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7 Mistakes That Will Result In A Pilot Deviation Under IFR

Flying IFR and want to avoid a pilot deviation? Don't make these 7 mistakes...

1) Failure To Reset Altimeter Settings

Forgetting to update your altimeter setting could leave you flying hundreds of feet above or below your assigned altitude, especially if you forget to reset while transitioning from the Flight Levels (29.92).

Live from the Flight Deck

2) Descending Too Early On A STAR

Arrivals provide a scripted way to descend, and there are two ways to get down. Either ATC can manage your descent, or they can clear you to "descend via" the arrival which allows you to descend to each minimum altitude on the procedure. This also requires you to meet every altitude crossing restriction.

3) Descending Too Early On An Instrument Approach

Even if you've been cleared for the approach, you must be established on a published portion of the approach before descending further. Be careful to meet each step-down altitude and never descend below MDA until these three things happen.

4) Failure To Meet Climb Restrictions

Some SIDs require you to meet "at-or-above" crossing restrictions. Make sure you can meet these requirements before you depart.

5) Programming The Incorrect STAR Transition

Runway transitions usually direct aircraft to either side of an airport for separate downwind legs to parallel runways. Each runway transition will have its own set of fixes, and sometimes minimum altitudes. Let's take the TEJAS 4 Arrival for example. As you can see, there are separate downwind legs for various runways. This is shown both on the graphical depiction and in a textual description.

Flying an incorrect STAR transition is one of the most commonly reported deviations made by pilots. It almost always happens after a last-minute runway change as the crew is busy managing descent/arrival planning.

6) Failure To Level-Off

Avoid distractions as you approach your assigned altitude. If you deviate and separation is lost between IFR aircraft, you can expect a "possible pilot deviation" call over the radio.


7) Exceeding A Speed Limitation

While standard speed limitations apply for various types of airspace, ATC can limit you to certain airspeeds. If you deviate drastically, you may receive a pilot deviation.

What are other common reasons for deviation under IFR? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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