Given the frequency with which non-instrument-rated pilots get themselves killed attempting to continue VFR flights into instrument conditions, why don't all pilots receive at least basic instrument training (at the very least, knowing how to interpret the navball and headingometer) during their initial flight training?

  • $\begingroup$ This depends on the country/regulator (e.g. the US does require it for private pilots), are you asking about a specific country? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife: I was more thinking in general (but, if all U.S. pilots are required to be instrument-trained, then why are VFR-into-IMC occurrences still so lethal for said pilots?). $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ See this question. The only purpose of basic instrument training in the US is to be able to execute a 180° turn on instruments. The scenario is that you fly into a cloud at night, or into hazy conditions and suddenly realize you have no visible horizon. So you turn around and back into the clear conditions you just left. Piloting skills deteriorate quickly unless you lose them frequently, and by definition non-instrument pilots never practice them for real. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ I learned (in the Netherlands) to read my instruments the very first time I took to the air with an instructor. I was also told to not rely on them too much but look out the window at all times for visual cues instead, and how to do that. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ Related: Why does flying IFR require a rating? $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 8:12

1 Answer 1


While the number of pilots who die flying VFR into IMC is tragic, it's a miniscule percentage of pilots overall. The vast majority of us take the risk seriously and either stay clear of bad weather or get the additional training to be able to handle it safely. The former have no need for the additional training, and the latter are already getting it.

Every pilot in theory knows how to fly by instruments. The problem is that it is surprisingly difficult to believe them when your body is telling you they're wrong. And once you spend a few hours training yourself out of that problem, you still have to spend dozens more hours learning how to fly in the IFR system, which is an entirely different beast than flying VFR--and to many (perhaps even most) pilots not of interest at all.

Also, flying is a perishable skill. Having flown IFR once years ago doesn't mean you can safely do it today, especially if it happens unexpectedly. Worse, having had training may give people a false sense of confidence in their skills, leading them to knowingly fly into bad weather that they would have avoided if they'd never had that training.

FWIW, using your logic, the FAA does now require a few hours of hood time to get a PPL, but the purpose of that is to demonstrate to students how they are not prepared to handle it, other than to make an emergency 180 and return to safety. It's like how students practice stalls so they know how to recover from (and ideally avoid) them, not to encourage pilots to stall their planes in normal flight. And the stats haven't changed.

In the end, the root problem isn't the lack of instrument training; it's poor judgment. Take away one way for high-risk pilots to kill themselves and they'll just find another, so nothing changes except the cost of training went up for the vast majority of pilots who didn't need saving in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ "Worse, having had training may give people a false sense of confidence in their skills" so very, very true in so many areas of life. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that every pilot knows how to fly on instruments, even in theory. Cross-checking your instruments occasionally in VMC is a totally different thing from continuously scanning in IMC while also shooting an approach. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife Hence "in theory". $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 3:59

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