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When Do You Need An IPC? Find Out If You're Instrument Current

Maintaining instrument currency can get confusing, especially once you've passed your checkride and aren't searching through the FARs every day. Here's your guide to understanding instrument currency...

For the purpose of this article, we'll focus on maintaining instrument currency by flying airplanes. For information on how to use aviation training device or flight simulators for currency, reference 14 CFR 61.57(c)

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Instrument Currency Requirements

To act as the PIC under IFR or in weather conditions less than VFR, you must be instrument current. This applies to both solo flights or those with passengers. To maintain currency in airplanes, a pilot must have performed and logged the following tasks within the preceding 6 calendar months:

  • Six instrument approaches.
  • Holding procedures and tasks.
  • Intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems.
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As it's written in the regulation, these tasks must be written out in your logbook as a record. "Tracking and intercepting" seems like an odd requirement, right? By nature of an instrument approach, you'll perform this task. So why is the FAA being so specific? The reason for this requirement is due to a few uncommon instrument approaches that don't require tracking and intercepting a course. Precision Approach Radar (PAR) or Airport Surveillance Radar (ASR) approaches aren't charted and don't rely on cockpit navigation equipment. Air traffic control provides lateral and vertical navigation for pilots, as long as they carry with them the local "Radar Minimums" sheet.

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Today, it's October 19th, 2017. Your currency needs to happen within the preceding 6 calendar months, so you start counting back from September 2017, which takes you to the beginning of your currency period, April 2017. If between April 1st and October 19th you logged 6 instrument approaches, tracking and intercepting, and holding, you're instrument current.

You're Not Current... Now What?

If you haven't met currency requirements, you have another 6 calendar months to complete 6 approaches, tracking and intercepting, and holding before you'll have to complete an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC). We'll get to IPCs shortly. During this 6 month grace period, you cannot act as PIC under IFR or in conditions less than VFR. You do, however, have some easy options for regaining currency. Here are three of the best ways to do it:

IMPORTANT: Logged approaches are always cumulative. If flying 1 instrument approach creates a cumulative sum of 6 logged approaches in the past 6 calendar months, that's all you need to fly. You do not need to fly all 6 approaches during your grace period to regain currency if you've logged approaches in the past 6 months.

1) Fly With A Safety Pilot: To simulate instrument approach conditions, a pilot may wear a view-limiting device during VFR conditions. As the pilot seeking currency, you can now work towards logging the required amount of instrument approaches, tracking and intercepting, and holding. The safety pilot must possess a current medical certificate, occupy the other control seat, and be appropriately rated in the category and class aircraft flown [FAR 61.3(c), 61.51, 61.57(c), and 91.109].

While a safety pilot does not need to be instrument rated, it'd be beneficial to have one onboard. If you do this, you must write their name into your logbook entry referencing them as a safety pilot. Remember, this flight must be conducted under VFR conditions and cannot be on an IFR flight plan.

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2) Fly With A CFI/CFII: A CFI can fly with you in actual or simulated conditions in order for you to regain currency. To fly in the clouds, they must be instrument current, otherwise the flight must be conducted under VFR. The only time the instructor must be a CFII is when logging dual received flight time towards an instrument rating under 14 CFR 61.65(d)(2).

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3) Complete A Full IPC: Anytime you complete an Instrument Proficiency Check, you automatically become current for the next 6 calendar months. As you'll learn about below, the IPC requires fewer approaches than normal currency requirements, so it could be a great way to get things done quickly with an experienced instructor.

Your 6 Month Grace Period Is Over... Now What?

If your 6 calendar month grace period has expired and you're still not instrument current, you must complete an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC), which is very similar to an instrument checkride. You no longer have the option to go out and just fly with a safety pilot or CFI to log approaches, tracking and intercepting, and holding. The check may be conducted by an examiner, company check pilot, or CFII. You'll find these tasks on an IPC:

  • Nonprecision Approach
  • Precision Approach
  • Missed Approach
  • Circling Approach
  • Partial Panel Approach
  • Recovery From Unusual Attitudes
  • Intercepting and Tracking
  • Holding

The full list of requirements for conducting an IPC can be found in the current version of the FAA Instrument Rating ACS on page A-11 (2017).

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Currency Scenario 1

1) Joe wanted to file an IFR flight plan to Duluth for a fishing trip on September 1st. Was Joe current for the flight?

  • Yes! From March 1st through September 1st, Joe logged 6 instrument approaches with tracking/intercepting and holding.

2) If Joe did no approaches after his checkride in January (ignore those logged), when would his currency have expired?

  • July 31st. Starting August 1st, Joe would no longer be instrument current.

3) Based on the approaches logged, when will Joe's currency expire?

  • September 30th. Starting October 1st, Joe would not be current. Counting back 6 calendar months between April 1st and September 30th, only 4 approaches were logged and no holding was logged.

4) In order for Joe to regain currency for October, what must he log with a safety pilot onboard?

  • 2 instrument approaches with holding, or an IPC.

Currency Scenario 2

1) Based on the records above, is Joe current in September?

  • No! While he has logged 6 approaches, he needs to fly and log holding procedures to regain currency.

2) Looking at the timeline above, when will Joe's currency expire if he does no new approaches in the New Year?

  • December 31st. Starting January 1st, he would not be current. Joe will need to complete an IPC beginning on July 1st if he does not fly for 6 calendar months between January and June.

An Easy Way To Remember Currency Requirements

If you're having trouble remembering currency requirements, use the acronym "6-HITS."

  • 6: Approaches
  • H: Holding
  • I: Intercepting
  • T: Tracking

Easy enough, right? Remember these are baseline requirements to maintain instrument currency. To be a proficient and safe instrument pilot, you'll need to fly much more often.

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 swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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