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IFR Fix: Aircraft for rent, maybe

A flight school/aircraft rental business had a double scare recently when two of its aircraft didn’t show up at two different destinations on separate days. Everything turned out fine, but the chief flight instructor has called a meeting of staff and renters to discuss whether any rental-policy changes are needed.

The meeting opens with the two pilots offering a one-sentence summary of lessons learned from their flights, and then giving their narratives.

"I should not have canceled my IFR flight plan until I was on the ground," says the first pilot.

"I should have canceled my IFR clearance on final approach," says the second pilot.

The first pilot, describing the flight, observed that a clear error was missing a notam advising the only runway usable for IFR operations was closed. A second mistake was canceling the IFR flight plan when the airport came in sight—only to see a big X on the runway on short final. That led to missing the approach—briefly back into instrument conditions—without an IFR clearance. After a stressful interval coping with that problem (and later filing NASA Form 277 to explain it), the flight was cleared to an alternate, where it landed, unbeknownst to folks waiting at the original destination. 

The pilot involved in the second "overdue" flight landed at a lonely hour at an unattended airport and was dismayed to discover that the clearance delivery frequency available for use on the ground was not functioning. Neither was the pilot’s cell phone, and there was no public phone available. By the time the pilot could get to town and cancel by phone, folks tracking the flight were starting to wonder if something had gone wrong.

Following the two pilots' presentations, the group debated whether the flight school/aircraft business needed to tighten its policies, perhaps imposing its own rules on when renter pilots should or should not cancel IFR flight plans. Possibly a better idea would be to limit IFR trips in company aircraft to airports and alternates where ATC is on duty 24/7, lifting the burden of worrying about IFR flight plans.

But that approach might devastate the rental business’s revenue stream. It would be better, the chief instructor says, to offer rental customers a proficiency program of the flight department’s own design, going beyond what regulations require.

"What does the group think of that idea?" the chief instructor asks.

Share your thoughts on what an instrument proficiency program might look like, or what you like about your flight school or FBO's program.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, IFR, Technique

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