Maintaining Instrument Competency and What the Feds Can Do If You Don’t

As you are very much aware, we have a license to fly.  Attached to that license we can have ratings.  The instrument “ticket,” as it is sometimes called, is a rating that allows you to operate under instrument conditions with your license.  What do we need to do to stay current?

According to Federal Aviation Regulation 61.57, actually known as a CFR (Code of Federal Regulation), prior to the end of every six calendar months we must complete six approaches, holding procedures and intercepting and tracking courses with the use of navigation systems.  By regulation this can all be done in the simulator.  If this is not done within the six calendar months, you are illegal to fly in instrument conditions, including entering instrument conditions from VFR conditions to shoot an approach or to navigate under instrument rules.  Your instrument rating is basically worthless without meeting the requirements of FAR 61.57.

Let’s say, for instance, you are out of time in regard to the six month competency check and you shoot an approach to minimums and have a problem that requires the interventions of the FAA inspectors or the NTSB.  What could happen next?  One possibility is that an investigation could  be started.  I have had clients who have been “investigated” and it is not a pretty sight.  You must remember in statutory situations, such as possibly breaking a regulation, you are guilty and must prove yourself innocent.  We call this the burden of proof and it shifts from the normal you are innocent and they prove you guilty to you have to prove them wrong.  Have you ever thought about having to prove to the government that they are wrong?

The other reason I am a strong believer in keeping the instrument rating legal is what I call the “pucker factor.”  Let me paint you a picture.

You are heading to your destination after three hours of flying.  The weather is going down, down and down.  You hand flew the airplane.  You have a non flying passenger.  They are not stupid and are seeing what is happening.  You pickup a pop up clearance to an airport that is non radar at the approach.  You start trying to find the plate.  It is getting dark.  You don’t have the NOTAMS.   Twenty miles out ATC tells you to expect to hold as the plane that went in ahead of you never canceled.  You go into the “Cautionary Response And Procedure” mode (write out the first letters of those four words).

Now let’s say this happens right after an aggressive instrument competency check required every six calendar months and in fact you did your work in the sim and got more than the required.  The approach above then becomes a non event.

Finally, I have seen pilots who do the six month currency check religiously every six months.  Even if they haven’t used the rating for two years, they are way ahead of the game and the “pucker factor” is almost non existent.

As I tell my clients when they start telling me their “tale of woe” just give me the bottom line.  The bottom line is stay current.

Rick McGuire is not only a CFII-MEI but he is also a practicing attorney who deals in aviation law. 

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