The FAA’s chief counsel has issued a legal interpretation on when an instrument pilot must pass an instrument proficiency check in order to meet the instrument experience required to act as pilot in command of an instrument flight. Because of some apparent confusion in the rule’s language, this issue has commanded attention a number of times in the past several years. The language was changed in 2007, again in 2009, and in 2011 when the FAA again acted to amend the rule. This most recent chief counsel’s interpretation, issued in February 2012, is worth noting.
As stated in this interpretation, “a pilot must perform the instrument recent flight experience required by FAR 91.57(c) within 12 calendar months of the last date that the pilot was able to act as PIC under IFR or weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR. If a pilot fails to meet the recent flight experience within this 12-calendar-month period, then the pilot must pass an IPC in order to act as PIC under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR.”
Let’s start with the parts of the rules that are most commonly understood by all instrument pilots—although we all can benefit from refreshing from time to time. Under the rules, a pilot (except an airline pilot under certain circumstances) may not command an aircraft operating under instrument flight rules, or in weather conditions less than VFR, unless within the preceding six calendar months the pilot has performed and logged at least six instrument approaches, holding procedures, and tasks, and intercepting and tracking courses through the use of electronic navigational systems. There is no requirement for a certain or specified amount of recent instrument time. The old requirement for at least six hours of instrument flight every six months was eliminated years ago. But there still is an implicit time requirement. The current version of the regulation—obviously, but not explicitly—requires the minimum time necessary to perform these specified procedures.
As for the number of procedures required, only the number of instrument approaches is specified—that is, six. There is no specific number of holding procedures required, although the plural implies more than one procedure. So, too, there is no specific number of intercepting and tracking procedures required, but the plural indicates that more than one is required.
These maneuvers may be performed in flight under actual or simulated conditions. If the maneuvers are performed in flight, they must be performed in the appropriate category of aircraft; they need not have been performed in a specific class of aircraft. For example, if the maneuvers were performed in a single-engine land airplane, the pilot also would meet the requirement for all other classes of airplane, whether multiengine or sea. The pilot would not meet the currency requirement for rotorcraft, which is a different category. These recent-experience requirements, including the instrument proficiency check, may be accomplished in an approved flight simulator or an approved flight training device, under certain conditions.
More important, these experience requirements have associated logbook entry requirements. Even if you actually have flown the required procedures, as frequently happens, but you didn’t log them, your failure to log them just invites FAA skepticism. It is after an incident or an accident that the FAA will ask to see your logbooks, and then it becomes problematic. Also, pilots sometimes miss the requirement that the logbook entry for the instrument approaches needs some specificity—a pilot must record the location and type of each instrument approach accomplished. If a safety pilot is required, the pilot must record the name of the safety pilot.
For many pilots, staying current with recent experience and training is a lot more practical. In the past I have suggested that a pilot should first look back, and review the preceding six calendar months from the date of a proposed flight, to see if he or she has performed and logged the instrument recent flight experience. If the pilot has not, the pilot will have an additional six calendar months to perform and log the required instrument recent flight experience. However, during this six-month period, the pilot may not act as PIC under IFR, or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, until the pilot performs and logs the required instrument recent flight experience of FAR 61.57(c). If the pilot loses currency for a year, it is then that the pilot must perform an instrument proficiency check to regain his or her instrument currency.