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Training and Safety Tip: When instrument time is 'actual'

During a recent ground lesson, someone asked, “Should I only log the flight as actual instrument time when I am flying on instruments in clouds?”

Photo by Mike Fizer.

That certainly counts, but there are other instances when logging actual instrument flight time is appropriate.

For a VFR flight, you are required to maintain VFR visibility and cloud clearances per the airspace requirements. If you can’t maintain VFR, you must operate with an IFR clearance (or at least a special VFR clearance, potentially). Consider logging actual instrument flight time whenever you operate on an IFR clearance and cannot maintain prescribed VFR weather minimums.

For example, to fly VFR in Class E, D, or C airspace below 10,000 feet msl, you must maintain at least three miles visibility and remain at least 2,000 feet laterally from clouds, 1,000 feet above clouds, and 500 feet below clouds. So, if you’re operating on an IFR clearance in and out of clouds traveling laterally, you can log actual instrument time since you can’t maintain VFR visibility and cloud clearances.

It gets more confusing when you break out of “the clouds” on an instrument approach. Being clear of the clouds doesn’t mean you can’t log actual IFR conditions.

For instance, when you break out on the approach with two miles visibility in Class E, D, or C airspace, you must continue operating on your IFR clearance, and thus you can log actual instrument flight time. The same is true if you find yourself 200 feet below the clouds with 10 miles forward visibility while flying the approach.

Think of it this way: If you cannot legally operate VFR, you default to flying in actual IFR conditions.

Remember that when you break out on an instrument approach and aren’t fully in VFR conditions, you shouldn’t cancel your IFR clearance until you can maintain VFR cloud and visibility clearances. Alternatively, you might ask for a contact approach, which only requires you to remain clear of clouds, have one statute mile of flight visibility, and reasonably expect to continue to the airport in those conditions. Don’t forget, though, to close your IFR flight plan after landing.

Jason Blair

Jason Blair is an active single- and multiengine instructor and an FAA designated pilot examiner with more than 6,000 hours total time, 3,000 hours of instruction given, and 3,000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. As examiner, he has issued more than 2,000 pilot certificates. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes more than 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.
Topics: Flight School, Training and Safety, IFR

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