Answers for Pilots

IFR currency

June 1, 2002

Stay proficient and fly safe

A lot can happen in six months. Then again, sometimes nothing happens in six months. No flying, no time at the airport, no encounters with instrument conditions. What's important about these six months is your IFR currency. The regulations outline the legal requirements for IFR flight. Each pilot must determine what he or she needs to be safe to fly. This is the difference between currency and proficiency.

"Staying proficient helps you to fly safe," says Craig Brown, an AOPA aviation technical specialist. "If you are instrument-rated but you don't fly IFR, you don't have to stay current. You must be current if you exercise the privileges."

Currency requirements are covered in the federal aviation regulations in Section 61.57, Instrument Experience. The section states, "No person may act as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, unless within the preceding six calendar months that person has performed: (i) at least six instrument approaches; (ii) holding procedures; and (iii) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems."

An IFR pilot may meet those requirements by performing them with an instructor or a safety pilot. If more than six months have passed since the pilot was instrument current, he or she must perform an instrument proficiency check. This check must be given by an examiner, authorized instructor, or person approved by the FAA administrator — see Section 61.57(d).

"There's a difference between maintaining your currency (with the six-month time period) or regaining your currency (if more than six months have passed)," says Brown. "Staying IFR current and proficient means fewer canceled flights. In marginal weather, if you are IFR current and proficient you have more options than someone who is not."

Interestingly, since 1997 and the advent of flight-training devices such as simulators, a pilot may not even have to spend time in an airplane to remain current. You may fulfill the requirements by "flying" the six instrument approaches and holding procedures on an approved flight simulator or flight- training device as long as you are with an authorized instructor.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resources anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its members through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.


AOPA Web resources

These subject reports, written by AOPA's aviation technical staff, provide answers to frequently asked questions. The AOPA Aviation Services department answers more than 100,000 calls a year from members needing assistance with a variety of aviation-related issues.

Currency vs. Proficiency
An overview of the difference between a pilot who is current and a pilot who is proficient. Includes articles from AOPA Pilot magazine such as "Recurrency Training: Back in the Saddle Again," by Phil Scott, and "IFR Strategy," by Richard Collins. Includes additional information such as "Current vs. Proficient" from FAA Aviation News.

Flight-Training Devices
Discusses the four major types of flight-training devices: flight simulator games, IFR proficiency programs, PCATDs, and cockpit-size units such as Frasca flight-training devices. The IFR proficiency programs are useful for instrument-rated pilots to practice various procedures at home. PCATDs can be used to log time with an instructor, and as such are useful for learning and practicing IFR procedures. The cockpit-size units should only be used with an instructor to learn and practice correct IFR procedures in a cockpit and crew environment. Includes product reviews and related articles from AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines.

61.56 "The Flight Review"
A topic sheet that provides answers for pilots about the flight review.

The FAA regulations — including Section 61.57 — are available on AOPA Online (

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.