Flying on a Budget: IFR

Since I began flying I’ve wanted to get my instrument rating. Getting instrument rated teaches you to fly with more discipline, improve your radio work, and last but not least gives you certification* to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions. Here in Illinois there are many days that are low IMC but clear on top, or days that are technically VFR but just  a little too marginal for me to be comfortable in. Being instrument rated would let me fly more often, and help me to be a better pilot.

Breaking out through a low ceiling.

The trouble is, I have a million bucks worth of ambition but a very tiny budget. Many pilots have dough to spare, but for me flying is something I can only barely afford. While the benefits of the instrument rating are huge, so are my projected costs.

To apply for the instrument rating, a pilot must have fifty  hours of cross-country time as Pilot In Command, plus forty hours of flight time logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions. The applicant must have completed a 250-mile minimum cross country under IFR during which at least three instrument approaches were shot. (FAR 61.65)

Category III ILS

Not counting my un-loggable hours of dorkitude playing Flight Simulator, I currently have a whopping 3.2 hours of simulated instrument time. That leaves 36.8 hours of actual or simulated IMC  to obtain. With the trainer renting at $175/hour with instructor, that’s a cost of at least $6,440. Since I have about 20 hours of PIC cross-country, I need another 30. Some of that could be obtained during the instrument training, but I’d probably need at least another thousand dollars worth of cross country time. Let’s round up (always round up) and assume that I could get my instrument rating for $8,000 out of pocket.

There are a couple of ways I could do this.

First, I could go paycheck-to-paycheck and buy instructional flights as the budget allows. On the plus side, this would give me a “purpose” to my flying instead of just burning gas. I fly anyway, may as well take a CFI and learn something. On the other hand this approach would take a lot of time, and intermittent training is rough because you forget half of what you learned from lesson to lesson.

Second, I could try to scrimp and save. I could stop flying (or fly less) over the winter months and hold on to my flying money. Then, when I have the $8k or so, I could go blow it on a zero-to-hero IFR program like the one at ATP. The benefit in this case is a lot of flying in a short time, which helps you to be very proficient for the check ride; but I worry about knowledge retention. It seems like flying IFR all day for two weeks and then suddenly being back to my usual twice-a-month pace might be a hard adjustment.

One way or the other, I do need to get my instrument rating. It makes for a more precise, more educated, and safer private pilot; and those are three things I strive to be.

*As was pointed out in one of my medical texts, Certification and Ability are not the same. But having the certification is important too. 

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4 thoughts on “Flying on a Budget: IFR

  1. Think about these things to save money:

    Up to 20 hours of the instrument training may be accomplished in an approved flight simulator or flight training device if the training was provided by an authorized instructor.

    You only need 15 hours of instrument instruction. The remaining 25 simulated instrument hours can be completed with a safety pilot. This is a touchy one, though, because CFIIs will be hesitant to sign you off with only 15 dual-given.

  2. I’d look for a hybrid approach. Save up most of the money, and then start training 2-3 times a week as schedule allows saving the rest of the money during the first part of training. This is my plan for a PPL – but with two toddlers the saving part is taking an extremely long time.

  3. I must say that one I did my IFR rating in Australia I found that I spent half my flying time out and about practicing approaches etc, to the point that it took some of the fun out of it. I did it to make myself a better VFR pilot as we only flew for pleasure… Staying current is a challenge!! Good luck with it…

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