Instrument Rating Requirements

Pilots · 6 min read · Oct 17, 2021
instrument rating

What is an instrument rating?

An instrument rating is a pilot rating solely focused on flying an aircraft using a flight deck instrument instead of flying visually. Instrument rating certification is earned after extensive training on instruments and examinations. An instrument-rated pilot can fly an aircraft with reference to instruments without the need to look outside the window.

If a pilot has successfully earned a private pilot certificate, the next step towards a bright career is getting an instrument airplane rating. Instrument ratings allow pilots to fly cross country above the clouds in turbine airplane zone.

Is it important to get an instrument rating after a private pilot certificate?

It is one of the essential steps in commercial flying. Flying on a commercial flight requires a lot of expertise and qualifications. The instrument rating is one vital part of this journey. Obtaining an instrument rating will allow the pilot to operate in worse visibility such as clouds, fog, dark and stormy nights, and other weather conditions.

Flying an aircraft visually is not safe at all. Therefore visual flying is allowed only up to a specific altitude limit to go beyond clouds and fly in the international commercial flying altitude. IR is required for every pilot. Instruments on the flight deck are regarded better than visual judgments as readings on instruments make controls more precise and easy to understand. A pilot with an instrument rating can understand weather conditions, wind speeds, and runway conditions much more accurately than a pilot flying with visual flight rules (VFR).

It is necessary for all instructor pilots worldwide to get an instrument rating. All commercial airline pilots are required to obtain instrument ratings for operating turbine engine aircraft. A pilot can obtain a commercial certificate without qualifying for instrument flight rules IFR, but there are certain limitations for flying a commercial flight without an instrument rating.

Two pilots sitting in a cockpit of a plane, which is flying over a bay in a mountain region.
Image source: https://feelthere.com/tag/feelthere/

Getting an instrument rating is relatively more beneficial as a pilot is regarded safer and more experienced, for the aircraft owners insurance rates drop significantly for instrument-rated pilots. After earning an instrument rating, a pilot can understand aircraft instruments such as altimeter, airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, and rate of turn indicator. Also, a pilot can respond to IFR clearance and related communication with ATC.

An IR pilot can read and understand IFR charts, identify minimum en route altitude MEA, minimum reception altitude MRA, missing crossing altitude MCA, and minimum obstruction clearance altitude MOCA. Besides that, a qualified pilot can identify disorientation and landing illusions, follow standard operating procedures for lost communication, and fly DME arc or holding patterns at large airports.

What are instrument flight rules (IFR)?

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) is a set of rules that allows the pilot to operate an adequately equipped aircraft under Instrument Meteorological Conditions IMC. A pilot with an instrument rating is allowed to fly under IFR and is privileged to evaluate weather conditions, move through different airspaces and, fly under different weather and visual conditions.

Instrument flight rules are mandatory for long commercial flights. Although it is more complex than visual flight rules flying under IFR is comparatively safer and less time-consuming. On cross-country flight procedures, instruments aid pilots in making decisions, thus reducing overall fatigue and improving decision-making.

What are instrument rating requirements?

An eligible person for obtaining an instrument rating must be able to read, write and speak the English language and hold at least a private pilot license. Applying for an instrument rating along with PPC is also acceptable. Moreover, a person must receive ground training from an approved instructor, prepare for the aeronautical knowledge test, obtain a letter of recommendation from an authorized instructor to appear in the instrument rating knowledge test and log the required flight training according to the civil aviation authority regulations.

Aeronautical experience

Qualifying for instrument rating requires a wide range of knowledge other than just basic flying knowledge. It covers flight dynamics in detail to gain a better understanding. Instrument rating training covers the following areas.

  • Flight planning under instrument flight rules
  • Departure, en-route, and Arrival operations in accordance with IFR
  • Aircraft systems in the scope of IFR
  • Instrument panel flight deck check
  • Understanding and responding to air traffic control clearances and procedures
  • Instrument approach procedures including non-precision, precision, missed circling, and landing procedures
  • Emergency operations in the scope of IFR
  • Weather information and decision-making according to weather conditions
A cockpit and instrument panel of Beechcraft 1900 aircraft.
Image source: http://www.dcscience.net/montreal-08/slides/air-canada7-7430-110508.html

What is instrument rating training?

An instrument rating is a sophisticated certification and consists of several steps. One of the basic steps is specialized ground and flight training. Ground schools are designated for obtaining such qualifications.

Ground school and cross country flight

Getting theoretical knowledge is as important as getting hands-on experience. There are ground schools for obtaining such knowledge. Depending upon the pilot requirement, there are two different types of schools designated as Part 61 school and Part 141 school. Both types provide similar knowledge with some variation in delivering methods.

Part 61 school provides necessary ground training through certified instructors or learning online.

Part 141 school provides necessary ground training and a minimum of 30 hours of initial instrument rating or 20 hours of additional rating. Another option is a combination of private pilot certification and instrument rating course, which covers 65 hours of ground training. Before selecting a school, make sure the school is equipped with a flight training device or aviation training device.

Flight School Part 61

Flight school Part 61 requires a minimum of 50 hours of cross-country flight as a pilot in command and 10 hours in the airplane category, obtaining an instrument rating. Moreover, 40 hours should be logged with actual or simulated instrument time. It includes 15 hours of flying with a certified flight instructor, 3 hours of instrument flight training and two months of practical examination, and instrument flight training in a cross country flight time.

Cross country flight must be operated with IFR with a minimum distance of 250 nautical miles along airways, an instrument approach at each airport and, performing three different techniques using navigation systems.

Flight School Part 141

For a Part 141 school, flight training must be at least 35 hours for the initial instrument rating and 15 hours for additional training. In a Part 141 school, full flight simulators hours cannot be more than 50% of total flying hours. 40% of flying hours should be in a flight training device, in an advanced flight training device, or a combination of both. 25% of hours should be obtained using a virtual aviation training device. Part 161 school also requires at least one cross country flight time under IFR and must contain a straight line distance of 100 nautical miles.

If a combination of private pilot certification and instrument rating course is required, a total of 70 flight hours must be logged.

A backview of two pilots sitting inside the cockpit of an airplane, working on the instrument panel.
Image source: https://e.vnexpress.net/news/business/companies/allow-us-to-set-pilots-wages-vietnam-airlines-3919732.html

Instrument rating examination

Like other essential examinations, instrument ratings also require aeronautical examinations and practical tests to obtain IR certification. Aeronautical knowledge examination is a written examination process. Questions are asked with multiple choices answers and consist of 60 multiple-choice questions.

The time limitation is 150 minutes, and the passing score is 70%. Upon passing, results are valid for two years. Some candidates prefer to sit theoretical examinations before completing flight training, while others opt to attempt tests after flight training.

Practical test

The practical test is also known as checkride. This step comes after passing the theoretical knowledge test. The practical test is conducted by an FAA inspector or Designated Pilot Examiner DPE. This test consists of oral test and in-flight tests, test candidates receive a temporary pilot certificate, and a permanent license is issued for commercial operations upon reviewing from FAA.

Instrument rating privileges

An instrument rating is a significant addition to a pilot’s resume and cover letter. Upon obtaining an instrument rating, the pilot is now allowed to fly under IFR. An instrument flying pilot is privileged to fly in Class A airspace, operate under special VFR at night, and conduct a commercial flight carrying 50 nautical miles.

A pilot must perform six instrument approaches, holding procedures, and tracking courses using electronic navigational systems within the last six months to maintain instrument currency. These procedures can be attempted on an aircraft or in authorized flight training devices.

Cost of obtaining instrument rating

The cost of instrument rating depends on various factors, including fuel cost, location of the school, and a few other things. Generally, the price of a complete course includes ground school fees, aircraft rent, fuel cost, authorized instructor fees, books, written exams and, instrument rating checkride fees. The cost of airplane rental is deducted if the candidates own an airplane.

The total cost can vary between $6000 to $10,000.

An aircraft captain in a cockpit navigating a plane, sitting at the instrument panel.
Image source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-truths/most-interesting-buttons-plane-cockpit/

FAQs

What are the requirements to get an instrument rating?

These are the requirements for getting an instrument rating.

Must be able to speak, understand and write the English language according to standards of ICAO English levels.
Possess a current private pilot certificate or are in the process of obtaining it.
Get training from an authorized instructor to prepare for the Aeronautical Knowledge Test or study at home.
Get a recommendation letter from the instructor to appear in the instrument rating theoretical test and log ground training.
Maintain log for a required flight simulator or flight instrument training.

How hard is it to get an instrument rating?

Getting an instrument rating is not hard if costs are affordable. There are industry professionals in training schools who prepare candidates for knowledge tests and required practical tests. Upon successful completion of all requirements, permanent instrument rating certification is issued by FAA.

How long does it take to get an instrument rating?

The whole process can take 30 to 90 days, depending upon the efforts of the candidate. If a candidate flies daily and passes the knowledge test quickly, it will take 30 days to receive certification. However, most candidates take 2 to 3 flights per day. This schedule can take up to 90 days.

Is there a Checkride for an instrument rating?

Yes, Checkride is part of the Instrument Rating Examination. In check ride, an FAA inspector or DPE tests pilot skills both orally and practically.

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Eglė Bartaševičiūtė
A passionate traveler and an avid aviation enthusiast bringing you the most well-founded, accurate and up-to-date industry content.

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