IFR fix: Practice instrument approaches

October 7, 2011

IFR fixIt’s a fact of life: Many new instrument pilots soon come to realize that keeping up with recent instrument experience requirements is a challenging commitment.

Practice instrument approaches are a way to give your recreational flying added value by counting the instrument procedures flown toward recency requirements, and by giving you a chance to fly approaches other than the same old home-airport ILS.

So invite a qualified safety pilot along, and spend some time controlling your aircraft under simulated instrument conditions. Then fly an approach or two.

Air traffic control understands the importance of these and is eager to accommodate, as this Ask ATC video makes clear. To facilitate the process, both in the cockpit and in the radar room, the Aeronautical Information Manual offers extensive advice about how best to request and perform practice instrument approaches (See Chapter 4, Section 3, Item 21).

Study the section. Some pilots are surprised to learn that practicing approaches does not require an IFR clearance.

“Practice instrument approaches are considered to be instrument approaches made by either a VFR aircraft not on an IFR flight plan or an aircraft on an IFR flight plan,” the AIM passage explains. It also sets out conditions for the service, such as traffic and workload conditions.

“It must be clearly understood, however, that even though the controller may be providing separation, pilots on VFR flight plans are required to comply with basic VFR weather minimums,” it adds. Remember that pilots flying practice approaches under VFR must continue to practice see-and-avoid collision-avoidance methods.

Listen carefully for ATC’s instructions on completion of your approach; one nuance of practice approaches is that “VFR aircraft practicing instrument approaches are not automatically authorized to execute the missed approach procedure. This authorization must be specifically requested by the pilot and approved by the controller.”

A key tip from the Ask ATC video is to let ATC know as soon as possible that you plan to practice approaches. State your intentions via your flight plan, or by making a request promptly after takeoff.

Practicing approaches on any flight is a great idea but is not the whole story of maintaining proficiency. Check out the Air Safety Institute’s interactive IFR Insights series of courses for other ways to be at the top of your game.