Is IFR training really necessary? Technically not—plenty of private pilots fly quite happily without it— but working on an instrument rating is always a good idea, whether or not you plan on flying for pay on the side or as a lifelong career. IFR flight training requires a great deal of hard work and a commitment to staying current once earned. However, the investment involved is quickly repaid via work in the aviation industry, as well as in greater freedom when flying as a hobby or for leisure. Pilots who wish to advance in their skills or expand their options on the job market should consider IFR flight training. IFR is an advanced rating but is one which many private pilots hold, even if they have not logged a great amount of time as pilot in command.
IFR Flight Training and New Pilots
IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules. These direct when and in what conditions pilots may fly. When pilots first prove their ability to fly on their own and are no longer student pilots, they are still restricted to flying under what is known as VFR. VFR stands for “visual flight rules.” In general, the pilot must be able to see the ground unaided, as well as have the ability to see obstacles and the other aircraft in the sky.
While these rules are in place for the safety of all airmen as well as the general public, they can be restrictive and frustrating for pilots who want to fly long distances or in borderline weather. A few clouds can turn a lovely day in the sky into a sudden requirement to land, where the pilot might be stranded until conditions clear.
Gaining the ability to properly fly only by instruments requires a commitment to learning as much about weather as about precision flying. Pilots are also asked to sharpen decision making skills and re-commit themselves to safety. Once the intensive study process begins, pilots are expected to manage a steady flow of information and develop the ability to constantly update information, as well as adjust to rapidly changing weather conditions.
Safety and Job Prospects
Pilots who are careful and safety conscious aviators don’t need an IFR rating to prove that they are able to make good decisions either in the air or on the ground. However, some pilots prefer to earn their instrument rating in order to extend the hours and conditions in which they may fly. In addition, some private pilots take on IFR training to sharpen their pilot skills and fly more confidently.
Not only is this more convenient for them and their passengers, much of IFR training is focused on thinking systematically, making sound decisions based on available data, and providing attention to detail. These are all skills that easily carry over into other aspects of life and work. In addition to having an IFR, professional pilots, and those who fly frequently as hobbyists must remain current; the IFR is not a “one and done” prospect.
Needless to say, IFR training is practically required for pilots who wish to receive payment for flying or who are aiming for a full-time career in aviation. Many job applications cite having the IFR as a pre-requisite for consideration for employment. Even many “low time” jobs seek pilots who are instrument rated, since employers prefer to associate themselves with candidates who can offer greater flexibility and increased training which the IFR brings.
IFR Training Concurrent With Earning the Private Certificate
Learning how to fly as a private pilot is exciting and inspiring. The FAA’s Code of Federal Regulations allows for a pilot who is in training for his or her private certificate to concurrently work on his or her IFR. However, pilots who do so must have logged at least 50 hours of cross country flight time as the pilot in command (PIC), as well as 40 hours of instrument training time, only a certain percentage of which can be received in a simulator. Is attempting both at once a good idea?
Some pilots add in instrument training when they are first learning to fly because they are on a compressed schedule, or because they have a “get it all done at once” sense of motivation. However, not all certified flight instructors (CFI)s are authorized to instruct student instrument pilots. The IFR hopeful must seek out an instructor who holds what’s known as a “double I”, or a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument Rating (CFII.) As long as the student pilot’s instructor is authorized to provide such training and the course of study is sanctioned by the FAA, there are no rules standing in his or her way from tackling them simultaneously.
However, student pilots should honestly assess their flying availability, study habits, and learning style before training for the IFR concurrently with the private. New pilots must first learn to aviate using visual cues and techniques. They are also required to watch for other aircraft, talk to air traffic control and other pilots in a professional manner on the radio, and navigate properly. It’s a lot to keep track of. These skills require time to develop, and some pilots prefer to sharpen their general aviation skills before moving on to IFR training.
IFR Training After Earning the Private Certificate
Some seasoned pilots and flight instructors encourage pupils to study for the private and IFR concurrently, but others counsel patience and a separated approach to the certificate and rating. You can always find private pilots who prefer to take a break after earning their certificate, pausing their studies for a few weeks or even years to simply enjoy the ability to aviate on their own.
Of course, certain seasons of life are better disposed to such an intense course of study than others. Sometimes family obligations, outside work, or other education goals can force a break between the accomplishment of earning a private certificate and the challenge of gaining the skills required for becoming an instrument rated pilot.
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Mr. Matthew A. Johnston has over 23 years of experience serving various roles in education and is currently serving as the President of California Aeronautical University. He maintains memberships and is a supporting participant with several aviation promoting and advocacy associations including University Aviation Association (UAA), Regional Airline Association (RAA), AOPA, NBAA, and EAA with the Young Eagles program. He is proud of his collaboration with airlines, aviation businesses and individual aviation professionals who are working with him to develop California Aeronautical University as a leader in educating aviation professionals.