing in the goo using a cell phone to keep my LSA wings level in a controlled descent without AHARS working. (BTW, my LSA doesn’t have a turn needle.) “Light Sport Pilot license and would be LAIFR qualified by an instructor endorsement after demonstrating knowledge of LAIFR regulations” has to have a lot more detail to it before letting any pilot venture out into IMC.

  4. Joby Wieser
    Joby Wieser says:

    I was with you until you added 0 to 3000ft AGL only. In addition to the risk of your synthetic vision locking up, the possibility of a new radio tower that hasn’t made it into the terrain database makes it way too scary for me.

  5. David Grant
    David Grant says:

    We’ve had this for decades in the United Kingdom: it’s called the IMC Rating. It works! In our mountainous maritime climate it is a necessity if you actually plan on going somewhere. European Authorites are planning to scrap it in the name of ‘harmonisation’. We’re going backward not forwards.

    • Daniel
      Daniel says:

      IMC rating is still alive till 2019.

      EASA had to admit that it helps GB having so good accident rates compared to the rest of Europe.

  6. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    I’m a daytime VFR only pilot. And, I don’t even enjoy flying rough air. so, even though I probably would not take advantage of something like this, I think it’s a good idea to poke at FAA from time to time just to wake them up! :-;)

  7. Geo. Anderson
    Geo. Anderson says:

    Wow. Lots wrong here.

    First, I think LSAs are not “what the rest of us will be flying.” The market has already spoken and the LSA is a monumental flop compared to the rosy projections made at its birth. Even Cessna is giving up.

    Second, I have read articles reporting that research shows that TAA airplanes are no safer than steam gauge airplanes. I have 100+ hours in TAAs (out of 1000+) and I agree. They are great fun and I love looking at the NEXRAD on the giant color tv, but I don’t consider them to be safer.

    Third, if I understand the proposal correctly, these junior instrument pilots would be flying around in the clouds on their own without adult supervision. So if I am coming in on an approach flying real IFR, how can I see and avoid these invisible hazards? Will I be required to have TCAS to fly IFR? I guess I could buy this part of the concept if “low altitude” topped out at 200′ AGL instead of 3000, but even 200 could be dicey on an ILS to minimums.

    (Yes, ADS-B will conquer all. The best software in the world is the stuff you just bought and have not yet loaded. That is where we are with ADS-B.)

    Re Mr. Ackerman’s comment, I agree. I have never had any problems flying flight sim instruments either. Real-world instruments is another matter entirely, as Dave points out.

    You can be killed as dead by a little airplane as by a big one. This proposal invites suicide by ignorance as well as murder by collision. I vote no.

    • Ed Tessmacher
      Ed Tessmacher says:

      You know, you’re the kind of elitist snob that’s killing GA, slowly, with a thousand pinpricks.

      You’re telling everyone that being a pilot is useless. Whether you like it or or even admit it…

      You are falsely supporting it by making the specious claim that one cannot enjoy driving, unless one is hauling a bulldozer on a lowboy with a semi, while driving over the Rockies in a blizzard.

      Most of us don’t need to buy a seven-course meal when we only want lunch.

      LSA is what’s going to save GA, and the sooner you arrogant IFR snobs embrace it, the better.

  8. Gary Lanthrum
    Gary Lanthrum says:

    I used to fly IFR a lot in my recreational flying, but that was 20 + years ago. I am mostly a VFR and mild conditions pilot these days. What I remember from the old days if solid IFR is needing altitude variations for a variety of reasons during a flight. Sometimes in wet & cold conditions I needed to get cleared for higher flight to get out of rime ice forming conditions. If you have a lock on 3,000′ AGL as the limit for this kind of IFR flying, then climbing might be removed from your toolkit. When I’m flying IFR, I like to have all the options possible to stay out of trouble.

  9. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    This is a very bad idea.

    Why is everyone trying to get out of having to learn what they should know? What if you’re flying in cloud and start picking up ice. Is ATC going to force you to stay below 3000′ when another airplane reports sky clear at 4000′? Of course not. In this ‘proposal’ you’re going to be flying in the same airspace as all other IFR traffic. The easy part of IFR is not staying low level — the easy part is flying at 30,000′! When you’re at 3000′ and below, you’re in the toughest part of IFR flying — taking off, approach, and landing. And you’re in that area with every other IFR airplane including all the properly trained IFR aircraft that cruise at 30,000′. You clearly haven’t thought about this much or you just don’t have much experience in aviation. This is not a good idea and you can bet that the FAA will not even think about doing this.

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      Well, at least you state your opinion clearly up front. I like that. But you might consider the possibility that the experienced may offer up wierd ideas as well as the inexperienced. The beauty of the internet is that you never know just who you’re conversing with, so it behooves us to treat all with equal respect. Chuck Yeager might just be in here having a little fun with an assumed name. In this case, I swear I’m not Chuck Yeager; but I might not be Steve Phoenix either.

      • Jordan
        Jordan says:

        Well, I was a little surprised to see that you are experienced based on your bio on this website. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know who you were before writing my reply as I might have changed my response to be towards you instead of it being in response to your proposal itself.

        That being said, I respectfully disagree with your proposal.

        You do bring up some good points about new technologies now available. I think these new technologies have been created with increasing safety in mind… your proposal seems to decrease safety in my opinion. I think proper education on how these new technologies (synthetic vision, etc.) can be SAFELY integrated into airplanes today would be beneficial. These electronics should not be a way of reducing the piloting skills required in IMC!

  10. Duane
    Duane says:

    Any system that depends upon the LSA classification is a non-starter. Most of us pilots are not going to end up LSA or sport pilots. The LSA classification along with the sport pilot certificate seem to be an ineffective solution to the problem of declining pilot populations. It will likely not survive much longer, especially after the revamped Part 23 program is implemented.

    The LSA airplanes are still too expensive and are too restrictive in their meager capabilities. Less pilot training and less capable aircraft will likely lead to more accidents and therefore lead to more restrictions on flying. Adding a faux IFR rating solves nothing, unless the objective is to kill more pilots and passengers faster.

    The benefits of the new Part 23 aircraft certification process are likely to be many times the actual (as compared to the promised) benefits of the LSA category and sport pilot certificate programs.

    Finally, flying in real IMC close to the ground is no place for minimally trained pilots and minimally equipped aircraft.

    I think most private as well as commercial pilots would agree to the following: Stick to daytime VFR unless you’re able, willing, trained, current, and properly equipped for flying in the intrument flight rules regime.

  11. Gabriel S
    Gabriel S says:

    Steve, are you suggesting that doing this is not also with coordination through ATC? I think that’s part of the premise. Do you really think ADS-B (even after we all supposedly have it in 2020) is something that can be used in the clouds as a replacement for see and avoid, especially without separation services?! If you aren’t working in the same system with the rest of the world that’s like saying your motorcycle in the clouds now doesn’t have to follow the traffic lights, and the rest of us that are now get to be at risk that while we follow them someone else doesn’t, running red lights on us just when we were coming through the green on a perpendicular path.

    Someone else noted this already I believe, but of all the work and risk that IFR involves, 90% of it takes place within 3,000 feet of the ground. That’s where you want to put people on flying motorcycles that aren’t trained to follow traffic. Not smart. That’s where there is the least amount of room for error, and the guy that accidentally puts himself into a bad attitude upset and points straight at the ground, by the time he knows to even hit the level flight button, he’s already dead. Also FYI, even if he saved that with the blue button, level flight buttons under that circumstance are very good for less-than-terrifying CFIT when the big bluff (towers, etc.) that it levels the aircraft off at are what is immediately in the flight path while the disoriented, relatively untrained, and thoroughly unqualified pilot is still trying to figure out whether he just went up or down.

    I’m not sure what the point of the idea was, as much as I don’t want to summarily stomp on new ideas: to allow a non-qualified pilot to get to a destination that’s nearby despite IFR conditions, as long as he or she flies slowly and is good at flight simulator games (so he can feel false safety using a synthetic vision display)? That at least had utility behind it, but if the premise is based on the idea that, as you stated “instrument flying can be just as fun as visual flying even when it’s not used for utility purposes” all you are saying is that you want permission to go play in the clouds once in a while without having to really be trained and current (let alone capable) of doing that safely, while the rest of us hope you aren’t anywhere near us. If you want to conduct such an experiment with LSA pilots prior to pitching it to the FAA, for the rest of our sakes please do so in an extremely remote area without even any livestock to put at risk in the crashes.

    The reality is that even trained instrument rated pilots when they get their rating, or if they aren’t current, aren’t often truly ready for a problem. That’s hard enough even for well trained and current pilots (Air France anyone?). In my opinion this is such a ridiculously poor idea that I don’t like even that Air Facts Journal would let it be published.

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      Notice that I was not suggesting no coordination with ATC, but instead reducing their involvement to that of traffic sequencing (remember we can “see” all traffic in the area). Right now, it is very common for VFR traffic to be mixing with IFR traffic on VFR days. At airports with a control tower, the tower controllers mix the VFR and IFR traffic. At airports without a tower, the IFR traffic has to fit themselves in based on the VFR rules of the road. The difference I am suggesting here is that at airports without a tower, but with an approach, then the VFR(in this case LAIFR)would have to call ATC for sequencing since we don’t want guys milling around arguing about right of way.

      I’m not sure where the idea comes from that 90% of the IFR risk takes place below 3000′. True, all crashes happen at ground level, but that does not imply that there is more danger between ground level and 3000′. I think a case can be made that there is less danger if the terrain and traffic is visible.

      Really, you think the idea is so bad it shouldn’t be published? Ouch.

      • Gabriel S
        Gabriel S says:

        “at airports without a tower, but with an approach, then the VFR (in this case LAIFR) would have to call ATC for sequencing since we don’t want guys milling around arguing about right of way”

        If I understand, this is fixing a problem that doesn’t exist – because absent this bad idea, those “LAIFR” guys aren’t allowed in the air right now anyway, so they are aren’t “milling around” anyway. They are sitting outside their hangars waiting for the weather to lift so they can fly both a legal and safe flight somewhere. If it’s VFR then we already know how that is supposed to work and nobody here seems to be suggesting that VFR pilots in VMC should have to coordinate sequencing with ATC at non-towered airports.

        By your comment on the danger level below 3,000′ AGL, with no disrespect intended, it’s pretty obvious you aren’t even a moderately experienced IFR pilot, because you aren’t understanding the point (which is half the danger of this conversation). Up high, whether at 12,000′ or FL450, IFR is rarely complicated absent a failure of some sort. If, as you say in your response “the terrain and traffic is visible” then for the most part we’re talking VFR again aren’t we, so this LAIFR idea is again irrelevant. The point is that in actual IMC, the workload in the first and last 3,000′ AGL is at times immense, fast paced, and often leaves little margin for error. The most dangerous flying is IMC low to the ground, where even the shortest temporary loss of awareness can be fatal, just when usually engaged in the heaviest radio communication load, while climbing or descending, managing (often changing) aircraft configuration, airspeed, heading, altitude – and doing it all in the glass cockpit environment you suggest adds a lot of precise button pushing. I think I read that a non-IFR pilot loses situational awareness on average within 18 seconds from the time they enter IMC. They don’t get much longer to recover from that before they find terra firma if that results in a stall or inadvertent dive, which is exactly why they aren’t supposed to penetrate clouds to begin with.

        Lastly, yes, ouch or no ouch, I do feel strongly that this kind of irresponsible and ignorantly made suggestion is a detrimental one to have out on the non-erasable internet – it’s the kind of thing that in my opinion takes away from the credibility of the many well thought out suggestions that the FAA genuinely should consider to improve GA in this country.

        As such, my commentary on this thread ends here. I mean no disrespect by it, but there is no productive purpose in continuing this dialog. If you want to penetrate clouds, get an IFR rating, stay current, and fly an IFR equipped airplane with all the instrumentation and redundancy that is deliberately required, but which unfortunately is nonetheless not guaranteed to keep aircraft, their pilots and other occupants, from deadly encounters.

  12. Rick A
    Rick A says:

    Good idea. I think something that would allow me to clear a low layer inbound or outbound to/from an airport would add much utility to my aircraft. As far as LSA, no reason it couldn’t be just as effective for Home Built’s or non complex certified aircraft.

    I would definitely obtain such a rating/certification.


  13. Larry M. Coleman
    Larry M. Coleman says:

    Naturally, ANY time you propose something new, the boo birds, whose only purpose and highest joy in life is to come up with reasons something can’t be done, come out in force. They don’t bother to actually think about the idea itself because they’re too busy immediately coming to the conclusion, “No! It’s a dumb idea because I didn’t think of it!”

    If you do actually think about it for a couple of minutes, you begin to notice that this is barely more than a license to scud run. The difference being that instead of just winging it illegally with whatever equipment and experience you’ve got, you could do it in a legal, regular manner with some training and modern equipment.

    • Jordan
      Jordan says:

      No, Larry, you haven’t thought about it much.

      A license to scud run is already included in the Private pilot license. This proposal is a license to kill yourself… more than a PPL. You seem to think that if something is legal then it’s safe. That couldn’t be further from the truth! You can legally kill yourself in an airplane very easily. I always get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when I’m following the rules, but rules generally aren’t enough in a lot of cases to prevent you from killing yourself.

      Want a shinning example of this? Try this accident report that just came out: http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/aviation/2011/a11o0239/a11o0239.asp

      The only part that wasn’t legal was he wasn’t current to carry passengers at night. But please don’t argue that if he didn’t have his passenger on board he wouldn’t have crashed!

      “If pilots possess limited currency and experience at night or in instrument flight conditions, the risk of a loss of control is increased when operating an aircraft in marginal weather conditions.”

      He was current with regards to instrument currency and he legally held an instrument rating… unfortunately, that didn’t help him — “During an attempt to fly the precision approach at night in weather conditions unfamiliar to the pilot, control of the aircraft was lost, and the aircraft collided with the ground.”

  14. Larry I
    Larry I says:

    I’m opposed for all of the good reasons mentioned above, but if, as the OP proposes, the idea is to give sport pilots an opportunity to try themselves out against the clouds, I think that could be accomplished without exposing other IFR traffic to unnecessary risk by confining the activity to prescribed areas, much as we already do for paradrops, flight training, or UAV testing. Such airspace could be then charted as restricted, and procedures developed for allowing sport pilots to access that airspace for the purpose of ‘sport IFR’ flying.

    Anyway – my 0.02

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      I thought about that too and actually we have such provisions today. It’s called uncontrolled airspace, of which I think we still have some out here in the West. I was just thinking it might be better if there was a little more utility available. You have focused on this as something only Sport Pilots would do, but I think there might even be some with higher ratings that would enjoy an open cockpit drift through the clouds in a Flybaby on the way to breakfast…but, maybe not.

  15. Geo. Anderson
    Geo. Anderson says:

    “arrogant IFR snobs” “boo birds” …

    Kids, don’t try this at home. ” … demonstrating knowledge of LAIFR regulations … ” is not going to keep you alive in the clouds, childish ad hominem attacks notwithstanding.

    I, too, am astonished that this idea was even considered for publication. I would be curious to know if _anyone_ advocating this idea has an instrument rating and at least a few tens of hours experience flying in real IMC. And, no, sitting in a chair and playing pilot on the computer does not count.

  16. Tom C.
    Tom C. says:

    We need a hybrid license that allows trained VFR pilots to safely penetrate a cloud layer to get above or below.

    Yes, with ATC involved.
    Yes, aircraft properly equipped.
    Yes, minimum and maximum cloud height and thickness.

    When I request ATC to go through these layers I am always asked if I am “rated, equipped and qualified”. Going through layers uses needed skills but not my full IFR skills.


    What there is a need for is more skillful, well informed and safe pilots mixing it up with others of the same kind in IMC and under ATC. Suggesting having half trained pilots in the air close to rocks and obstacles with “wonderfully advanced” avionics in SLSAs in IMC in controlled or uncontrolled airspace is contemptuous and plain stupid.

  18. Lee
    Lee says:

    This topic has to come from a non instrument rated pilot. With the ease of flight simulators on computers it seems like everyone who flies these thinks they are a great pilot. Yes I am a commercial instrument rated pilot. I do believe in the ratings as they stand. There are many instrument rated pilots that should not be flying into IMC especially at altitudes below 3000′ AGL. I used to haul freight across tornado alley and I know that there are several commuter pilots out there that are very inexperienced in flying real weather that have caused many deaths from scud running or not knowing there position. The last thing GA needs is for any VFR pilot to jump into any IMC legally without instrument ratings or proficiency. All the new tech equipment does not make this type of flying safe!! Look at the cirrus aircraft with the all glass panel. The glass panels are killing a lot of pilots who do not know how to use them correctly. If you can demonstrate flying a simulated vacuum pump failure on a ILS approach to minimums using steam gauges (now down to needle ball and airspeed) comfortably then by all means you should be allowed this type of rating. If you want to fly IMC get instrument rated or drive your ground based vehicle! I am no snob but really do you want to allow more pilots to go kill themselves because they are now more legal to do so???

  19. Dave
    Dave says:

    This proposal makes me shiver, because I am often flying around up here in Alaska VFR in just the conditions being proposed as LAIFR. I’m not sure I want to be trying to dodge these guys with their heads in the cockpit looking at their “virtual” terrain while I’m looking outside trying to avoid the actual terrain. I can see some real problems separating VFR and LAIFR traffic. Definitely NOT a fan!

  20. Geo. Anderson
    Geo. Anderson says:

    A license to penetrate thin layers is attractive at first glance. I was once stuck under such a layer for three days in early spring, one of the few times I have fallen out of IFR currency. We couldn’t get home. My wife was pi$$ed!

    But …

    How do you know the thickness of the layer? Only layers with PIREPS tops reports within xx NM? There aren’t all that many PIREPS, especially early in the morning.

    How about ice? More than once I have run into ice where there was supposed to be none. How well is an untrained pilot in an LSA carrying ice going to do? I think I don’t want to find out.

    “Coordination” with ATC? I know many airports where Center radio coverage stops much higher than 3000 AGL. Sometimes it’s 7000 before you can talk to anyone. Who is going to sequence inbound LAIFR traffic then?

    That idea of giving the LAIFR pilots their own playground is attractive. Then they would only run into each other and would spiral into the ground over a limited area. SAR would be less work, as we would only have to check the playground instead of bothering people for radar and cell phone forensics and searching a whole flight path. It would be easier on the families, too, because they would spend less time at mission base waiting and hoping.

  21. ginny wilken
    ginny wilken says:

    If I’m flying IFR out there, I want to know that anyone else with whom I’m sharing that airspace knows what I know, is playing by the same conventions, under the auspices of the same controllers, and with at least a modicum of the same technical aircraft control, comfort on minimum instrumentation, and the training and reflexes to deal with unforeseen circumstances and failures. As far as “IFR light” goes, this is something each pilot can determine for himself, based on his skill level, currency, and equipment. We all set limits on ourselves already – so get the darn rating, and then decide, as a rule, or for the individual flight, how much you can handle that day under those circumstances. We can’t all do everything, but we can -and should – acquire the knowledge and wisdom to make such choices appropriately.

  22. jack
    jack says:

    Ok, so lets let non-full IFR pilots fly low to the ground in the clouds based on synthetic vision (that could fail FYI) with no controller contact.

    We have better things to spend our time fighting the FAA for.

  23. Jim
    Jim says:

    I’m a private pilot who totally agrees with the LSA classification.
    However… This (LAIFR) is the worst aviation idea I have ever heard!
    Absolutely Not!
    This reminds me of the kid you grew up with who is given an inch, and then thinks he is entitled to take a mile…
    Get real!

  24. Dr. Kenneth Nolde
    Dr. Kenneth Nolde says:

    I let my medical certificate lapse in 2008 and I now fly strictly under LSA rules. I was instrument rated and I have maintained some proficiency in my ILS equipped CTLS. However, I second the idea that the afore mentioned instrument rating is fundamentally lacking in merit. I say this as I acknowledge getting an instrument rating years ago was the best safety/life saving thing I have done as a pilot. Today, I avoid IFR weather like the plague, but because I have the ability to transition from VFTR to IFR safely in the event of a blown weather forecast. I think mixing IFR in with the LSA system is stupid and I and my more than 8,000 flight hours (military included) SAY NO TO STUPIDITY.

  25. Bob Tridle
    Bob Tridle says:

    I like the thinking and “out of the box” ideas, but this does need a lot more discussion and thought. I have IFR rating and use it often even in vfr conditions. With the complicated air spaces we now deal with in some locations, it’s asking for trouble just to try to navigate VFR through restricted and special use air spaces.

    My main concern is that pilots who fly in anything close to IFR conditions need a lot of understanding of weather. If you add to your idea training and knowledge testing of weather, I would feel more comfortable.

    Flying IFR and instrument procedures is so much easier than it used to be when GPS was not available. NDB approaches for all but the best trained was nearly an accident waiting to happen.

    Great discussion!! Keep it going!!

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      Thanks Bob,
      You’re right of course, there are a few holes in this scheme and certainly specified training in weather would be necessary. Maybe it could be something like training and knowledge of local or regional weather; and the areas of operation would be restricted to the areas weather knowledge signoff. That sounds pretty restrictive but, as an example, just because a guy knows the weather pretty good here in the Northwest that definitely doesn’t qualify him to tackle Kansas in t’storm season.

      Navigating the restricted and special use airspace is another good point; the VFR types have it tougher than filed IFR operations. I believe that could be answered in that those areas should or could be made to show up on the synviz and could be navigated around. Trying to go through something like a MOA does complicate things; probably just couldn’t do it. In some areas of the country that would be pretty restrictive, but the idea here was not to create a new go anywhere, anytime means of aerial transportation.

  26. Frank
    Frank says:

    Have a look at the Australian Private IFR (PIFR). I don’t think it exists anywhere else in the world. Seems to work well for PVT Pilots who don’t intend to get a commercial licence. As far as I can tell, the accident rate is no higher than for IFR.

    I think a Recreational IFR is a good idea, but it needs be to a high standard.

    • Jordan
      Jordan says:

      Ok… how about the high standard of an IFR rating?

      You say it needs to be to a high standard yet what you really mean is that it needs to have less training and requirements than an IFR rating.

  27. Dick Collins
    Dick Collins says:

    I think the relationship between weather and airplanes is too complex for something like this to be other than a disaster. Interesting thought, though, and Air Facts exists to allow discussion on a wide range of ideas.

  28. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Flying IMC is complex and very demanding when things are going wrong.

    The FAA IR is not difficult and not so expensive compared to what we have in Europe.

    I think that the FAA IR is a basic minimum for beginning IMC flying. After the ticket, you have to keep going learning a lot, and fly IMC step by step.

    I would rather accept LSA planes in the IFR system with adequate equipment, even if it is “cheaper” equipment.

    But the pilot would need an IR. I cannot imagine to fly IMC with less.

  29. Craig W
    Craig W says:

    I would rather see a designation that allows pilots to fly in clouds with ATC guidance (think “flight following”) with a ceiling limit at origin and destination of at least 1500 ft AGL and and at least low VFR conditions at both. ATC could break these pilots out of IMC away from the pattern and IFR approaches and it would be business as usual.

    I believe many GA pilots would embrace this rating. It would allow them to do what they want to do (climb through a cloud layer to get to a destination that is VFR). This is what most SEL GA pilots are using their IFR ratings for anyway. With this rating, there would be far less tendency to push the envelope.

  30. MX
    MX says:

    It’s a Air Traffic Controllers nightmare,an unpleasant dream that can cause a strong emotional response from the mind, typically fear or horror, but also despair, anxiety and great sadness. Forget it.

  31. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    I thank you all for your comments, good and bad; this has been a learning experience for me being a first article and all. I can see I made a couple of mistakes and should have added more elaboration on some points to avoid misinterpretation:
    1. Should not have mentioned LSA. That apparently brings to mind untrained student pilots flitting around in flimsy airplanes. Actually, my thought was just to control the speeds so there would not be big differentials between planes and to allow for less rigorous control at the lower altitudes; Could have done it with a speed limit.
    2. I under estimated our belief and reliance on ATC. My thoughts were that they were there to just order and sequence traffic that couldn’t be seen. Apparently, people have a greater attachment to them. I like ATC also, but I am afraid of the day when we have to pay for them (but that’s a different subject).
    3. I should have elaborated on the training. I did not intend to suggest untrained pilots but pilots without a specific license that are trained for the specific operations. What is the difference? A government checkride. Is that a big difference? A point of discussion.
    4. Dick Collins and others commented that the weather/airplane interaction is too complex for this to work. I totally have to respect Dick’s observation, I own every book he has written and his experience level is way beyond mine when it comes to IFR in GA airplanes. In my defense, I did commute every workday for three years between Seattle (Boeing Field) and Olympia, at 3000′ and below in a fairly minimally equipped airplane. I got noticable ice once and had one instrument failure. There was never a scary moment and I believe I could have done it easily using the system I have described. But admittedly, this is only one small part of the world.

    Bottom line, I think it’s back to the drawing board…Now about my idea of a perfume for Jet-A…

    • Gabriel S
      Gabriel S says:

      I said I’d remain silent from here out but I must respond with my compliments on the “review and rethink” mindset here, which among other things is a sign of a good pilot, which we cannot have too many of.

      Secondly, if you can work it, I think vanilla is a universally liked fragrance!


    “Five percent of the people think;
    ten percent of the people think they think;
    and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
    ― Thomas A. Edison

    Steve, you are a thinker. Thank, I had fun on this one.

  33. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Having read all comments – and comebacks – I’d like to extend my compliments to Stephen Phoenix for his grace under fire.

    New ideas stir the pot, and obviously emotion too. I thought it curious that while many are critical about the idea, few (none?) offered a positive suggestion to help the idea be more workable in some way. Perhaps another time?

    • Bob Trdle
      Bob Trdle says:

      Did you forget to read all the comments? I felt my suggestion on more training in the weather aspects was positive. ??? Are we looking for discussion here or simply pats on the back?? I’m disappointed.

  34. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Sorry to disappoint you, Bob; I guess this time you fell into the group of “few”, as I mentioned. Responses were overwhelmingly negative, and some strongly. Not looking for any pats on the back.
    Good flying and fair weather to ya.

  35. Hugh
    Hugh says:

    I’m a PP with 300 hours, flying since 73 with a gap of 30+ years. I own a Cherokee 180, IFR capable and 2 Ercoupe projects (1946 & 1948)I’m doing the panel last on Ercoupe overhaul in hopes there will be a moderate to inexpensive glass capability available that is legal in a certified aircraft to replace all but the required back-up instruments. Reason: save weight and simplify.
    Your idea would mesh nicely with my project but it must mesh with everybody else’s IFR flying. It can’t hurt to have lesser then IFR Pilots be knowledgeable and trained about the great mystery of IFR flight. An example why it should be in harmony with existing IFR: I fly at an airport that has gliders; unless I’m leaving the flight pattern, I don’t fly on glider days. Not because the Glider Pilots are doing anything wrong but because many of them don’t have knowledge of what powered Pilots do and why, making for a very dangerous airport area. Most noticeable being their ground launch team dominating the CTAF with chatter. So in my humble opinion all ratings should mesh for safety.
    I would not restrict such a middle rating to only the least of us (LSA).

  36. Jim Macklin
    Jim Macklin says:

    Seems like it will increase Sport Pilot cost into the unaffordable. It won’t increase safety, if it was the rule, then pilots would get into trouble they will likely need to enter Class B or C airspace.Having a good idea about MVFR and below from my Student Pilot days to a a hundred or so pilots trained from Private to ATP, SEL and MEL, with lots of hours of PIC in most King Air models and 100 hrs PIC in the Beechjet, even with an autopilot, the LSA makes a damn difficult IFR platform.

    Much better idea IMHO, make teh path and cost to an IFR rating in a Bonanza class airplane affordable, perhaps subsidized by the FAA and aircraft manufacturers, is a better idea.
    Jim Macklin, ATP/CFI-AMSELI

  37. Jim Bellino
    Jim Bellino says:

    Are you out of your flippin mind? For one, thing it is hard enough for a private pilot with an instrument rating to maintain proficiency let alone a an LSA pilot that is not into rules in the first place. Second, what of IFR traffic at the same un-controlled airport. ADSb is not the great fix-all it has been sold to be. The problem is that traffic moves at different speeds and ADSb does not take that into consideration as TCAS does. I am a partner in a PA32-300 and a C177rg. We have had issues with traffic at an uncontrolled airports and each time it was either either an EXPERIMENTAL or an LSA. The last time, it was with an LSA when we spoke to the “pilot” in the FBO he had no idea of what an IFR let-down was. His only reply was “I heard the radio, but I am an LSA. That IFR stuff doesn’t apply to me…” For the record, he was in the pattern and it was below VFR minimums! I don’t want to think about some poor tired charter pilot with passengers on board trying to shoot an approach a minimums with an LSA trying to figure out where the airport is…. If you don’t take care of yourself and maintain a medical, you should not be flying IFR in any case. No, this is not a good idea.

    The one thing I did not ask was what country you are in… Here in the U.S. we do not have “licens
    ed” pilots. I personally have a certificate. If you have a “license” in the U.S., keep you bright ideas to yourself!

  38. David Bristow
    David Bristow says:

    This seems like a bad idea, but it’s difficult to evaluate your arguments without any data.

    This idea puts the pilots with the least training in the most dangerous conditions – IMC close to the ground. Is there sufficient benefit to justify this additional risk?

    Are there any empirical studies suggesting LAIFR will “save” GA? Or showing that autopilot, synthetic vision and ADS-B enhance safety enough to offset these risks?

    • Stephen Phoenix
      Stephen Phoenix says:

      Gee, I’d forgotten I wrote this. But anyway, I’m not sure that it is correct to say that pilots with the least training would be exposed to the most dangerous conditions. It’s a possibility that the training would be better; ie more training in really flying the airplane and less for talking on the radio and memorizing a bunch of procedures and rules. What is the additional risk compared to say, VFR flying? The only real difference is the attitude reference used. It is assumed that one would have a view of traffic and weather in the cockpit, which is really better than what the VFR pilot has in a basic airplane. It seems to me that the weather at the bottom 3000′ can actually be easier to deal with, whether talking about ice or thunderstorms; only the visibility might be worse.

      Notice that there was no suggestion that this idea was intended to “save” GA; only a way to increase the mobility and flexibility of flying. The idea might also be a way to reduce the user fees that will eventually come. Right now, it makes no sense that a person must file and use the services of a very expensive government organization to go to lunch. There should be a better way.

  39. TommyLM
    TommyLM says:

    I am an LSA sport pilot. I have received certification for flying Class C and D airspace and flying through Class Bravo(I have no interest in landing at CLT). My Sirius TL3000 is better equipped than most of the GA fleet. and outperforms most 172s. It isnt flimsy at all and performs well in windy conditions. Flew it from Oregon to NC over the Rockies with 50 mph crosswinds over Wyoming and dodging storms over Kansas and Missouri. I see no reason why I couldn’t train to punch through IMC to VFR especially since the use of GPS with autopilot is now so ubiquitous. And with ADSB, you are most often aware of traffic even before ATC tells you. I read all those comments in this thread and most of these comments were from blowhard traditionalist who will not accept a new idea. The most interesting comment came from the British guy who said they fly GA with a light version of IMC in England, yet no one chose to expand on that one. To say that LSA planes are flimsy is absurd, and that pilots who fly them are poorly trained is even more absurd. I realize I have limitations in the Sport pilot category, but I trained in a Champion taildragger which puts me in a class many of those above cannot even claim. Maybe we should look at what they do in England and adopt a version of that. The following is what I gleaned from a British website: “The privileges of the IR(R) allow:
    1)you to fly UK registered aeroplanes in UK airspace
    2)flight in IMC outside controlled airspace, (in Class G) and IFR flight in Class D or E controlled airspace with appropriate permission
    3)flight out of sight of surface with a minimum take off and landing in 1800m visibility
    4)Let-down and Approach Procedures to published Decision Height or Minimum Descent Height and to undertake missed approach procedures.”
    Given the proper training and certification, I think Light IMC type of certification would help not only Sport pilots but also most of GA.

    • Stephen Phoenix
      Stephen Phoenix says:

      Thanks for the comments. I am honored that people are still pondering this after 4 years.

      You’re right. The new LSA’s represent a significant advancement over the equivalent legacy airplanes and are much more capable than people realize. Pilots here in the U.S. would also do well to evaluate aspects of other aviation systems throughout the world. We do have a very good legacy system, but that’s not to say there are not good methods being used elsewhere. Some of the European certification and operations rules could offer us better airplanes, better flexibility and lower costs, if adopted.

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