Instrument Ratings Explained

Instrument Ratings

There is a plethora of EASA and UK CAA instrument ratings (IR) available to amateur and professional pilots alike and the reference documents produced by the authorities are somewhat impenetrable.  In this blog we will explain their differences, how to train for them and the implications of the choices you face.

What is an Instrument Rating?

It may seem an obvious question, but worth clearing up.  An instrument rating is an addition to a licence which affords certain additional privileges to the licence holder.  All instrument ratings permit the holder to plan to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).  To different degrees they permit the holder to operate within controlled airspace.

To which licences may an IR be added?

An ATPL(A) or MPL holder must have a valid IR for the licence to be valid.  For other licences, the IR is optional; an IR may be applied to a PPL(A), PPL(H), CPL(A), CPL(H) or ATPL(H).  IRs may not be applied to other licences such as LAPL.  There are similar regulations applicable to Balloon and Airship licences, not covered here.

What types of IR are available?

Full IR

This is where things get a little complicated, at least for fixed-wing pilots.  At the top of the list there is an IR (sometimes unofficially called a ‘full-IR’ to differentiate it from the other types).  It may be valid for single engine or multi-engine aircraft or helicopters, so may be known as:

  • MEIR(A)
  • MEIR(H)
  • SEIR(A)
  • SEIR(H)

CB-IR

Next is a ‘Competency-Based IR’ (CB-IR).  The title is a little confusing, as the training for this rating has nothing to do with pilot competencies, which is a whole other subject.  Maybe ‘proficiency-based’ would have been a better title, but we are stuck with the confusion.  A CB-IR affords exactly the same privileges to the holder as a full-IR and the skills test is identical.  The differences are in the theory requirements and the flight training.  CB-IRs are not currently available to helicopter pilots, so strictly speaking a CB-IR should be expressed as CB-IR(A), although the (A) is usually omitted.

For some bizarre reason the theory requirements are less onerous than for the full IR.

The main difference is that an applicant may receive credits for previous instrument flight training and instrument flight experience to reduce the minimum training requirements for a CB-IR compared to a full IR.  However, the candidate must achieve the same level of proficiency before attempting the skills test.

En-Route Instrument Rating

Designed by EASA for amateur pilots to allow them to fly IFR between destinations, the En-Route Instrument Rating (EIR) shares theory training requirements and exams with the CB-IR.  The training and test requirements are less onerous and departures and approaches under IFR or in IMC are not tested or permitted.  The EIR is not available to helicopter pilots and therefore may be appended to a PPL(A) only and may be used on single-pilot aircraft only.  In late 2021 the EIR will be replaced by the Basic IR, as explained below.  There are transition arrangements for pilots who hold an EIR.

Instrument Rating (Restricted)

The Instrument Rating (Restricted) or IR(R) applies to fixed-wing pilots only and is a UK CAA rather than EASA rating.  It replaced the UK CAA IMC rating, which no longer exists.  Like the EASA EIR, it is designed for amateur pilots but unlike the EIR pilots are permitted to fly instrument departures and approaches, so it is a more useful rating.  However, it is applicable to only UK CAA licenses, aircraft and airspace.

Basic Instrument Rating

Although EASA ignored UK CAA advice that the EIR would be too restricted without the privilege to fly instrument departures and approaches, they seem latterly to have recognised that argument, and have therefore recently proposed the Basic Instrument Rating (BIR) which will replace the EIR in late 2021.  The flight training course is left entirely to the ATO with no minimum hours training specified, so this is a truly proficiency-based training rating; a guide to typical requirements might be the IR(R), as it is similar, which requires a minimum of 15 hr instruction including up to 5 hr in a FSTD.  The privileges granted are more restrictive than the full IR but nevertheless the rating will be much more useful than the EIR, and more accessible to GA pilots than a full IR.

The BIR will have its own exams and the syllabus is different from the IR or CB-IR.  There are to be three BIR exams but, unlike other ratings, each exam will cover a number of subjects.

The BIR is applicable to fixed wing aircraft only and may be appended to a PPL(A) or CPL(A), and there are single-engine and multi-engine versions.  The rating may not be used with some high performance aircraft.

Currently (April 2021) it is not clear whether the UK CAA will adopt the BIR, retain the IR(R) or replace the IR(R) with the BIR.

Which IR should I get?

Not a straightforward question to answer as there are many circumstances and choices, but we’ll do our best to deal with the obvious ones.  These are the questions you should ask yourself.

Are you a helicopter pilot?

If you are, your choices are more limited and simpler.  Do an IR(H).

Are you intending to use the rating as an amateur or professional pilot?

If you intend to end up with a multi-crew, multi-engine CPL(A) to enable you to work as a commercial pilot, then you need either a multi-engine CB-IR or full IR.  However, it may be that gaining a single engine BIR or IR(R) during your training and then doing a CB-IR course towards the end, counting your BIR or IR(R) training and experience to reduce the CB-IR course to the minimum, is a workable plan.

If you have no intention to work commercially or fly high performance aircraft, then an IR(R), EIR or BIR is worth considering.  The EIR is of limited practical use, so consider delaying until the BIR is introduced in September 2021.  The IR(R) may not be used in European airspace, so consider that only if you hold a UK CAA licence and are certain you will not travel to Europe.

Do you wish to use the rating on multi-engine aircraft?

If you do, then your choice is limited to BIR, CB-IR or IR.

Do you wish to use the rating on high performance aircraft?

If you do, then your choice is limited to CB-IR or IR.

How do I get the rating I have settled upon?

The training and testing for each rating is outlined here:

IR

You must pass 7 theory exams as shown below, having completed an approved training course.  If you have passed the equivalent ATPL theory subjects you are exempt from the IR theory requirements.  There is a single exam in each subject for fixed-wing and helicopter pilots, so the training course should cover both aircraft categories.

010 Air Law

022 Aircraft General Knowledge: Instrumentation**

033 Flight Planning and Monitoring

040 Human Performance*

050 Meteorology*

062 Radio Navigation

090 Communications*

* holders of a CPL applying for an IR in the same category or ATPL(H) applying for an IR(H) are exempt these subjects.

** holders of an ATPL(H) applying for an IR(H) are exempt this subject.

You must have completed at least 50 hours cross-country of which 10 must be in the aircraft category you are applying for unless you have completed a CPL(H) or ATPL(H) integrated course and are applying for an IR(H).  If you wish to exercise the privileges of the rating at night (you probably will), you must hold a night rating.  If you want a multi-engine IR, you must hold a multi-engine aircraft rating in the appropriate class.

You must complete an approved flight training course.  This consists of two modules which may be done separately or combined.

The Basic Instrument Flying Module comprises 10 hours of instrument time under instruction, of which up to 5 hours can be conducted in an approved Flight Simulator Training Device (FSTD).

The Procedural Instrument Flight Module comprises the remainder of the training syllabus for the IR(A): 40 hours single-engine or 45 hours multi-engine instrument time under instruction of which up to 30 hours (SE IR) or 35 hours (ME IR) can be conducted in an approved Flight Simulator Training Device (FSTD).

If you hold a CPL in the same aircraft category or an IR in another aircraft category, the hours above may be reduced by 10 but the effective minimum aircraft hours may not be reduced below 15, so in practice the saving will be in FSTD time.

SE IR – normally 50 hours training including up to 35 in an FSTD

ME IR – normally 55 hours training including up to 40 in an FSTD

If you’ve done your CPL already, knock 10 off the total hours as long as there are at least 15 in aircraft.

CB-IR

You’ll probably have made this choice if you are an amateur pilot who wants the full-IR privileges or you have some previous IF training and experience and want the potential to reduce the IR training requirements.  Your theory training choice will probably reflect which of these two reasons applies to you.

If you are certain you’ll never want to work commercially as a pilot, at least as a multi-crew pilot, then you may as well take advantage of the reduced theory training requirements enabled by the CB-IR.  You must undertake a straightforward examination in these 7 subjects having previously completed an approved course:

010 Air Law

022 Aircraft General Knowledge: Instrumentation

033 Flight Planning and Monitoring

040 Human Performance

050 Meteorology

062 Radio Navigation

090 Communications

If, however, you are applying for the rating as part of a vocational training course, you would be well advised to sit the same subjects at ATPL level as they will exempt you from doing the IR theory but will also count towards your CPL issue and eventual ATPL; why do three sets of exams when you can do one?

The flight training is similar to the full IR and the flight test is identical.  However, you may use previous IF flight training (e.g. during your PPL) and experience (e.g. if you hold an EIR, IR(R) or BIR already) to reduce the hours requirement.  This is not a true proficiency-based course because there are minimum training requirements which are:

SE CB-IR

40 hours total of which up to 30 hours may be conducted in an FSTD
These may be reduced to 10 hours in aircraft and 25 hours total based on previous instruction and experience

ME CB-IR

45 hours total of which up to 35 hours may be conducted in an FSTD
These may be reduced to 10 hours in aircraft and 25 hours total based on previous instruction and experience

In any case these are minimum hours and if your ATO deems you not ready for the skills test you will need to do more…which is also true for a full-IR.

EIR

Although the EIR is due to be phased out in September 2021 in favour of the BIR, at the time of writing it is still available.

The theory training and examinations are shared with the CB-IR above.

The flight training requirement is 15 hours instruction (16 for a ME EIR) on an approved course which may be reduced to a minimum of 10 hours based on previous IF flight instruction.

IR(R)

Before applying for an IR(R) you must have a PPL and have completed 25 hours flying post-PPL (which may include your IR(R) training) including at least 10 hr PIC time.

The theoretical knowledge requirements are less onerous than other IRs: you must do a  minimum of 20 hours of theoretical knowledge training covering the following subjects:

  • Physiological Factors
  • Flight Instruments
  • Aeronautical Information Service – NOTAMS, UK AIP, AICs
  • Flight Planning – Meteorology, Altimetry, Terrain clearance, Radio aids, Radar approach procedures
  • Privileges of the IR(R)

There is a single 25 question exam delivered by the flight school.

You must complete a minimum of 15 hrs flight training including up to 5 hrs in an FSTD before the flight test.

BIR

You are required to pass three examinations: BIR Module 1, BIR Module 2 and BIR Module 3.  Each exam covers several subjects.  All the subjects examined in other IRs are covered in the three exams.

Other than a PPL, there are no prerequisites.

There are no minimum hours for a BIR course.  The ATO must ensure that you have covered the syllabus and are proficient before a flight test.  They may use a combination of aircraft and FSTD training.

You would be wise, before signing up, to discuss with an ATO the typical duration of the training so you may budget.

Where to place an IR in a modular CPL(A) training plan

If you are starting out from scratch with the intention of training as a commercial fixed wing pilot, there are several ways to plan your training.  There are cost and value of training considerations.  On the one hand, it will stand you in good stead to do as much of your hours building in IFR and in IMC, as those are the conditions you’ll train for as a commercial pilot.  On the other hand, multiple training courses sound more expensive than VFR PIC flying.  Surprisingly, however, doing two instrument ratings may be cheaper than one and arguably the training value and experience are greatly enhanced.

This is a suggested route making best use of the new IR regulations available in Europe from September 2021 onwards, with typical course prices and flight training hours.  In the UK substitute the IR(R) for the BIR.

Step 1 – PPL

35 hr dual, 10 hr solo, 2 hr test.  Typically £9,000 including theory training and exams.

This is largely a VFR course and not concerned with instrument flying.

Step 2 – ATPL theory

Typically £2450 + £845 exam fees

Whether you choose to do this alongside your hours building and further flight training or not, you should commence it straight after you get your PPL, as it may take quite a while.  Also, make sure that you do the ‘IR subjects’ first; once those are under your belt you can use them to exempt you from IR theory requirements and nobody wants to do more exams than necessary.

Step 3 – Night rating

4 hr dual, 1 hr solo.  Typically £912

It does not need to be done immediately after your PPL, but you need a night rating at some stage and should do it when the daylight conditions allow; sometimes it is difficult to fit in during the northern hemisphere summer due to airport opening times.

Step 4 – Single-engine BIR (IR(R) in the UK)

Typically 10 hr dual, 5 hr FNPT, 2 hr test.  Typically £2,875

You may do a BIR immediately after your PPL, but you are likely to be held up by the theory requirements.  However, as soon as the ATPL passes in the IR subjects are in the bag, consider doing a BIR course, as you’ll then be able to exercise the privileges of the rating during the remainder of your hours building, which will provide good experience.  Alternatively, you could do the BIR exams to enable you to progress more quickly with your BIR – the theory requirements are not onerous.

If you are in the UK, however, you can start your IR(R) as soon as you have the experience requirements, as the theory training is included.

Step 5 – Hours Building

Say 15 hr dual and 82.5 hr PIC.  Typically £16,500

You’ll need 100 PIC by the time you apply for the CPL, so this is the time to use that BIR and increase your experience.  If you can afford it, make sure that you fly regularly with an FI to ensure that you are not inadvertently teaching yourself bad tricks.  You may wish to include your ‘advanced UPRT’ training in this phase.  You should complete this phase having achieved the minimum flight time and PIC time you’ll need to gain your CPL licence, taking into account the remaining training.

Step 6 – ME(P) Rating

6 hr dual ME, typically £3,300

You could combine this with your CB-IR or do it separately.

Step 7 – Multi-engine CB-IR

Minimum 10 hr dual, 15 hr FNPT, 2.5 hr test.  Minimum £11,580 plus £1,326 flight test

You may reduce the hours requirement for the CB-IR based on your BIR training and subsequent experience.  Bear in mind, however, this is proficiency based – if you are not up to scratch, you’ll need more hours.  This would apply, however, even if you were doing a full-IR instead.

Step 8 – CPL

Minimum 15 hr dual, 2.5 hr test.  Typical minimum £4,500 plus £1,255 flight test

Before presenting for the test you must have completed your ATPL theory exams and the minimum hours for licence issue, so it makes sense to tick off all these requirements (other than the hours you’ll fly on the course) before you start.  You may revert to a single engine aircraft to reduce costs or complete your training on multi-engine aircraft.

Totals

Dual instruction          105.0 hr
PIC flying                       93.5 hr
Flight tests                      9.0 hr
Total flight time        202.5 hr
FSTD                             20.0 hr

Typical costs             £45,543

Accommodation, travel, training equipment, landing and approach fees and license issue fees would be extras.  A more ‘traditional’ route, cutting out the BIR and doing a full IR would result in the same flight hours (but potentially much less IFR time), 20 hr more FSTD time but a cost of about £51,918.

BGS Instrument rating courses