Do we need a basic instrument rating?

Would more pilots fly IFR if it were easier to get an instrument rating? Would it improve aviation safety if they did? A recent proposal by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to create a “basic instrument rating” should have pilots asking those exact questions, and not just in Europe.

EASA’s plan is part of the organization’s GA Roadmap, launched in 2015 to create “a simpler, lighter and better regulatory framework for general aviation.” Think of it as the European version of the FAA’s Risk Based Decision Making Strategic Initiative, a collection of recent moves to make regulation less cumbersome. Whether you trust the government or not, the fact is that both organizations have made sincere efforts to simplify many parts of the aviation rulebook, from avionics certification to medical exams.

EASA BIR proposal
More than just an idea, the EASA proposal has details.

The problem in Europe is that instrument flying is relatively rare compared to the US. Whereas a pilot might think nothing of filing IFR to fly from Columbus to Chicago, a pilot flying from Birmingham to Brussels would have to be pretty dedicated to go IFR. Understandably, many think this creates bad incentives and reduces both flying activity and safety margins. EASA hopes that, “With better and easier access to IFR flying, GA pilots would be able to plan A-B flights with more confidence of safe completion. They would be less vulnerable to changing weather conditions and the associated risk of continuous visual flight rules (VFR) flights into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).”

The main change would be to remove minimum training hours and evaluate pilots strictly on competence. Hardly radical, but there’s also encouraging language about how “the training will be focused on the real-world instrument flying needs of GA pilots, with particular emphasis on practical application of threat and error management.” The goal is to teach a general aviation pilot to fly IFR in a light airplane, not make a CAT III landing at Frankfurt.

There are limitations with the basic instrument rating, including:

  • Single pilot only
  • No high performance airplanes
  • Approach minimums raised 200 feet above standard
  • No less than one mile visibility (1500 meters)
  • Pilots can’t take off unless the departure and destination airports are forecast to be at least 600 foot ceilings and one mile visibility

Notably, the performance standards are not lowered. As EASA admits, the testing requirements are basically the same as for the US instrument rating.

Would it work in the US?

The particulars of the EASA proposal aren’t important; it has a long road ahead, so nobody will be earning one anytime soon. It’s the concept that should make US pilots (and regulators) think.

When considering such an idea for the US, the first question is whether it would find acceptance among pilots. After all, what’s the point in having a new rating if nobody applies for it? Unfortunately, we have to admit that “lite” pilot certificates do not have a great track record – just 50 new Recreational Pilots and 500 new Sport Pilots are added to the FAA database every year. Both certificates were attempts to simplify the flight training process (thus reducing time and expense). Both haven’t worked out so well.

Pilot in cockpit with instructor
To be accepted by the aviation industry, CFIs would have to buy into a basic instrument rating.

There are significant limitations to both certificates, but more importantly, many longtime pilots, acting as the white blood cells of the aviation community, seemed to quickly surround these new options and attack. Often these objections were couched in terms of safety, and you can guess the questions you’d hear about a basic instrument rating too: “What if you get in clouds and the ceiling is lower than forecast? What if you have to land at a big airport and mix it up with the airlines?”

This gets tiresome in a hurry because it’s hardly limited to new certificates or ratings. What if a non-instrument rated pilot takes off VFR and the weather turns out to be lower than forecast (absolutely possible with today’s Private Pilot limitations)? What if you are flying IFR in a 172 and you find moderate ice (absolutely possible with the “advanced” instrument rating today)? It’s impossible to train every pilot for every eventuality; the right instruction teaches broad principles and then teaches how to match the right skills to the expected risk. That’s the whole idea of personal minimums, which is essentially what the basic instrument rating is.

Such what-if games are not really about safety, though. Often, they are simply a socially acceptable way of saying, “real pilots get a real instrument rating.” Or to put it another way, “I had to earn my license; you should too.”

The only way to fight that attitude is for flight schools – the ones that really train pilots – to see value in it. If a new rating actually improved course completion rates and increased flying activity, that might win over skeptical CFIs and flight school owners. Some flight schools (including Sporty’s Academy) successfully use the Recreational Pilot certificate to do exactly that, making it a stepping stone to higher certifications. But such modular flight training is rare.

Would it increase IFR flying?

Even if a basic instrument rating were accepted by flight schools and pilots, would anyone actually use it? One of the dirty little secrets in the world of recreational flying (meaning not corporate, fractional, charter, or airline) is that most pilots who do have an instrument rating don’t actually use it. Maybe they aren’t current or maybe they simply aren’t confident, but either way there are tens of thousands of instrument-rated pilots who almost never stick their noses into clouds.

Instrument flight
Most pilots with an instrument rating never use it. Why?

The best hope for a simpler instrument rating is that it would be an on ramp towards more regular IFR flying. By breaking down the process into a more manageable starting phase, a basic instrument rating might ease pilots into IFR flying and build confidence more quickly. The current instrument rating throws you right into the deep end – you can fly an ILS to 200 feet at Midway, at night, in a TBM 900. That’s a lot to take on.

Maybe a basic instrument rating would at least encourage safer scud running. That type of flying may be taboo, but it certainly happens. Having a legal bailout could at least make it a more thoughtful decision, and an instrument rating with higher minimums would be perfectly good for those days that go from 3500 overcast to 1200 overcast. In fact, the limitations in the EASA proposal are so modest that most instrument pilots of all types would be able operate with those higher minimums. I fly a fair amount of “hard IFR” but in the last few years I can count on one hand the number of approaches I’ve flown to less than 500 feet and 1 mile.

However, the basic instrument rating still does not address the key problem: currency. Much like flight schools have lately focused on the student pilot dropout rate instead of the number of new student starts, any regulator hoping to increase instrument flying must first address the instrument dropout rate. There are some tentative signs of progress here with simulators, but the six approaches in six months requirement might have to be relaxed. Is there another way to demonstrate proficiency?

Would it increase safety?

Perhaps most importantly, we have to consider whether more pilots with instrument ratings would be good for safety. It seems obvious that it would: according to the AOPA Air Safety Institute, VFR-into-IMC is still by far the leading cause of fatal weather accidents.

Theoretically these accidents would decrease if more pilots had an instrument rating, even a basic one. But as Richard Collins liked to remind us, we must always beware of unintended consequences. As he wrote in The Next Hour:

“Years ago a lot of us thought that an answer to the weather accident question could be found in more widespread use of IFR flying and better equipment in airplanes used for IFR flying. This more or less came to pass but, alas, we were wrong about its being a solution to the accident problem. Where in the good old days the number of VFR weather-related fatal accidents was more than double the number of IFR weather-related fatal accidents, that has reversed. Now, serious IFR weather trouble happens about twice as often as serious VFR weather trouble.”

Indeed, FAA statistics show that in 1980 only 11% of private pilots had an instrument rating; by 2017 it was up to 29% (and 69% of all pilots). That’s a huge change in the pilot population, and as the optimists might expect, VFR-into-IMC accidents dropped from about 4% of GA accidents in the early 1980s to about 3% in the mid-1990s to just over 2% in 2015.

And yet between 1983 and 2015, AOPA and the NTSB show the proportion of GA accidents that occurred during IMC was essentially unchanged, at around 5-6% (accidents overall declined, but mostly due to a decline in flying hours). The result is just what Collins pointed out a decade ago: while VFR-into-IMC accidents have declined, those accidents are being replaced by IFR accidents in IMC.

I am skeptical that a basic instrument rating would ever find acceptance in the US, and, even if it did, the safety benefits are unclear. But the idea should at least make us question our current system. The Private Pilot certificate involves very little practical cross-country weather training, and yet it offers a license to scud run. The instrument rating is no guarantee of safe IMC flying either, and most of those who earn one fail to keep it current.

Maybe we need a marginal VFR rating.

43 Comments

  • John
    Interesting read… my questions if we can’t get ifr rated pilots to file and fly ifr why would we believe that ‘ifr lite’ rated pilots would be any different ?

    Might be useful to try to find out why those who have gone thru the full ifr proc aren’t flying ifr? As to currency … that is easier said than done… my personal experience leads me to believe that there is a scarity of CFI’s & esp II’s. The move to allow ‘sim’ time for currency is a move I welcome. But sort of doubt shootin six or sixty approaches will make rusty ifr pilots feel competent while shooting an approach in imc and gettin bumped around by some turb…

    Just my thoughts

    • I sometimes wonder if some instrument pilots, after earning the rating, just decide they don’t like it all that much. The reward just isn’t worth the discomfort or the investment of time and money? Certainly cost is a key driver, but it would be interesting to get a detailed list of the reasons pilots don’t stay IFR current.

      • John,
        Among my circle of pilot friends many openly state they acquired their IR solely for the purpose of avoiding being trapped somewhere until the weather clears. I believe every one of the pilots who have stated that was their initial motivation would require an IPC prior to departing under an IFR clearance anyway, effectively eliminating any benefit from the rating. My honest opinion is that many pilots are not truly confident with their instrument skills and after getting their rating they just never really get comfortable operating in the system. My CFII did me a huge favor by telling me to file and fly IFR on every cross country for the first year or two after getting my rating. I’m glad he did, during the first couple of years procedures became second nature and I actually appreciate the benefits of flying with ATC “in the right seat”.

  • Thx John,

    Agree ! Finding out why would be informative. Personally I fly MGY-HEF-MGY on a fairly regular basis… but I have a need to… that is ‘my mission’. My guess is that alot of private pilots go ahead and get the rating because we are told it will make us better pilots. And I think it certainly does. But I wonder how many of these ifr rated pilot’s mission (in real life) lends itself to ifr type flights? If most of their flying is done for the weekend pancake or hamburger hop. Well not so much. If they take the wife (or husband) and kids…. they probably aren’t going to be looking to increase their risk if the Wx is going to require an approach below normal pattern altitude.

    And even flying GA missions of 300 nm I will always check the Wx. Since most GA pilots have the luxury of a flexible schedule…we change the date to give us a better Wx outcome.

    The other hard part of staying current…even if you file you’re likely to end up with a ‘cleared for the visual’. Not an approach that is loggable for FAA curency.

    Alway look forward to your posts. Thx again!

    Greg

  • I took the PIC 10 day IFR program and earned the rating in 1988 in my Grumman tiger. Truth be told I didn’t enjoy flying in clouds and now as I approach 70 I have reverted to flying gliders at Sugarbush VT. Its all about where you are and how high you are, flying at its purest with no “useful purpose” but hey I also sail.

  • John,

    I’m glad you took this question on.

    I think we are all in favor of sport and recreational pilot certification. They do increase the pilot population – even if they have restrictions. The instrument rating is another matter. Weather is a dynamic environment that does not respect “currency” or certificate limitations.

    You also speak to the fact that many (maybe most) instrument rated pilots do not maintain currency in any meaningful sense. I’d suggest continuing to certify instrument pilots to one set of standards but place more emphasis on real currency – a required six month IPC for example.

  • 5g is coming as an element of the NIFS The National Interstate Flyways System.
    5g will end IFR flight per se
    Aircraft will display a visual of the horizon and a visual of the takeoff, cruise, approach and landing.
    In an actual landing at night in a snow storm the 5G NIFS will display will be like landing at noon with the actual situation including the snow banks on both sides of the runway…

  • Speaking as an Instrument Rated Commerical Pilot based in the Northeast who loves flying ‘in the soup,’ one of the precluding factors is icing.
    For nearly 6 months of the year it is difficult to fly in actual IMC due to ice. Then for 3-4 months of the year you rarely find IMC in a non-connective sense. Therefore your window to get into actual IMC without running the risk of ice or getting caught in a thunderstorm is limited. Until more GA airplanes can effectively combat ice, it’ll be tough for pilots north of the Mason Dixon to get many opportunities for actual IMC

  • Had Caa IMC rating for 5 years.I think its a great rateing and a nice little interesting challenge to do it.Treat it as an investment in safety so that if we make a cockeyed decision {go no go} and get caught out in deteriorating visibility we can cope with the situation and make it home also WE CAN simply climb THROUGH THE CLOUDS and breaK out of cloud at the tops.EVERYONE CAN MAKE A MISTAKE AND WEATHER CONDITIONS CAN CHANGE UNEXPECTEDLY AND QUICKLY.

  • I would enjoy having a basic IR just to bust through a cloud layer occasionally. As a vfr only pilot, I spend a lot of time waiting for the cloud break. But time, expense and currency are just not worth the investment when I really don’t want to fly in IMC conditions.

  • There should be formal legality to get any pilot safely down through a cloud layer to VFR conditions. Why the pilot is trapped above is not important. There would be less stress and more success if he could call ATC to get help through a thousand feet of clag. Right now only my IFR rating gets me legally through (any) clouds. Simplify this procedure for all ratings of pilots.

  • I’m not sure how a basic rating, as described, would do much other than raise landing and takeoff minimums; which do not appear to be the big problem. The existing training and rating really does not prepare a pilot to go out and take on real weather/situational scenarios in one big bite. Perhaps just revise the existing post-license flying to demonstrated steps; kind of like the glider badge program.

    • I think that’s the idea that needs more attention. Either we make the private pilot ACS 400 pages long (and require 200 hours of training) or we change the culture so there is more ongoing training and skill enhancement after the chckecride. Almost a cross country badge.

  • Lots of speculation with no data to back the theorems. Run a survey to get direct responses from 500+ pilots and you might have something to back your opinions.
    I would be happy, as would many pilots, to participate in such a survey. At present my personal minimums are 800 and 2 miles at destination or no go. My IFR capabilities are VERY rusty and not to be trusted, as I suspect are those of many rated pilots. Those pilots whose jobs require currency must have confidence and practice often or they soon find a pink slip in their pay envelope.

  • I agree with Tom. In central Texas it is very common in the summer to have a thin cloud layer at 1200 ft agl with severe clear above and below. A leagle way to pop up and descend through MVFR clouds shouldn’t require the proficiency to shoot an ILS approach to 200’.

  • I think this is worth careful consideration. I learned to fly because it was something I always dreamed of doing. And I wanted to be able to see the world from the air. So an IFR rating held no interest or utility. But I live in western Pennsylvania where we get about 60 clear days a year. In summer the haze can be so thick that, while you’re technically meeting visibility requirements, identifying an aircraft 2 miles away can be a challenge (although ADS-B is “supposed” to help with that). If you’re flying into the sun, forget it. You may as well be completely in IMC.

    I’m now retired and I’m interested in getting more utility from my airplane instead of doing short hops for lunch or just sight seeing. But I’m not comfortable flying over-the-top and running the risk of not finding that hole to descent. Even meeting the minimums of flying under clouds requires a constantly changing altitude and making course changes. In many situations (e,g., summer flying) those clouds may pose little risk and, if anything, may increase risk. I understand that clouds can hold all manner of unexpected danger. But, speaking from a perspective of ignorance of IFR flight, a “basic”, “light” or “marginal” IFR rating may improve safety, increase the GA pilot population and, as someone noted, get more pilots comfortable with limited IFR that a full IFR ticket may prove to be something they would not only achieve but use, as well.

    For me, the ability to fly through clouds – with limitations – or to be able to get through a layer without creating an FAA incident, as Mr. Corcoran points out, would be of value. I’m not advocating “dumbing it down” as that has greater negative consequences. But for guys like me who wouldn’t fly in full IMC and whose personal minimums would remain at 500-800 foot ceilings and VFR minimums for visibility, I think this idea is worthy of consideration.

    Alas, by the time all this is vetted and (potentially) ready for formal training, this 67-year-old pilot will never be able to take advantage of it. And imagine how it will morph into something completely unrecognizable. Look how long it took to get BasicMed which works nothing like the LSA medical that light GA pilots advocated for.

    • I agree that a lighter version of the instrument rating would be advantageous to existing VFR pilots. I have about 500 hours and fly my own airplane. I am not interested in spending the time to get a full blown IFR rating, but there are many times I have cancelled flights when a 1000 ft overcast stopped me from taking a planned trip. I just read a fantastic article on how to file and fly IFR into small airports without an instrument approach, so long as you can descend through clouds to a safely high enough ceiling to takeoff and land VFR. I can do that! And a rating that earns me that privilege would be worth it to me.

      https://www.boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/regulations/flying-ifr-into-an-airport-with-no-instrument-approach/

  • John:
    Maybe helping you idea, or maybe not.
    Being of German origin let me tell you, though, that anybody beiing able and having an Instrument Rating in Europe would want to fly IFR trans borders. You would have to be a bravado to fly from Birmingham to Brussels VFR – weather being notorioulsy bad in Britain even in summer and Belgian controllers might not even let you into Brussels TCA w/o IFR.

  • Interesting article ; but one which ,I think , misses the questions as to really just why does anyone fly a) in general aviation and , b) in IMC.
    The simplified answers are : a) for the enjoyment of it and, b) because your job or mission requires you to ( also possibly for the challenge of it ) and not for the pure fun of it
    An analogy might be made with the experience of a roller-coaster ride : a lot of fun on a warm clear day when you can see everything , and one that nobody would take ( even if
    they could ) on a day with zero visibility .
    While an IFR rating will prove invaluable in IMC conditions , most GA pilots , and their passengers , prefer to enjoy a flight rather than endure it .

  • Bob Buck made the simple but profound statement that I tell everyone who is thinking an instrument rating will make them safer, “instrument flying is weather flying”.

  • This is an interesting thought exercise.

    I got my IFR rating back in 1994. For 10 years I had a mission to use it, and maintained my currency. Since 2004, that mission disappeared, and my proficiency and then currency slowly eroded, along with my confidence. While I still occasionally go under the hood with a safety pilot, I am no longer current, or proficient. Could I do well enough to come down through a 1000-2000 ft layer, yes. I am confident I could shoot an ILS as I have done under the hood with a safety pilot, as well. However, the time and expense of maintaining currency without a real mission is what has held me back from getting current. BUT, every time I have to cancel a flight do to weather, I say I am going to get current, but never seem to. Just another man’s perspective.

  • As a VFR pilot for many years, I would love to be able to go through an overcast layer to get out of an airport where my family and I have spent a couple of days. I am very hesitant to go places where the weather can change at a moments notice. I have spent hours nervously waiting at airports for an overcast layer to break as we need to get home and go to work the next day.
    I have thought about getting my instrument, but I just don’t do that much flying. So, the answer is yes to a ‘lite’ instrument rating. I would definitely fly with more confidence and could enjoy my time with my family on weekend trips.

  • As a VFR pilot for many years, I would love to be able to go through an overcast layer to get out of an airport where my family and I have spent a couple of days. I am very hesitant to go places where the weather can change at a moments notice, and have spent hours nervously waiting at airports for an overcast layer to break as we need to get home and go to work the next day.
    I have thought about getting my instrument, but I just don’t do that much flying. So, the answer is yes to a ‘lite’ instrument rating. I would definitely fly with more confidence and could enjoy my time with my family on weekend trips.

  • Living in the Midwest, an IFR rating is essential if you’re planning a trip of 400+ nm. Particularly if the route is East-West, you’re going to be flying through more than one weather system and need to be prepared to spend some time in the clouds. Will you need to make an approach below 400 feet AGL? Rarely, so a basic rating would have significant utility. My question is the degree to which the training requirements could be reduced. If the required training could be cut in half, it might be attractive. Otherwise, why bother?

  • Basic IFR is all you really need, I think. Whats more important is good if not great decision making, It always, after an accident say’s, ” it was bad decision making that caused the pilot to loose control, it doesn’t say, ” because of the lack of an instrument rating this pilot lost control & crashed..If everybody had a good reliable autopilot in there plane, it seems that would solve a of the losing control in IMC, coupled with basic IFR training and that is just so that it won’t look foreign to the pic when he does encounter instrument conditions. I will reiterate, Good decision making is paramount no matter how you slice it !!! The rest comes automatic. People that fly into iMC deliberately are making a very bad decision, and if they find themselves in that predicament they can always in gauge the a/p to bail them out of that bad decision as appose to hand flying the airplane. A good a/p is a very good asset, (life saver). Also having an instrument ticket has falsely caused pilots to show he has a rating and fly into bad weather and wham-o, bad decision again..nuff said. thanks

  • Based on the data in your article, especially this: “Notably, the performance standards are not lowered. As EASA admits, the testing requirements are basically the same as for the US instrument rating.”, it sounds like we already have this in the US. It’s called, the Instrument rating.

    So, if the performance standards are the same, and the EASA-proposed rating is basically the same as the US instrument rating, then what would the US change?

    I can’t think of anything to eliminate from the current US Instrument Airplane rating, other than perhaps SIDs and STARs, that would simplify the rating. Everyone needs to know how to shoot a precision, a non-precision and a circling approach, needs to know how to fly by reference to the instruments, needs to understand weather.

    The article never discussed what (if any) items could be cut from the US instrument rating to make it “easier” to get.

    • There are three main areas I think you could slim down: SIDs/STARs (busy airport stuff), obsolete stuff like NDBs, and approaches. I honestly think there could be – maybe – room for a VFR on top rating. Take off with a 2000 foot overcast and 3 miles, climb through clouds to get on top, then descend to MVFR weather below. If approaches take up the most time for both initial certification and recurrent training, then we have to address that.

      Would such a rating be seriously limited? For sure. But it might be enough to be of value and actually get used.

      I’m not optimistic that it would happen though, for all the reasons listed above.

  • I’ve had an IFR rating for over 40 years with little actual instrument time in recent years. Today, I fly locally and rather occasionally a longer trip up to as much as 800 miles in my RV. Lately, I get an IPC and maybe remain current for a year and then I’m not current until I decide to get another IPC. Maintaining currency is always a challenge for me. When I have gone away from the local area I always get flight following and go VFR. If the weather isn’t reasonable for VFR, I don’t go. Long, single pilot IFR in a plane I built doesn’t pass my risk assessment. A few times I have gotten caught on top or in between layers and not wanting to reverse course, I simply asked ATC to file IFR and get an ILS approach to destination or somewhere to wait for better weather (I don’t have legal GPS but I have a Garmin 296 and Foreflight on my Ipad. This makes single pilot IFR much easier.) This normally results in a smooth reply with a vector to an ILS inbound course and gets me time to get the plate on Foreflight. I’m already talking to ATC and they are always helpful. I guess I would describe this as IFR lite in my mind. Currency requirements would need to be developed. I feel VFR practice approaches are a good way to reduce rust and keep IFR procedures fresh.

  • A very interesting discussion. I’d add a comment one made by a crusty old aviator regarding competence “don’t ever confuse proficiency with experience.” Just because you have any rating doesn’t mean you are capable of performing at limits. Said another way about driving in a senior citizen course, “every day you get in a car you are a different person—assess who you are before you pull out of the driveway”

  • Using pattern altitude and 3 mi viz as minimums for landings and maybe a little less for take offs would probably cover the vast majority of recreational pilot needs. Making landings VFR could significantly reduce training/currency complexity. Requirements for limiting the amount of time in the clouds, day only and having an operational “modern” auto pilot could also be considered. Training should have a heavy emphasis on decision making/risk management.

    I like taking 200-500 mile trips that are “heart of the envelope” for a Cessna 172-182 yet I find myself often driving when the home drome is 800′, 3 mi and it’s CAVU at 4000′. I suspect many recreational pilots are in the same boat.

  • I think instrument light is a step in the right direction for increasing safety and utility. Personally, I’d love to see it extended to sport pilots. It would extend the times I could safely fly. I got my private in 1956 and instrument rating a couple of years later and used it regularly until I had severe health issues 30 years ago. After recovery, I flew gliders until the sport pilot regs came out. I still practice approaches to minimums under the hood with a safety pilot, as there have been too many flights where VFR forecasts didn’t hold. A special issuance to get basic med for me is not likely.

  • In the UK we have had a basic instrument rating for over 20 years, it was called an IMC rating now called an IR(R) as in restricted to UK airspace. We can do all instrument approaches with a slightly higher minimum height than the normal minimum approaches, fly in IMC minimum 1500ft vis take off, no flying in airways but who wants to in a 172. It must have saved countless lives as far as I know not one has had a fatal accident while using it which is more than can be said for VFR into IMC. EASA are in essence going to copy in with a few extras.

  • What most commenters seem to want isn’t really a light instrument rating but, rather, an exemption from VFR ceiling and visibility requirements under certain conditions. For example, an en-route exemption or a departure exemption. “Special VFR” rules already provide a template for how this might be done. What remains is to determine the training and currency requirements that should attach to a VFR private pilot certificated for these exemptions.

    I don’t know whether VFR exemptions are a good or bad idea. But they do seem to be the most efficient way to address the desires expressed here.

  • I would appreciate having enough training and a “lite” certificate that says I can legally pop through a cloud to avoid hitting the ground and climb through a broken layer to get on top without worrying that the FAA will smash my certificate to small pieces. I’d gladly take the training to get it. I don’t need or want the full certificate since I won’t use it. And having it means I would practice.

  • I’ve been located in South/Central Florida for the last 5 years and frequently file IFR because it’s the easiest way to get through MOAs and Bravo airspace. The minimums you are suggesting look a lot like my personal minimums but we have a fair amount of weather in the summer months to fly through. It’s comforting to have ATC with real time radar to help avoid a severe weather encounter. I think more pilots “in the system” is a good thing.

    Most of the pilots I know resist filing. I think it goes beyond the rating, how do we get more pilots comfortable working with controllers? An IFR lite rating might do that, as will making it easier to maintain currency. I wind up doing a lot of IPCs because few of my approaches qualify under current actual IMC approach guidelines.

  • John
    Rather than looking at the European system I think you should have a hard look at the Australian system. We have the full IFR rating but for well over a decade have had the PIFR which is a basic rating for private operations.

    The concept is a breakdown of instrument flying into segments. One of the simplest is to allow flight in IMC or on top provided the departure and destination have cloud bases above LSALT.

    Add ons can include instrument departures and specific instrument aid arrivals. Who needs an ILS rating when you never get into an area which has an ILS. In fact you can just about count the numbers of ILS equipped aerodromes in Australia on your fingers and toes and the majority are on the seaboard.

    But there were NDBs everywhere until they stated shutting them down in favour of GPS approaches. Everybody could fly an NDB approach and it was the first logical add on to a PIFR rating. Obviously the GPS is fast becoming the first add on.

    Another factor which helped reduce the VFR into IMC accident rate was the introduction of a mandatory 5 hours of instrument flying into the PPL syllabus in about 1971. If nothing else it gave pilots a chance of extracting themselves from IMC conditions and emphasised the real difficulty of instrument flying. This has now been reduced but is still a requirement.

    Incidentally Australia also has an annual proficiency check for IFR pilots and PIFR pilots have to demonstrate proficiency in their biennial (2 yearly) flight review.

  • I think the instrument rating could be accomplished in 15 hours. Also 3 approaches and holds every 90 days would be sufficient

  • The instrument rating is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. This discourages a lot of VFR pilots who fly on clear sunny days. I’m not for IFR as a fundamental GA requirement. But a lot of VFR into IMC incidents could have been avoided if the pilot could fly an instrument approach without terror. It shouldn’t require a rating other than a minimum number of yearly hours with an instructor. That’s not unreasonable.

  • Hi John,

    I’m not going to address the Lite IFR certificate, rather a different different subject concerning VFR and IFR flying. I am IFR certified and virtually all my flights are IFR for one simple reason; I don’t want to keep all the different airspaces and their requirements in mind and don’t want to incur any infractions. Therefore, I fly IFR and don’t worry about it. Virtually the only VFR flights I make are between Lunken and Clermont County and sometimes to Urbana for lunch, threading my way between Wright Patt and Springfield. I feel much safer flying IFR and it’s so easy to file, why not.

  • Where IFR in Europe really helps is when it comes to crossing controlled airspaces. Mainly in southern countries (Italy, Greece,…) VFR traffic is not foreseen, when you fly IFR you are talking to the controllers at their eye level and therefore you are not being marginalized. Weather is not so much of an issue in this case.

  • One of the biggest differences between — say — 1980 and now is the introduction of GPS and the glass panel. While they’d been around for a while in Cirrus’, the standardization of the G1000 in most new airplanes made for an order of magnitude improvement in standardized situational awareness in my mind. Moving forward to color portables with amazing capabilities and now — just yesterday — the announcement that the G3X will be allowed as an STC in certificated airplanes … even owners of vintage airplanes could potentially justify installation of such devices. The GPS 175 navigator is — likewise — a great move forward for lower cost.

    I fly day VFR recreationally only in my waning days of aviating. I have an instrument rating but am one of those that doesn’t use it. I use an Aera 660 and — for grins — flew a simulated GPS approach to my small WI airport to see how it would go in case it became necessary in an extreme situation. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Piece of cake. With a larger G3X, it would be wonderful. The recent evolution of new products is exciting.

    So — yes — I think that an instrument rating “light” might NOW be a great idea. Same thing with recurrency. Do I need to fly my C172 at night to 200′ minimums … hell no. But would it build confidence and safety into the system … for sure. What always scared me about single pilot IFR without an autopilot in the days of paper charts was that every time you’d try to read a chart, you’d wind up doing a split S. No more with all the wonderful modern equipment available. I might even be inclined to try it again.

  • To want to fly under IFR rules – one must eagerly anticipate and love flying in IMC conditions while engaging risk-based challenges presented along the route.

    To fly regularly in IMC – one must have mission based flights that are calendar specific combined with a strong desire to complete the mission.

    To safely remain in IMC flight for extended periods of time, one must have well honed strategies to remain clear of ice and thunderstorms.

    Regulatory six month IPC training to maintain instrument currency is a bureaucratic joke for those who have achieved instrument flight competency no matter how many or how few “qualifying approaches” one makes during a defined period of months.

    Pilots who are challenged, competent and comfortable with risks associated with flying in IMC are no more prone to lose their inflight competency than a skilled race car driver is to endanger himself during competition.

    However, in the end age will get us all. My hope now at 76 years of age that I will encounter the wisdom exhibited by my hero Richard Collins who was able to recognize the increasing risk and to then bow out gracefully.

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