Why don't private pilots get instrument rated?

I imagine it is due to cost or that it is difficult to pass the test. I hear about pilots flying VFR and they get into a situation that requires IMC and bad things result. Why wouldn’t a pilot do all the training they could to be safe in as many conditions as possible?

Not every aircraft a private pilot has access to is certified for IFR. So IFR may not be useful for a particular pilot’s situation, simply because there are no readily available aircraft with which to use an instrument rating.

I would expect that correspondingly, an instrument-rated airframe is more expensive (avionics is almost the most expensive class of components in an aircraft, and relative rarity also increases cost).

Of course, I’m speculating, so I hope someone with actual experience will provide some perspective.

Most recreational pilots just don’t have any need to fly in bad weather. If things look iffy, they stay home.

My late uncle was heavily into general aviation throughout his life, and owned a series of small planes. He was IFR certified, and he always made sure that his planes had the proper equipment for IFR operation. That said, he also wouldn’t willingly go up if there was any sign of inclement weather in the forecast – he treated being IFR-capable as an insurance policy, in case things suddenly went south. And, to him, that safety precaution was worth the extra expense (on top of the significant expense of simply having a plane) and the additional training.

I was a flight instructor for years before I went to the airlines and charter world. Apart from what has been said so far, IFR flying isn’t a goal for everyone.

Most of my students got into flying because it’s fun. They didn’t intend to be professionals, and IFR is a very “professional” undertaking. It’s a much bigger hurdle than Private Pilot, or even the Commercial license.

Also consider that most people who begin training for Private Pilot don’t finish their license (AOPA keeps stats on that, but I’m too lazy to look it up). So there’s a weeding out process before you undertake the significant expense and effort of an instrument rating. Then there’s the expense as previously noted, not just the training, but keeping current, chart subscriptions, etc.

Then there’s the utility of an instrument rating to the typical Private Pilot. The skills are great to have in your pocket if something unexpected happens, but the fact is most GA aircraft are not good for real instrument flying. They have little or no ice protection, and they can’t fly high enough to get above the weather. In my bizjet we climb out of any bad weather very quickly and are certified for known ice. If I’m flying a typical GA plane I’m looking to avoid weather, no matter what license or experience I have.

I used to encourage my students to pursue IFR training whether they intended to finishing the rating or now. And I also instilled a healthy respect for weather and that the main idea is to stay out of it. I made a point of taking all of my students into actual instrument weather, because simulating it with foggles or hood just doesn’t get across the seriousness of it. An actual flight situation where you can’t see out of the window gets real very, very fast.

Me personally - I can’t imagine flying in the IFR system on an occasional basis. To me, it’s doing it every day that keeps me sharp. Without serious money to allow for near constant training and practice, I don’t see myself flying IFR in a GA plane when I retire from jets. Maybe it’s different for others, but on a good day I rise to the level of ‘average’ as a pilot. I have to keep in practice as though I were an athlete.

I didn’t even think about the capability of the airplane or needing more instruments than flying straight at this altitude towards that direction. I took one lesson (birthday present and loved it but can’t afford to get a pilot’s license. I did buy a logbook and had it signed off as a souvenir) and so I assumed instrument rating was simply about being able to fly blind and not about flying blind and getting out of the weather ASAP.

As has already been stated, it’s time and money for a certification that won’t be willingly used. I’ve flown into IFR conditions and the VFR skills were enough to get through it. In a bad situation you just need to keep the wings level and airspeed within limits. Today’s GPS systems will take you to within inches of the center line of a runway…

I wouldn’t willingly fly in IFR conditions unless it was in multi-engine plane capable of nominal performance on 1 engine. Many twin engine planes do so poorly on 1 engine as to make them a danger in good weather.

I endorse that entire post. The currency issue is a big one. Flying IFR is a technical challenge, and to do it safely you need to do it a lot. And really, the only way that happens is if you are doing it for a living, or you are a super hardcore private pilot who flies hundreds of hours per year. Not a lot of recreational pilots look out the window at rain and clouds and think, “This would be a fun day to go flying”.

The icing issue is also,a huge deterrent in northern climates. The fact is, if you are flying in Canada or the northern U.S., IFR conditions commonly occur with icing risk. A high oerformance commercial airplane can climb through an icing layer quickly and has either deicing boots or a glycol system. Fly a Piper Archer or a 172 into icing, and it can ruin your entire day.

An IFR airplane doesn’t have to have a lot of instruments. Most light aircraft have dual radios, VOR, ILS and GPS. But for IFR the stuff has to be regularly tested and certified, and that’s expensive.

But I think the biggest point is that recreational flyers fly for fun, and typically wouldn’t fly IFR often enough to do it safely. Many DO get IFR ratings, but more to make them safer VFR pilots than to start flying IFR all the time.

The trouble with this advice is that it has you flying deeper into IFR. Standard advice is to do a 2-minute turn for 1 minute and fly back out the way you flew in.

My father was a pilot and never got IFR certification. He’d go to the airport, borrow a plane, and joyride around the area. Sometimes he’d pick a destination and go for a day. But he only flew in good weather.

We used to have a pamphlet at our flying club called ‘180 seconds to tragedy’ or something like that. It said that when a VFR pilot with no instrument training flies into IMC, the average time before loss of control was 180 seconds.

When I was doing hood work with my instructor, she had all kinds of tricks to screw with me. For example, she would tell me to look away from the instruments, then she’d do something very subtle like apply a little aileron to drop a wing slowly so I wouldn’t feel it. To me, it felt like we were straight and level. Then she’d jerk the ailerons to pull the wing back up, and tell me to ‘recover’, To me, it felt like the plane suddenly dropped a wing, and the impulse was to apply opposite aileron to bring it back. And while the instruments showed straight and level flight, my brain was screaming, “You are in a bank!”

I never got tricked, but part of the reason is because I knew shenanigans were afoot so it was easy to just trust the instruments. But it was a great illustration of what happens to VFR pilots. You’re flying along in IMC, and you turn your head or look around and get disoriented. Suddenly your brain is telling you that you are in a turn, so you ‘level’ the wings, which actually puts you in a bank which becomes a steep turn. You get confused, because now it feels like you are just in a dive because airspeed is rising. So you pull back, tightening the steep turn… For people who don’t understand what’s happening, the feeling of wrongness can be so strong that some have flown themselves into the ground in gentle airplanes that will return to straight and level flight if you just take your hands off the controls.

Saying you’ll just fly straight and level if you run into IMC is easier said than done, unless you’ve at least had enough instrument training to know how to do a proper scan, trust your instruments and ignore what your brain is telling you.

I had to do 10 hours of hood time just to get a night endorsement, because in parts of Canada it can be severe clear on a moonless night, and yet lights on the ground can be so sparse or nonexistant that there is no horizon and no visual references at all. You might as well be in IMC. Night flying is a lot more fun when you are flying over a carpet of lights and can see several cities in the distance in various directions and know exactly where you are.

My flight instructor on engine-out night landing procedures:

“When you get down to a few hundred feet, turn on your landing light. If you like what you see, go ahead and land.”

“And if you don’t like what you see?” asked I.

“Turn off your landing light.”

Generally yes. But IFR doesn’t mean zero visibility.

I was racing a thunderstorm to an airport. It was pouring so hard I couldn’t see the runway lights but the strobes were visible. It was a one-shot approach and plan B was to let the storm push me to the next airport. But I didn’t want to fly into a possible developing storm at night so I was motivated to land. Doing a 180 put me back out on Lake Michigan.

I’m one of those. Got up to my dual cross country and it was going to cost $75. I said I’d have to save up for that, still saving Of course that was in 1968. $75 was big money.

What is “IMC”? Googling gives me, among other things, Indice Masse Corporelle, Interprovincial Music Camp, Innovative Medicines Canada, Industrial Mortgage Capital… but I suspect those aren’t right. :slightly_smiling_face:

IMC is Instrument Meteorological Conditions. It essentially means you’re flying in clouds, though it’s not quite as clear cut as that.

IFR is Instrument Flight Rules. These are the rules of the air that you can opt to follow if you have an Instrument Rating, a licence endorsement allowing you to fly IFR.

It’s an important distinction. Pilots can fly according to the Instrument Flight Rules but not actually fly through any clouds if there aren’t any on the flight path for the day.

IMC = Instrument Meteorological Conditions. IFR = Instrument Flight Rules (not I Follow Roads)

I did instrument ground school, but never pursued getting my instrument rating. I definitely fall into the “if the weather is bad, I won’t go flying” camp.


My brother in law comes from a flying family–dad retired from the Air Force and went to work as a pilot for United and all three of his kids had pilot’s licenses before they were old enough to drive a car. He had a pretty genius idea for a side gig and bought a big RV and an IFR simulator (this is like early to mid '80s or so) and they built the simulator into the RV. Then my BIL and my sister travelled around in between college semesters attending air shows and booking time on the simulator, then travelled to the bookings so the pilots could get their IFR training hours in. They let me give the thing a whirl and I “took off” from SFO, flew across the bay and “landed” in Oakland perfectly first time. I was very proud of myself. Anyway, that little gig basically paid both sis and BIL’s way through college and gave them some good starter money for when they got married.

I can see why people don’t get the IFR rating because it’s one thing to know you’re safely parked in an RV in your driveway and the consequences of screwing up your flight are nonexistent–things would be much scarier with a mile or two of air underneath your ass and you can’t see jack shit out the windows.

Not nearly as scary as when you’re not sure if you’ve got a mile or two underneath your ass

Let’s face it, there’s very little about IFR conditions that ISN’T basically terrifying!