AM I IFR? When You Can and Can’t Log IFR Time
In the movie Airplane!, a group of air traffic controllers has a serious issue. They can’t tell where a plane is, and they note that the plane should have appeared on the radar a while ago. When someone points out that they could be miles off course, the chief remarks that this situation is impossible as they are on instruments.
Cue the Dixieland Jazz.
We would never suggest that you break out your trumpet in the cockpit. What we do suggest is to keep reading, so you can understand IFR a little bit better.
What is IFR?
IFR stands for instrument flight rules. This is the set of rules that regulate aircraft that fly in IMC. Because there can never be too many acronyms, IMC stands for instrument meteorological conditions. Instrument flight rules are differentiated from visual flight rules.
In relatively clear weather conditions, the only thing that you need to fly your plane is your eyes and a clear head. When it is cloudy, foggy, or dusty, your outside references can be obscured. Cloud ceiling and flight visibility are important for your safety.
When You Can Log IFR Time
The FAA rulebooks state that “a person may log instrument time only for that flight time when the person operates the aircraft solely by reference to instruments under actual or simulated instrument flight conditions.”
This is open to interpretation. Let’s say you are flying over the ocean on a moonless night. The horizon is not discernible. Is that IFR time?
The FAA has answered: it depends. In Legal Interpretation #84-29, the FAA defined IMC as situations when “outside conditions make it necessary for the pilot to use the aircraft instruments in order to maintain adequate control over the aircraft”. The FAA noted that IFR time is “somewhat subjective”, and goes on to explain that it is a good idea to log your reason for determining that the flight was done on instruments.
Generally speaking, it may be a good idea to ask yourself two questions:
- Can I reference the horizon?
- Could I be in this situation without my instruments?
If the answer is no to both questions, it may be a good idea to log your time in the air as IFR time.
Many people think that any time spent on top of clouds is IFR. This is not always the case. You can gauge ground speed in relation to your movement across the cloud tops, altitude by your distance above the cloud tops, and heading by referencing the sun. This all means you may be able to fly VFR on top.
Just to reiterate, this is somewhat subjective. It may be valuable to cover your butt and list a very good reason why you are logging your hours the way you are doing it.
When You Can’t Log IFR Time
Remember that FAA rule about ‘solely by reference to instruments’? That is coming into play here. Unless you are flying only on instruments, it is not a good idea to log your hours as IFR.
If you are IFR rated, you have to log a specific amount of IFR time and do a certain amount of IFR approaches to maintain your certification.
We could go on and on about IFR, but we wanted to provide you with a basic and general overview. It may be a good idea to read the IFR currency requirements to understand this topic better.