The IMC rating (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) is a UK only qualification available to private pilots. It’s much easier to get than the full IR (Instrument Rating), but confers the privileges of flying in cloud and instrument landings. Whether this should be used only as in exceptional situations purely for safety purposes or as a more regular part of general flying routine is highly debatable and a hot topic in the flying discussion forums.
Something like 10% of UK PPL’s have done the IMC rating compared with 1% for the full European IR. Some bypass the heavier European requirements by gaining an American equivalent IR, which entitles them to fly US registered aircraft (N-reg) anywhere in Europe with full IR privileges.
At this time, there is some uncertainty over the future of the IMC rating, which EASA might discontinue for new issue. Verbal guarantees have been given that IMC holders will be given grandfather rights – i.e. those who hold it in April 2012 will be allowed to retain it, and it is also likely to count towards the Competency Based IR when that get established.
This has encouraged many PPLs to consider taking the IMC course in the coming year – something I witness at my local club – because it may not be available in the future. Another factor for me is that being based at RAF Lyneham, I benefit from a combination of free instrument landings (other airfields can charge £30 or more per time), low cost aircraft hire and very experienced instructors. With Lyneham closing down later in the year, time is running out to take full advantage of this opportunity.
I was able to reserve a block of time available to do this intensively for a week or so. The Easter and May Bank holidays fall close together this year, allowing me to have effectively a stretch of 11 days off for just 3 days leave
The practical course itself consists of three main sections:
- Flying in cloud, i.e. by instruments only (including when some fail)
- Navigating purely by instruments (VOR, ADF, DME)
- Instrument Landing procedures (ILS, NDB etc.)
There is a single theory exam which can be taken at the club. Self-study using the single textbook is generally sufficient.
The legal minimum hours for the course are 15 (chock-to-chock time), of which 10 must be in instrument conditions (typically meaning with a hood or foggles to mask your view outside). Being a UK only qualification, the same instructor can also conduct the final examination.