Whenever I talk to a person working on their instrument rating I tell them that learning to fly IFR will change the way they fly more than any other training or rating in their flying career. And now a rule change from the FAA makes it possible to earn the IFR rating and private certificate concurrently.
When I learned to fly many years ago the IFR rating was a distant goal, something only a minority of pilots ever achieved. The normal progression was to get a private, then commercial, build some time, and then go for an IFR.
Eventually the FAA reduced the total time requirement for the IFR rating by half and made the commercial certificate almost worthless without already having the IFR rating. The change worked and for a number of years more than half of all pilots have been instrument rated.
But the training process still didn’t make total sense for people starting out who want to become professional pilots. The rules still required new pilots to earn the private with all of its visually based maneuvers and then, after logging at least 50 hours of cross-country time as pilot in command, they could go for the IFR rating.
The reality is that flying for an airline, or charter outfit, or for a business, is an IFR activity. It’s impossible to maintain a reasonable travel schedule flying only VFR, and any higher performing airplane needs to be on an IFR clearance to climb above 18,000 feet. When airplanes are used for purposeful travel, it’s an IFR activity.
Forcing pilots who only want to fly for transportation to delay IFR training is counterproductive, in my opinion, and with the rule changes the FAA agrees. The new rules are very specific on how a person trains concurrently for the private and instrument, and it can only realistically be done in an approved flight school with all of the structure that goes with that approval. But it is the right way to go for the flight training academies and universities that offer programs designed to train the next generation of professional pilots.
I know there are some, perhaps many, who will bemoan the loss of training emphasis on flying VFR only. And looking out the window on a nice day is a most pleasant way to fly. But the view out the window won’t keep you on course and altitude when flying in the flight levels, or even at a few thousand feet in a high-performance airplane. The ATC system depends on the flying precision that can only be done by reference to the instruments and electronic guidance.
There are also many who believe looking out the window is essential for traffic avoidance, which is true in the VFR world, but not in the structured flying of airline jets and other high-performance airplanes. The reality is that electronic onboard traffic detection systems “see” airplanes at distances that the human eye simply can’t manage. And the traffic systems required in airlines and business jets calculate a “resolution advisory” that commands the pilots to climb or descend to avoid a possible collision.
If you don’t believe the electronic collision avoidance systems work, check the accident record. Before collision avoidance systems were perfected and then made mandatory there was a tragic series of collisions involving airliners. Since the electronic systems went on watch there hasn’t been a midair involving an airline jet.
What the FAA finally did with the new rules on IFR training is recognize that aviation functions as two distinct activities and what works for personal flying in piston airplanes is not always best for airlines and business jets. The concurrent private and IFR training helps prepare a new pilot for the airline world while people who want to fly for their own reasons are not affected by the change. Logical rule changes from the FAA – I like it.