FAA Changes Regulations for Renewing Instrument Currency!?!

Did that headline catch your eye? A remarkably similar statement certainly caught my ear while milling about our flight school’s office! I couldn’t fathom having missed such a sweeping change to the FARs, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened.

What are the instrument currency requirements?

As any instrument pilot worth their weight in out-dated approach charts can tell you, the FARs specify what tasks are required to remain “instrument current”. If that instrument pilot happens to be plagued with a particular fetish for the rules and regs, they can probably tell you that the list of tasks appears under the “Recent flight experience” section of the FARs, specifically paragraph (c) of 14 CFR 61.57, which requires (loosely paraphrased) that an instrument pilot must perform and log:

  • Six (6) instrument approaches - and
  • Holding procedures - and
  • Intercepting and tracking of navigation signals

within the preceding six (6) months of any given day during which they wish to act as PIC (Pilot In Command) while operating under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) or in less than VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions. Seriously, that’s the essence of what you’ll find in 14 CFR 61.57(c).

And if you don’t???

These knowledgeable pilots can go on to explain that if they don’t manage to accomplish those approaches in the required six months (and let’s face it in the Northeast during winter, it can be mighty tough) they have an additional six (6) months to regain currency, but they cannot act as PIC under IFR until they have done so.

If they don’t find a way to regain their instrument currency during the second 6 months, they must satisfactorily complete an IPC (Instrument Proficiency Check) with an “instrument instructor” (i.e. a CFII) or other authorized check airmen.

So what’s all the hoopla?

Prior to December 16, 2011, the FARs read:

“[A] person who does not meet the instrument experience requirements of paragraph (c) of this section within the 12 calendar months preceding the month of the flight may not serve as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR until having passed and instrument proficiency check…” 14 CFR 61.57(d)

And in the time period now forever known by pilots as: “After 12/16/2011”?

Now the FARs state:

“[A] person who has failed to meet the instrument experience requirements of paragraph (c) for more than six calendar months may reestablish instrument currency only by completing an instrument proficiency check…” 14 CFR 61.57(d)

The discussion that caught my ear around the office was that some of the pilots had wondered whether or not the wording “for more than six calendar months” represents a change which allows for no grace period to regain currency without an IPC.

Can you believe it?

Rather astonishingly, the answer is “No!” there has been no change! As any instrument pilot plagued with a particular fetish for the rules and regs worth their weight in bureaucratic red tape can explain, the first thing to do when wondering about the inspiration for a rule or reg found in the FARs is to consult the Federal Register entry explaining the rule change. For this amendment, it happens to be 76 FR 78141.

So why did the FAA feel the waters weren’t muddy enough already?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the FAA has done this to (choke) help… Yes, they actually wrote in the Federal Register:

“The revised language makes it clear that a pilot who has failed to maintain instrument currency for more than six calendar months may not serve as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR until completing an instrument proficiency check. A pilot whose currency has been lapsed for less than six months may continue to reestablish instrument currency by performing the tasks and maneuvers required in paragraph (c).” 76 FR 78142 emphasis added


Please note, by the FAA’s own pronouncement, the revised language is “clear”! And I strongly recommend you maintain that “party line”.

Regardless, in the end, the good news is that all of us instrument rated pilots, even those without particular fetishes for rules, regs, etc., may continue to maintain and to regain instrument currency as we always have! The phrase “for more than six calendar months” refers to the period of time after the pilot’s currency has lapsed, not the period of time for which the pilot is current.

Note: This is the opinion of Terry Keller Jr., an albeit good-natured, but non-attorney flight instructor.

Additional note: The FAA Chief Counsel has now issued an opinion which will validates the information presented here.

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Article by: Terry Keller Jr.