IPC Dilemma: Is the system broken?

There is a new FAA NPRM out with reduced currency and training requirements; “Save money, Easier!” Is this the correct course or is safety being compromised? Here is a reprint from the SAFE Magazine a few years ago by accident investigator Jeff Edwards

As an aircraft accident investigator, I have seen pilots come to grief due to fundamental IFR flying mistakes that occurred within a short time of passing an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC). The IPC is supposed to be a comprehensive review of all of the Practical Test Standard (PTS) tasks. So how could these pilots perform so inadequately so soon after the accident pilot demonstrated PTS proficiency to an instructor?
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The answer is, maybe they didn’t, really. In some cases, reviewing logbooks as part of the investigation showed that the IPC omitted required material from the PTS checklist. In other accident investigations, 21st century technology tells the tale. Crosschecking the accident pilot’s logbook with a recovered GPS navigator datacard or with ATC records (via FlightAware) reveals that instrument approaches logged during the IPC (or as part of the pilot’s currency requirements) were not actually performed. Where does that leave the CFI who gave the endorsement that fell short of the PTS standards? And for pilots who falsify logbook entries, how does it them?

As a CFII, I have seen my share of flight review and IPC candidates. When a pilot calls to schedule an appointment, I ask about flying history, including instrument currency and proficiency. Occasionally, pilots will tell me they are proficient but not current. On further questioning, they admit to not having flown any instrument time in well over a year. Yet they still believe they are proficient. There certainly is  a mismatch between their skill level and their belief system. This is dangerous.

When put to the task under the hood it is obvious that their instrument skills are very rusty from disuse and would be dangerous in actual IMC. Some are put off when I decline to endorse them for an IPC. I explain that they must meet all of the PTS requirements set for their level of certificate.

When pilots call me about regaining instrument currency after a lapse in IFR flying, I explain that they will not likely pass an IPC on their first go. I go over the differences between currency and proficiency. Since I have adopted that proactive policy I have not had an unhappy client after the flight, whether or not they earned an IPC endorsement.

Instrument proficiency is a perishable skill that needs constant practice and refresher. If you do not practice instrument flying skills regularly you may end up in a situation where you cannot hand fly the aircraft while in instrument conditions. This could be deadly. According to AOPA survey data, the average pilot is flying 60 hours a year. This amount of flying is likely not enough to maintain your instrument skills, particularly if you are using the autopilot for a majority of that flight time. Currency and proficiency are critical to maintaining a pilot’s skills – especially instrument flying skills. Instructors who grant IPCs for pilots who are not proficient to the level of test standards are placing their client – and their own careers – at risk. For example, I am the President of the Lancair Owners and Builders Association (LOBO). I recently had a conversation with Nationair, an aviation insurance broker and our insurance partner, and we realized that some of our members may not be getting all of the training and documentation required by the carrier. There are only a handful of insurance underwriters that insure the Lancair IVP and Evolution, and 2008 was a bad year for accidents in Lancairs. Some insurance companies were not renewing policies, so the following year we drafted the LOBO training program and convinced the industry to underwrite Lancair owners who participated in this training.

Believe me, this was not an easy task. Unfortunately it has come to our attention that a few individuals have told their insurance company they have completed the training when in fact they have not. If you take LOBO training and complete all of the training you will be issued a LOBO training certificate that you can forward to your insurance company as proof of training. Without that certificate, your insurance coverage may be compromised.

With advances in computerized avionics and the easy availability of historic air traffic control records, pilots and instructors are well advised to maintain scrupulous standards when it comes to currency and IPC performance.

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Author: David St. George

Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE)

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