IFR Fix: Full steam ahead?

July 23, 2013

A private pilot is ready to begin instrument training, and is polling other pilots on whether to fly a glass-cockpit aircraft or a sister ship equipped with traditional “steam gauges.”

What’s your call? Let’s rule out flying both as a practical training strategy.

Before you render your advice, consider that in 2013, it is already risky to assume that a pilot earned a private pilot certificate in a round-gauge aircraft and will be encountering glass for the first time in IFR training. Some instrument students are taking the retro route, steaming into a satellite-based future after graduating from glass in primary training. These are interesting times.

With so much change afoot, you don’t have to travel far across the pilot’s lounge to encounter diverse, strong opinions about what it all means, as perusing comments submitted to the FAA on training standards for private and instrument pilots revealed.

“I think that it is about time that the requirements are getting more relevant to the majority of operations being conducted, especially when it comes to glass cockpits and GPS usage. It seems like almost everyone is using a GPS of some sort now,” was one comment, addressing the instrument rating.

Or not.

“The most dangerous threat to safety has been the introduction of the glass cockpit to general aviation,” asserted a submission addressing primary training.

It might be helpful to inquire about the prospective instrument pilot’s master plan. Unlike many of the basic questions asked by informed consumers about how to train, this one will run out of steam by a date certain. That’s based on the FAA’s declared intent to bring the GPS-based NextGen system entirely on line by 2020, trimming back substantially on VORs and other ground-based navigation along the way. (Keep tabs on movement toward that goal here.)

So is the pilot’s goal to train for a far-flung future flying high-tech aircraft around the National Airspace System? Or is the plan to stuff a folding bicycle in the back and shoot the VOR-A approach into Wyoming’s Yellowstone Regional Airport before summer’s end?

Neither training choice meets all needs, but really, the pilot can’t lose. An instrument rating is a training-intensive privilege to exercise. Whether you train on glass now, and build proficiency later in a steam-gauge aircraft, or vice versa, keep that bicycle ready. Yellowstone Regional has GPS approaches, too.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.