FAA maintains standard instrument currency requirements

August 20, 2009

Instrument-rated pilots won’t need to perform more tasks to maintain their currency. In its final rule of an overhaul of FAR Part 61, 91, and 141, the FAA decided to maintain the existing instrument currency requirements. The FAA also extended the duration of student pilot certificates and changed the definition of cross-country.

In 2007, the agency had proposed to add requirements that would have dramatically increased the amount of time and, consequently, cost required to stay instrument current. It would have required pilots to perform precision and nonprecision approaches; fly a missed approach; hold at a “radio station,” intersection, or waypoint; and conduct a one-hour cross-country flight, in addition to the current requirements.

AOPA had filed comments opposing changes to the instrument currency requirements.

“The FAA made the right decision in upholding the current instrument currency standards,” said Robert Hackman, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. “The time and cost burden of the proposed changes would have outweighed any marginal safety benefit, which the FAA did not show would exist even with the additional requirements.”

Under the new rule, pilots may choose to complete the instrument currency requirements in an aircraft and/or through use of a flight simulator, fight training device, or aviation training device.

The FAA also changed the duration of student pilot certificates to match the duration of a third-class medical certificate. For student pilots under 40, their student certificate will now be valid for 60 calendar months, the same as their third-class medical. For those over 40, the student certificate will remain valid for 24 calendar months as it is now; this time frame already coincides with the 24-calendar-month limit of a third-class medical certificate for those over 40.

“While many student pilots do not realize there is a difference between their student pilot certificate and medical certificate because they are often issued on the same piece of paper, this will help prevent them from needing to get a new student certificate if they are in training for more than two years,” said Hackman.

Another change to the regulations that should be of interest to pilots is the change in the definition of “cross country” listed in the aeronautical experience regulations. The FAA changed the definition in these regulations from “at least 50 nautical miles” to “more than 50 nautical miles.” While this change may seem minor, one mile can make a big difference, according to Hackman.

“For many pilots, the cross country flight to an airport is not a choice between an airport that is 50 nm or 51 nm away,” Hackman said. “The choice is between an airport that is 50, 75, or 100 miles from the departure airport. These extra miles directly translate into additional costs for the pilot and provide no additional training benefit, as the skills required to fly 50 miles are the same needed to fly 75 miles.”

The changes to FAR Part 61, 91, and 141 go into effect in 60 days.