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Compared to getting a PPL, is it hard to become IFR-rated in USA, and if yes, why?

I recalled from the late 90s and early 2000s a statistic that said there are two GA accidents every three days.

And from a quick research into VFR into IMC, it turns out "nearly half of all weather-related accidents happen as a result of continued VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions (AOPA)."

Revisiting the former statistic, it turns out for GA, "There is one fatal accident involving LOC [loss of control] every four days." And "a failure to recognize deteriorating weather continues to be a frequent cause or contributing factor of accidents (FAA, 2018)."


Combining the AOPA and FAA figures, and sad as it is, one can say that once every week or two, a fatal GA accident happens due to entering unanticipated IMC.

I'm hoping for an answer based on studies or experience (which may even draw from knowing VFR-only pilots who did not become IFR-rated, an experienced CFII for example). The reason I ask, I'm looking for some explanation to that statistic, by starting with the obstacles to getting IFR-rated.

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    $\begingroup$ One obstacle to becoming an IFR rated pilot is that it costs around $10-12K. Also not all pilots can master the multi-tasking that is required for flying on instruments. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Dec 24 '19 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ This question might help but whether an instrument rating is easy or difficult is probably subjective and depends a lot on your personal situation. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Dec 24 '19 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ See this topic also aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/691/… $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Dec 24 '19 at 2:34
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The problem is an instrument rating is expensive, time consuming and requires much more - expensive - proficiency related activity. If you are only flying 20-50 hours a year like most PPLs, it's pretty hard to come up with a "business case" to spend the 10-15 grand for getting one if you're not doing serious travel regularly, just from the standpoint of return on investment, let alone staying proficient.

In other words, the majority of PPLs simply don't fly enough to justify an IR. The majority that do usually have their own a/c and use it a lot on business, or it's a stepping stone on a career progression. And even if you have an IR, if your airplane doesn't have airborne weather radar and equipment for flying in icing, you are still pretty limited in your travel at certain times of the year (generally, to under the freezing level and far away from convective weather unless you like taking chances).

If you study a lot of VFR/IMC accidents you find that it's mostly people doing VFR travel for extended distances and time frames. A light aircraft being used for travel in VFR weather is a very unreliable travel method and pilots have to accept that; too many don't.

So the big problem is people don't allow for weather delays in schedules, so they push weather to get home. If you travel places VFR for time frames beyond the next day or two (about the limit you can depend on forecasts most of the time) you have to treat it like flying standby on the airlines; always ready to wait a day or two to get where you're going. When you build this into your planning (like planning to be home 3 days before you have to return to work instead of the day before) you can relax a bit, and the risks of getting caught in a get-home-itis trap go down dramatically.

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  • $\begingroup$ Another thing to add is that, unless you fly IFR a lot and maintain currency it doesn't do you a heck of a lot of good anyway. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Dec 26 '19 at 16:36
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Like any other pilot certificate or rating, just how easy or hard it is to obtain is going to depend largely on the natural aptitude of the student, their dedication to the training process and how much time and effort they are willing to put into their training. I was alway a natural at instrument flying - got my Instrument Airplane rating back in 2011 and was pretty much checkride ready by 30 hours of training. Some people, however, really struggle with instrument training and describe the instrument checkride as the most difficult one they ever took.

As a freshly minted CFII, I can tell you that there is a kind of art to good instrument flying. Developing these talents early in your instrument training will go a long way to making instrument training easier. Some of the basics:

develop good attitude instrument flying

make small, precise corrections and eliminate wild movements and control inputs.

keep the airplane trimmed up as much as possible and use minute changes in throttle to handle any final deviations from straight and level flight.

minimized body trunk and head movement in the cockpit; develop quiet, smooth movements to handle cockpit tasks and scan using your eyes only.

stay well ahead of the airplane

know exactly where you are in space at all times and what you next two tasks are going to be

Do not get rushed; if you feel painted into a corner, ask ATC for vectors until you can get the situation under control.

And just like any checkride, thoroughly assess yourself against the standards set in the ACS for Instrument Airplane. I have plenty of students who feel like they are entitled to be signed off once they meet the minimum hourly aeronautical experience requirements for the checkride. I’ll tell them “IF you have the minimum hours of aeronautical experience AND I take you on a flight where I ask you to perform every ACS task there is AND you can do them all at or better then the ACS minimum standards without intervention, I’ll be happy to sign you off. Until then, no.” It’s not just necessary to give a student a good chance of passing the check ride, but it’s also necessary to make sure that they have the minimum skills to go out and practice instrument flight on a regular basis. You’re going to be operating in the same airspace as I am and I don’t want you to be so poorly gained that you 1) kill yourself in an accident 2) break the law and 3) be a general risk and nuisance to other pilots and controllers because you haven’t mastered the basics of instrument flight.

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There are several companies that offer 10 day IFR training class. They come to you, bring a simulator that you train on, you arrange the plane for actual flying. 10 days in a combination of classroom and in flight training. I don't know the costs, you can google "10 day ifr rating" and make a few calls.

I did mine more traditionally I suppose - self study to make sure I could answer any IFR knowledge exam question (did my PPL the same way) - then inflight training with an instructor in my own plane. It really let us get out of the New England area for summer trips. VFR, we'd get stymied trying to get past the Berkshire mountains in the summer. Now it just becomes a matter of staying proficient, and staying out of icing conditions during cooler months.

These guys offer to do it for under $5K https://www.flywithcat.com/instrument-rating-courses But you have to have your knowledge exam out of the way first, with some real world flying experience under your belt:

Instrument Rating Course (10 Days) Note: If additional time is required to bring you up to the FAA 40 hour instrument experience or 50 hour PIC cross country minimums, it can be incorporated into your IFR training at a rate of $150.00 per hour for dual instruction in the PA-28-180.

Aircraft rental for the checkride is 105.00 per hour. Your instructor will accompany you to your checkride at no additional charge.

The examiners charge $500.00 for the checkride and you can expect to pay the examiner directly on checkride day.

A courtesy car may be provided free of charge for local transportation.

If you need transportation from either MBS or APN, pickup can be arranged for a $300.00 fee round trip (fee includes pick up and drop off to the airport).

Hotel rooms are available for a very affordable rate of $35.00 per night. (subject to seasonal restrictions)

The cost for our 10 day IFR course is $4995.00 and includes:

  1. 25 hours of dual instruction in our Garmin 430 WAAS equipped PA-28.

  2. Unlimited dual instruction in our Elite PI-135 BATD, (10 hours are loggable).

  3. Unlimited ground instruction including pre and post flight briefings and oral prep.

Prerequisites:

  1. Instrument written exam completed.

  2. 46 hours of PIC cross country of at least 50 nm.

  3. 10 hours of simulated (hood) or actual instrument experience. This can include the instrument training you received as a student pilot while working on your private pilot’s certificate.

    The FAA written test must be completed prior to arrival for our accelerated courses.

So yeah, it's not cheap, but it will make you a better, safer pilot.

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  • $\begingroup$ I’d be careful of ‘boot camps’ like these which make these kinds of promises; they often don’t work out that way and can lead to a lot of checkride failures. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Dec 24 '19 at 17:27
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And here's a good article from an AOPA writer from his experience actually doing a 10 day class.

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/1999/january/pilot/the-10-day-challenge

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I've heard from many pilots that the Instrument Rating was by far the most difficult to get.

On the other hand, I can't recall hearing a single instance of someone starting their instrument training and not finishing it (other than due to lack of time or money) or not being able to pass the test, whereas folks not finishing a PPL is shockingly common.

I think the number of pilots who don't even try to get an instrument rating comes down to lack of interest. If you're a fair weather flyer doing the proverbial $100 hamburger run once a month, it probably seems like a lot of wasted time and money because you would "never" use it.

In contrast, those who intend any sort of career in aviation tend to start their instrument training as soon as they finish their PPL because there is a clear cost to not getting it, often drilled into them during said PPL training every time they had lesson canceled due to weather. (In just one month, I had 12 of 15 lessons canceled due to low overcast!)

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