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Airways Experience Day

One of the great benefits of a full Instrument Rating is the ability to fly along airways under ATC supervision. This makes it easier to fly longer distances with more direct routings. Perhaps surprisingly, IFR flights usually bask in glorious sunshine above the clouds much of the time.

Spend a day with us conducting two separate airways flights departing from and returning to Gloucester. The destination will vary depending on weather and preference, but will typically be a customs Port of Entry in Northern France or Belgium. We’ll file IFR flights plans for both legs and demonstrate the paperwork and procedures involved. Airborne time will be up to four hours, climbing to around FL100 and making an IFR instrument approach at the end of each leg.

Airways on top of cloud layer


The aircraft will be either our TB20 or Turbo Arrow IV according to availability.

This is not intended as in intensive introduction to instrument flying but rather an interesting day out to experience a flight on airways. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and understand what’s involved. Two PPL friends can if they wish share the experience, one taking the controls for the outbound leg and the other for return. Alternatively, you can take a guest as a non-flying passenger. Flight time can be logged as P.U.T. (Pilot Under Training).

Our fixed price is based on departure from Gloucester, but we can pick you up from your local airfield in Central or Southern England. Depending on location this may involve a modest additional charge.

We’re sure this will be a memorable and interesting experience, allowing you to gain a full appreciation of what airways IFR has to offer.

Contact us now to make a booking or discuss the details.

Fixed price: £1495 including VAT.


FAA/EASA Conversion Deadline postponed until 2017

At the last minute, EASA has formally confirmed a further extension of the deadline until next April 2017 for third country IR holders to acquire an EASA IR. There is apparently no intent to change the conversion requirements already published (i.e. a proficiency check not an initial skill test) and this delay is merely caused by administrative matters. Our advice remains to do nothing unless you have some particular reason to get the conversion finished. The existing conversion via the CBM IR is not unreasonably demanding and we have now done several successful conversions on that basis for pilots who wanted to just get it ‘done and dusted’.

The UK CAA has published information notice 2016/036 which takes immediate effect

If you do wish to proceed with a FAA/EASA IR conversion anyway, we can complete that efficiently for you either in your own aircraft (doesn’t need to be EASA registered) or in ours.
Full details.


Jim’s thoughts on the CBM-IR

The Competency Based Modular IR

The flexibility of the new way of attaining an IR has, as intended, encouraged many pilots who had previously thought an IR beyond their reach to give acquiring one serious consideration. Given my background in the development of this rating and my role in starting Rate One Aviation, the ATO that first gained approval to teach it, I would not wish to discourage anyone from aspiring to an IR. I have spent a considerable time talking to pilots and explaining the issues. I believe that this encouraging interest and optimism in the rating needs to be nurtured with good information and a modicum of realism if effort and money is not to be wasted.

Part of the problem is that the number of people who really understand about teaching the IR to a PPL is small. If you add to that the need to understand how the CBM IR works and how the skill test is changing the number of really well informed sources of advice is very small indeed.  Keep in mind that for the last decade or so very small numbers of PPL holders obtained an IR in the UK.  Only ATO’s could train for the old IR and their focus, if they wished to survive as a business, had to be commercial pilot training. The great majority of candidates were young motivated cadets focussed on their career. The ATO would be likely to have such cadets within its system for 100 or more hours. Their training methods and structures were appropriate to this type of customer.

The contrast with training a mature PPL holder is stark. Now we have pilots of widely varying age and background for whom instrument flying plays one part, perhaps a peripheral part, in their overall family and business life. It is hardly likely that that the methods and attitudes that worked well when instructing full time young cadets will still be effective.

Historically, at least in the UK, the other context in which the PPL encountered instrument flight training was the IMC Rating. Here the candidates came with a much broader spread of abilities and personal characteristics.  Their instructors came with an even wider spread of attitudes, experience and capabilities. The aircraft used for the training were in some cases on the edges of being truly IFR capable.  This is not to denigrate the value of what was a popular rating but in many cases its focus was really enabling essentially VFR pilots to fly in more marginal conditions. In a minority of cases the training was to pretty much IR standards and can be a very sound basis for further IR training but in other cases it can engender habits and attitudes that are difficult to modify and a real hindrance to IR training.

There are of course many highly competent and admirable pilots with backgrounds in the RAF or the airlines. Many of them will have gained a single pilot IR in a general aviation aircraft. Quite possibly that experience was gained twenty or more years ago and they may have done little or no flying of that kind since. The most well meaning advice from this kind of source may well not reflect the situation as it pertains today.

I am labouring the point but it needs the emphasis. There is an awful lot of well meaning but very mistaken advice being given to pilots and this will lead to a lot of heartache and wasted expense.

There are only a very small number of instructors in the UK who actually have real experience of teaching PPL holders for the IR in the context of the skill test and the CBM IR as it now exists.  There are even fewer pilots who have used a single pilot IR to fly extensively using a general aviation aircraft. There are a minuscule number of instructors who have given any real consideration to adapting training methods to take advantage of the changes to the IR in ways that give candidates the best chance of a first time pass.

I have now spoken at length to approaching 100 aspiring IR candidates. The rest of this document sets out my take on some of the misconceptions and gives hints as to the ways in which candidate can maximise their chances of gaining that coveted first time pass.

The Candidate

Candidates are typically middle aged or older. They may have a demanding job. They try and achieve some reasonable life balance.  They want to achieve an IR but some have not really thought through the level of commitment needed.  Anyone who has a PPL could get an IR but in extreme cases it might take 60 or even 80 hours instruction.  Instrument flying skills decay at an alarming rate if they are not used. If you are not willing or able to fly some sensible minimum number of IFR hours a year   and /or make arrangements for ongoing training to maintain currency maybe the balance of effort to reward involved in gaining the rating is not correct for you.  If you are not willing to put some other aspects of your life into second place and devote all your energies to instrument flying while under training your process will be seriously hampered. This is not to say that compromises cannot be made but nothing in aviation comes cost free. You will take longer, perhaps a lot longer to achieve the required standard.

The Aircraft

Many pilots want to train on their own aircraft or the cheapest aircraft they can lay their hands on at their home base. They rationalise this by saying they want training to be relevant to their future flying or that that their familiarity with their own aircraft will give them a head start.  In the great majority of cases this is simply a serious mistake.  An ideal IR training aircraft has a set of inherent handling characteristics and an avionics fit which is targeted on the needs of the skill test.  A good ATO will have spent large sums on acquiring and modifying such an aircraft. They will have developed a set of operating procedures and speeds which ease the task of instrument flying.

“You approach the glide slope at 110 knots clean with power set at 18” and 2300 RPM, with all your checks complete and the localiser centred  when the glideslope shows one dot up you drop the undercarriage and at half a dot up you take a stage of flap. With no need to even retrim the extra drag settles the aircraft onto a three degree slope and only the most minor adjustments are needed to retain the slope down to minima.”

Ok this is an idealised picture but not by very much.

You start with an aircraft that is stable and has adequate flap and gear limiting speeds. You might wish to avoid complexity that brings no benefit in this training situation like turbo charging and cowl flaps. (I will only consider SEP aircraft as the number of PPL MEP pilots is now vanishingly small). The aircraft will have at the very least an HSI. This might be as part of a glass cockpit but the old King KCS 55 is still the best display you can get. Actually glass cockpits have in some ways gone backwards in regard to the simplification of scan but that’s a discussion for another day. You must have a decent ADF and it needs to drive an RMI. You can argue till the cows come home about outdated technology but you are trying to pass the IR skill test as it exists. If you have an ancient ADF that works out to five or six miles and is displayed on a fixed card indicator you can still pass the test but it will be significantly harder and might take you an extra  five or six hours training to reach the required standard.

A panel mounted GPS; say at least a non-WAAS Garmin 430 is essential. GPS navigation is now allowed for most of the test and you cannot be airways legal without one. DME is also essential. An autopilot is not essential but is certainly an advantage as use is allowed on the level airways sector and give you chance for a short breather while you get the destination ATIS written down. A fuel totaliser is helpful as it largely obviates the need for a fuel log and some convenient way of timing is essential. This can of course be a stopwatch on the kneeboard but typically some timer in the panel works better.  A vertical card compass is a final nicety that will make limited panel turns trivial.

Not having brakes on the P2 side may be a showstopper since few examiners are willing to accept that situation. Engines over 12 year’s old running on condition used to be unacceptable but that seems no longer to be the case. Very old panels that have all the necessary equipment but scatter it widely in places that make the scan difficult should be avoided. Overall, unless your own aircraft comes quite close to the ideal it may cost you more to pass the test than if you use the ATO’s own aircraft.

Prior Experience

The value of prior experience is hugely variable. At best it can be entirely helpful, at worse you would be better off without it. In a minority of cases its simply very bad instruction leading to a misunderstanding about what you are trying to achieve.  More common is indifferent instruction subsequently made worse by pilots developing bad habits of their own.  A reliable indicator of this is discussion what you would do if encountering IMC unexpectedly. A well trained pilot will have an IFR mindset, climbing to a safe IFR altitude, having the equipment and preparation in place to recover by means of an instrument approach which they feel competent to complete.  The contrasting attitude will be a general feeling of being able to keep the aircraft vaguely under control while regaining visual conditions.  There is nothing wrong with being a VFR pilot who, thanks to some training, is able to cope with poor visibility or unexpected events.  However that is not the same as being an instrument pilot. The mindset is completely different.

Bad habits can be very hard to break and instructors are faced with a difficult decision in deciding what simply much be changed and what habits are unhelpful but not dangerous and just have to be accepted.  Instructing in this context is much more difficult.

The very worst way of going about getting an IR is not to make contact with the ATO who will finish off your course at the very outset.  If you just practice in whatever aircraft is available using a local instructor or in your local area you are wasting your time and your money. If you do this and roll up to an ATO expecting to pass the skill test after the minimum 10 hours dual you will be sadly disappointed. It takes about two hours to fly a skill test profile and most pilots cannot really manage four intensive hours instruction in a day. Every hour flown required two hours on the ground assuming you already have the full set of knowledge and skills. The most normal pattern for a day’s flying is one test profile and an hour or so practicing those things you got wrong or were less than perfect. So 10 hours will allow you to fly the possible test routes three times perhaps involving airspace and airfields you have never previously visited. If you think this is a poor basis for a first time pass compared with a system that might have had you flying out of the that airfield for many hours you are 100% correct .

If you take nothing else from this note go to an approved ATO very early in the process, do an assessment flight. Get their advice and inform yourself about their standard operating procedures and checks. If you don’t like them for whatever reason go to another ATO and repeat the process. Decide where you are going to finish up your training before you spend much money and effort in any other way.


Only a minority of pilots come at this task with the right attitude. It has to be said that a few should probably not try and achieve the rating. This is not because they are incapable of getting an IR but rather that the effort it will demand is not proportionate to the role it will play in their life overall.

The very best candidates come and stay in a local B& B. They try to the best of their ability to shut out their business and personal life. In the evenings they talk about and think about what they will be doing during the next day. They are realistic and if anything too self critical. Their instructor will rarely have point out an error of which they are unaware more than once. That does not mean that they won’t struggle to get things right just that they will know what they are trying to achieve and will be their own sternest critics.

Checks and SOPS

Probably the hardest thing about an IR is getting the checks and standard operating procedures really understood and memorised. This process costs nothing. Once they have been explained, you simply have to learn them. It will be most difficult with your own aircraft since some aspects of the procedures speeds power setting etc, will need to be developed but even so learning them is the difficult part. Only one candidate in 10 manages to do this without wasting their money and the instructor’s time by perfecting them at the same time as learning to fly the procedures.

When I say learn I mean rote learning in the style of reciting the three times table, the names of your children and relatives or whatever else is second nature to you. This does not mean you can just about recite the checks but only after consideration or going back to items you have missed. When under pressure flying in IFR your brain capability is at best 50% of that available to you on the ground. That capability can easily reduce to near zero.  If you cannot sit opposite me at a desk and talk though the skill test profile telling me exactly what power setting  you would adopt and the  checks you would make at every stage of the profile what chance do you have of delivering an acceptable performance in the air.

There is an inescapable hierarchy of actions in instrument flying.

  1. Do it at home if you can
  2. Do it at the airfield on the day if you can
  3. Do it in the cockpit before you start the engine if you can
  4. Do it after start but before taxi if you can
  5. Do it at the holding point if you can
  6. Do it in the air only if there is absolutely no other option.


In an ideal world you would do all your training at the location from which you will take your test. You might reasonably argue that the IR is a qualification that enables you to fly worldwide so you should be able to fly from anywhere. That is both correct and completely mistaken. You are trying to pass a rather artificial and very difficult skill test. You need every possible advantage. Nothing whatsoever stops you having additional training after you have passed your test. A good ATO will be entirely focussed on getting you a first time pass. The rest can, to some extent, come later. There are a wide range of factors that make some, perhaps most airfields lousy places to learn to fly IFR. They may not have their own instrument approaches, they may be too quiet or they may be too busy. Their access to the airways might be very complicated and for your skill test you must enter an airway. There needs to be a choice of skill test routes but ideally that choice should not be too wide. Some instrument approach procedures have ‘gotchas’ that make mistakes more likely. Of course you can be trained to avoid the mistakes but its best to avoid the situations. Few things in general aviation are  ideal but your ATO instructor should be able to talk convincingly about the sort of routes and procedures you are practicing and how they relate to or ideally are exactly the same as the  routes and procedures you are likely to get in the skill test


You need to start out with the ATO where you think you will be finishing up your training. This does not mean you need to do all your training with them simply that you should understand their system, their attitudes, their test locations and above all their checks and SOPs. You can then do you very best to ensure that in solo flying and when doing any dual flying at your local airfield you operate in that framework. This ensures that there will be the absolute minimum of disconnect when you roll up for the final race to the finish. The very best way to train is in one continuous process leaving a few days free at the end to allow you to choose decent weather for the skill test but very few people are able to adapt their lives to allow for this degree of continuity. Just accept that whatever compromises you make will mean that the amount of training needed will increase. If you spread out your training over a significant number of individual days or occasional weekends the total hours required will increase very significantly indeed,

Theoretical knowledge (TK)

The old advice was to get the TK out of the way at the start. TK is much more achievable and rather more focussed on relevant knowledge and the CAA testing is more flexible so this is not quite as true as it was. It is undoubtedly correct that the theory  needs to be passed well before your final intensive pre-test training but there is an argument for doing some flying along the way so as to keep you motivated and in order to put the TK into some practical context. For continental pilots who cannot build experience it is likely that integrated courses will evolve in which TK and flying are integrated as is the case for some commercial training.


Approved simulators are allowable for a large proportion of the course. However in the UK where candidates typically now come to the process with adequate prior qualifying experience the issue is one of competence rather than building hours. The simulator is a wonderful tool for practicing techniques and procedures but it is becoming questionable, at least in the UK, whether the expense of having them CAA qualified is worthwhile. This is not the case in commercial training where candidates do need to build hours and the cost saving and teaching efficiency of the simulator is valuable.  Nor is it the case in mainland Europe where candidates do not have access to the IR(R) to build hours. The jury is out on this one.

How long will it take?

This is the question everyone asks. There is no simple answer. There is certainly no answer unless you take the trouble to fly with an instructor from an active CBM IR ATO. After such a flight you can expect some sort of answer although it is likely that a degree of uncertainty will remain. Typically skills do not improve in a linear fashion. For some reason almost all pilots have a serious setback along the way. They are progressing nicely, candidate and instructor start talking in terms of probably x more hours to the test and then one flight is disastrous and sets the process back. However, that single assessment flight and a day spent talking about the process and the skills needed still pays huge dividends. You will at least understand the parameters and be able to form your own judgements. We have already talked about the elements that influence the outcome. The older you get the more difficult the process. The more continuity you can achieve, the easier the process becomes. The more training takes place in the context of the eventual test the better. The more training takes place with a really focussed knowledgeable instructor the better. The closer your aircraft characteristics are to the school’s own aircraft the better your chances.


None of this is intended to discourage you from giving the IR a try. Get some good advice, have an assessment flight at an ATO and then if you decide to go for it you will have the best possible chance of a successful outcome. The IR is the most difficult flight test any pilot will encounter in the IR career but the satisfaction when you walk away with that coveted entry on the rating page of your licence will be a high spot in your life.

Pan European Training Trip

I have just completed an extensive and productive training trip in the TB20. We flew 15 hours and 9 legs to different airports over four days. David is an IMC holder who wanted to broaden his experience and Chris is an FAA IR holder in the process of converting to an EASA IR. Both of them have good basic instrument flying skills proportionate to their experience.

The planned route was Gloucester to Le Touquet to clear customs. Le Touquet to Montbeliard to collect Chris. Next day we planned for Montbeliard to Valence but in fact flew to Dole then on to Avignon for lunch and finally to Montpelier to overnight. The next day we flew to Lyon Bron and from there back to Montbeliard to drop off Chris. David then flew us on to Troyes to overnight. On the final day we routed via Southampton to drop off David and I flew solo back to Gloucester.

The weather was fairly challenging in Northern Europe with fronts, forecast icing and strong winds. The route panning therefore provided experience of taking account of the weather and the flight demonstrated actual actions in icing conditions, landing pretty much at the edge of the pilot’s capabilities, difficult RT and a variety of instrument approach procedures in the real, sometimes messy and confusing real world of IFR.

I am not a great fan of back seating on local training flights since the view of the instruments is not good and the back seater is already pretty familiar with the procedure and the RT calls. However, on a real trip it’s a lot more interesting and David felt he got a lot from his back seat time especially the RT and seeing how we coped with the unfamiliar approaches while he was free of the workload of actually flying.

This trip was quite demanding from an instructor point of view as I needed to monitor the pilot flying as well as figuring out what ATC wanted. An instructor sits in the right seat criticising and rarely actually flies so that cry of ‘you have control’ at some barely recoverable moment in the landing process definitely causes the pulse rate to increase. We encountered two approach procedures that had quite unusual features and indeed made at least one error that could have been serious if not identified. We used the automation to an extent that is unproductive in normal IR training so it also had a few surprises to offer me and was a really valuable learning experience for Chris, David and indeed for me!

If you want to read a lot more of the detail on this trip with focus on the learning points, then look in the knowledge base section very soon.

After the truly awful weather of the last few months I doubt if many pilots are as sharp as they would like so consider giving us a call and discussing a trip that would be valuable and interesting for you. It need not be especially costly particularly if you can involve a friend or we can team you up with someone.

It is shortly to be formally announced that the deadline date for conversion of third country IRs has been put back to April 2017.

Jim has joined Mark and gained CRE examiner approval with IR revalidation privileges. Together with Simon who can complete FAA IPC’s or BFR’s we can duplicate instructor and examiner capability on pretty much any aircraft type within our scope. Jim has been appointed to the EASA CBM IR review board, so will be well placed to keep track of changes and new developments.

Martin’s Story about gaining his PPL/IR

Setting the Scene

This is a story about how one person gained his PPL IR told from the perspective of the ATO, the Approved Training Organisation who are required by regulations to provide at least 10 hours airborne instruction during a CBM IR course.

Our hero

The central character in our story is determined, likeable, perhaps slightly ill informed as to the task ahead. Think of the young soldiers of the First World War proud to do their duty, nervous, excited and certain they will be home by Christmas. Let us call him Martin. He is a successful middle aged European businessman. By historical accident has maintained a UK PPL and a lapsed IMCR. As he lives outside the UK he has not had much opportunity to log PIC time using his IMCR so needs rather more qualifying flying hours than the norm. He has passed his CBM IR theory exams and visited Rate One for a day’s assessment. He owns a Cessna 172 SP but accepted the advice that it would be more effective to use Rate One’s own aircraft with its skill test specific instrumentation.

He had created a 10 day gap in his busy diary and at fairly short notice called to say he wanted to complete his IR. Rate One Aviation operates by dedicating an aircraft and instructor to one candidate but as it happened we could accommodate his timings.

An ideal candidate, the ideal scenario. A dedicated aircraft and instructor, a well prepared candidate doing the course in the best possible way. Even the weather looks good with high pressure looking to establish.

What could possible go wrong……?

The supporting cast

There are three or four individuals who deliver and support the training. They do this on a more or less voluntary part time basis because they are enthusiastic about instrument flying. None of them are in the first flush of youth. Together they have approaching 40,000 hours flying experience of which 10,000 have been spent teaching instrument flying. They have held senior posts in airlines, the CAA and numbers of training organisations. They have between them managed flying schools, ATO’s AOC operations, maintenance companies, aircraft engine rebuilding companies. They have been intimately concerned with the development of the CBM IR. They have in their past lives been approach designers, airline pilots, airfield inspectors. They hold between them a good proportion of the whole range of instructor and examiner qualifications. There is probably no greater concentration of knowledge in the very specific area of instrument flying for the PPL anywhere in Europe. Two of them –  Roy and I – are directly involved in Martin’s story.

With all this expertise what could possibly go wrong…….? 

ATO Approval

Before the training can commence the ATO has to be approved. This is a tortuous, costly and time consuming process that can take many months. The main product of this process are approved manuals which, in the eyes of the authority define the way that the ATO operates and specifies the course content in some detail. Nothing in this manual once approved can be changed without re-entering the approval process with its attendant costs. It is hard to overemphasise how useless these documents are. Even in the old 45 hours IR course which was a fairly static system circumstances and procedures changed all the time, so every ATO sets up parallel systems to deliver useful information to their students. In the CBM IR it is doubtful if a course in the old sense even exists – it’s a flexible 10 hours finish up.  Our hero must skim the document and sign that he has read it. The ATO’s approval plays no further part.

Arranging a skill test

In opera, it’s over only when the fat lady sings. In the IR, it’s over when the examiner agrees that the candidate has met the required standard in the skill test. Most examiners are now independent. There are very few UK CAA staff examiners and they are mostly involved in administering higher level tests and in testing IR candidates who have needed to retake the test multiple times. The ATO is required to book an examiner with the CAA in advance using an automated Email process assuming every aspect of the test is completely predictable. The authority then allocates the examiner. In reality a skill test is a messy business. The date chosen depends on the candidate’s progress, the weather, availability of IAPs etc. A splendid British compromise emerges. The ATO rings round and finds an examiner who is available in principle and flexible. They suggest to Flight Test Bookings that X is available and in 99% of cases that suggestion is approved. Then the ATO pays the CAA fee of £785 (of which the examiner gets less than half).

Flight Test Bookings are a very efficient department and Emails to them receive almost instant responses. However the link with the CAA finance department is unpredictable. Without confirmation of payment, no test can take place. Sometimes the finance department acknowledge receipt of the payment almost instantly and the flight test bookings department pass this on to the ATO. Sometimes the system breaks down and a flurry of Emails and phone calls is needed to get the necessary acknowledgement. Being able to show the examiner that the money left the ATO’s bank account is not enough.

Very unusually in this particular case there was no response from Flight Test Bookings. Eventually it emerged that a staff examiner had been allocated. Several phone calls later it emerged that because I had, and I quote ‘caused waves’ in suggesting that the way the skill tests were administered was less than ideal, they were going to ‘have a look at us’. This was hardly welcome news. Although CAA staff examiners are scrupulously fair to candidates, they have more potential to demand the unexpected. We kept this unwelcome development hidden from Martin.

The Aircraft

Although the aircraft was not due for its 100 hour maintenance check for another 10 hours that check would fall due during the training. Therefore it would have to be carried out early at the expense of 20% of its validity period. We did not expect any problems. The aircraft was maintained by an organisation we had used for decades. They had seen the aircraft for checks and snag rectification three times in the previous 4 months. In the event as this check continued another gloomy and bizarre scenario developed. This became peripheral to this story so is not considered further. It became obvious that Rate One Aviation’s own aircraft would be unavailable for Martin to use.

Martin had pre booked commercial flights to the UK. We tried to delay his visit and offered to reschedule and meet the cost of the loss on his air fares. Martin, having created a slot in his diary was reluctant to reschedule. He decided to fly his own aircraft over from Denmark. The weather looked as if it would cooperate for a VFR flight over the North Sea and this was agreed on.

Plan B Emerges

Thus on a Monday morning Rate One Aviation was presented with an unknown and unprepared aircraft to use for IR training and a skill test. The aircraft was a relatively recent C172 SP.

What could possibly go wrong…..?

The plan was for Roy to take the lead in instructing while I dealt with the administration. We had a skill test booked and 8 training days available. After the first few flights, it is clear that there were many issues some simple to resolve, some potentially serious.

  1. The fixed card ADF was only usable to about 10 DME
  2. The number two com did not transmit even though it displayed a T
  3. The owner had done the last 50 hour check so the aircraft was not eligible for skill tests
  4. The engine was running on condition both on hours and calendar time so might or might not be OK for a skill test
  5. The aircraft had a DI not an HSI, the DI was ‘lazy’ needing frequent resetting.
  6. A GTN 650 was fitted but there was no database subscription
  7. The insurance was in Danish and CAA examiners were not covered
  8. The transponder was not configured for exam call sign inputs
  9. Speeds appropriate for use in the skill test needed to be established
  10. Checklists suitable for a skill test needed to be developed and printed
  11. Martin was unlikely to be test ready in time
  12. The aircraft needed instrument covers for limited panel work

Roy continued the instruction working to overcome the practical hurdles presented by the aircrafts limitations and bring Martin up to speed. I started to resolve the other difficulties.


This was an easy one. The Danish insurers Emailed a confirmation in English to the effect that CAA examiners were covered and we checked with the CAA that this would be acceptable


Avionics engineers were asked to look at the number 2 com and they established that the unit was faulty. It emerged that the owner had removed an identical unit in order to fit the Garmin GTN 650 and sent the old NavCom to the USA to be sold. Arrangements were made to recover it. While the avionics engineers were working on the aircraft they configured the transponder, a simple 10 minute job. After a couple of days the UPS tracking system claimed the radio was in Gloucester. I battled the system for an hour or so and established the radio was still in the USA. It seemed unlikely it would arrive in time so I spent another hour on the problem and tracked down an identical unit in an aircraft which was grounded and so the unit could be borrowed for a few days. That was installed and worked properly.

Since our own aircraft was still out of service our own data subscription was used to update the Garmin GTN 650 in the Cessna. For some reason the terrain update became corrupted in the process. It was not clear if using the update in a different box mattered but since what we had was good enough for the test that problem was deemed solved.

The Aircraft

The CAMO in Denmark that looked after the aircraft sent a work order for a 50 hour check. The first UK maintenance organisation approached insisted that they needed authorisation from the Danish CAA to do the check. This seemed unlikely and the second organisation approached said all they needed was the work order. The 50 hour check commenced. Unfortunately the engineers discovered that one engine mount was seriously degraded. It seemed doubtful that the engine would have fallen out in the next few months much less the next few hours and it could have been dealt with at the next annual. Nevertheless this company was being helpful and was the only game in town. The required item was available next day from the suppliers and was ordered.

Will Plan B work?

Whilst the above issues were in progress it was becoming obvious that the planned test date was hopelessly impractical. Neither the aircraft nor the candidate would be test ready. Training continued. Martin was struggling a little. His basic IF flying was excellent but the combination of a fixed card ADF and somewhat variable DI which needed frequent setting was adding hours to the time needed for him to come up to standard. Being a self-confident person and flying the aircraft he was used to he had ingrained habits. In high workload moments he slipped back into normal VFR mode and IFR checks and procedures were sometimes abandoned.

CAA examiners are busy and inevitably less flexible than industry examiners. Eventually with some negotiation a different CAA staff examiner was found who could do the test on a later date. This date was less than ideal but it was a day on which it was just barely feasible that the candidate and the aircraft would be ready.

Martin was on a three line whip from his wife to be home for a christening. We became boxed into that most undesirable corner that all ATOs try and avoid. A skill test on a fixed day with zero flexibility. Any delay or failure to get a full pass would mean the whole plan would unravel. I insisted that Martin book a cheap commercial flight home to de stress the situation a little. At worst it would be his aircraft and not he himself stuck in the UK so he might avoid divorce.

Skill Test Location

Given that we had been allocated a CAA Staff examiner there was more potential variation on where the test might take place. As the aircraft was now in maintenance and unavailable we made best use of the time by putting him in the simulator and flying at those airfields where it is near impossible for us to book practice approaches but where it was just possible the CAA Staff examiner might negotiate a beacon slot.  The chances of a first time pass are significantly reduced if a candidate has to fly at an airfield they have never visited.

It’s going to the wire…..

On the day before the rescheduled test, we were expecting to have the engine mount fitted by mid-morning allowing most of the day to fly a practice full skill test profile. So far we had not really achieved this. Martin had shown he was capable of all the required elements but circumstances meant he has not demonstrated them all together in a single flight. A UPS van duly arrived but it proved to be a false dawn when it emerged it contained the radio we did not need. Hours passed and there was no sign of the second UPS van carrying the engine mount. We delayed the practice beacon slot till the afternoon.

By good fortune the CAA Examiner called and selected a route to Coventry where we had pre booked the last practice slot. However it was now clear that the aircraft would not be available. Martin went with Roy to revise the procedure in the simulator while to add insult to injury I paid the import charges for the redundant replacement radio. I took the rough checklist we had developed, typed it into a booklet, printed off and spiral bound two copies ready for the test. I then booked beacon slots at two airfields to suit the test timing and profile required. We were lucky and in this case both Coventry and Gloucester could offer the ideal slot timing.

Along the way cockpit ergonomics became a training issue. Martin was struggling to handle his knee board, PLOG and plates. I managed to find an old style Garmin portable yoke mount and adapted it for his control column so that he could put the plate in use on the yoke and free up some space on his lap. Also we had a few “Blue Peter” moments with scissors and card to make up some instrument covers for the limited panel exercises.

What could possibly wrong…….?

A look back to the Paperwork

Earlier in this process I had asked our head of training who is highly knowledgeable on the minutiae of licenses and CAA forms to run a critical eye over everything I had done. The candidate has a colour vision problem so is expecting a day only IR which is unusual but available. The only thing I had missed is that he had been logging our dual time in a PIC column so he needed to tidy his log book. Martin’s log book was not a shining example of calligraphy. I always go through a candidate’s log book and stick in an ATO certificate to say that the book has been examined quoting the applicable prerequisite hours. This is intended to ensure that the CAA examiner and the subsequent log book examination at the CAA office during licence issue do not throw up problems. This took me some considerable time but I have had two years positive results from this approach. Every candidate has a training file with each flight described in some detail with the comments and performance grading signed for by both the candidate and the instructor. The file also contains copies of licenses and other documents. The ATO is required to show proof that the candidate has passed the CBM IR TK exams. Even though only the candidate can download the CAA exam results form from their website the ATO is required to confirm the facts of the situation and annotate the form to this effect. We also produce a course completion certificate that duplicates much of the information provided elsewhere. All this was material was in place and was reviewed without any issues.

What could possibly wrong…….?

Afternoon – Skill Test Day minus one

Martin had been with us for 10 days. I had spent the greater part of 5 days doing nothing but completing administrative tasks and resolving issues related to making this skill test happen. My colleague had dealt with the practical business of delivering the instrument training on most days although I did a couple of day’s instruction over the weekend.  While they were in the simulator I anxiously awaited the UPS van with the engine mount. At 15.30 it arrived. It emerged that UPS had driven their route in reverse order. The maintenance engineers agreed to work late and the aircraft emerged at 18.00 just in time to be refuelled, the exam call sign loaded in the transponder and general accumulated junk removed. The Cessna was parked in a test ready state.

What could possibly wrong…….?

Test Day

Roy, myself and of course Martin were in the office early. One of us at least is always present on test days. We support the candidate and sit in on the post-test debrief with the examiner.  Martin had spoken to the examiner at 0730, the weather had been discussed and the test was on. Preparations were complete with all performance calculations, flight plan and most documents ready for inspection. When Martin went out to do the Check ‘A’ he discovered that the aircraft had cross fed during the night and lost fuel via the overflow. It was necessary to hurry to the pumps and add fuel.

The release to service and related aircraft maintenance forms were naturally missing since the work had been completed after normal closing time. I walked to the maintenance company’s offices and stood over them for half an hour to obtain the documents. Then I hurried back to our own office to find that the CAA examiner had arrived to commence his briefing. We had just about managed to have everything in place. The examiner, as we expected, was very professional and did everything possible to put the Martin at his ease. The aircraft departed on schedule for the test.

To be honest Roy and I were nervous. We had in fact advised Martin that, given all the delays and hurdles he was not as “test ready” as we had hoped and a pass was certainly not guaranteed. Fortunately he was the sort of candidate who ups his game when under pressure and he gained a full pass with only minor comments. The fat lady has sung and we end on a high note. For Martin that’s true to the extent that the weather was holding and he left almost at once to fly back to Denmark.

The Aftermath Phase 1

 Given the time pressure, I agreed to complete all his paperwork. Unusually for an ATO we do the IR application for all candidates as the forms are very complex and it is easy to make mistakes. We after all are the experts.

What could possibly wrong…….?

However this time more work was involved. The examiner had kindly signed Martin off for his IMC renewal. He also needed his UK licence to be converted to an EASA licence. There were therefore three applications and two examiners test reports to submit. Additional material was needed and I had to get this scanned and sent from Denmark. I assembled the bundle of forms plus his log book and having copied everything for our own records was ready to send them off.

On reflection I have been too kind in my descriptions of the log book. It looked as if it was the result of a drunken spider running through spilled ink. The use of columns was incorrect, pages had been used to scribble calculations and pages were not properly totalled. Along the way I spent an extra hour or so with the log book and double checked the calculations. Martin had plenty of total time but his qualifying time was only slightly more than the minimum so I made sure that the relevant hours were totalled correctly.

Given that the application includes the precious log book I asked my wife take it to the post office for recorded delivery. I am somewhat paranoid about this since an earlier CAA application to a named recipient at the CAA was signed for at reception with an illegible scrawl and been irretrievably lost.

Aftermath Phase 2

A week or so later I received a copy of response from the CAA sent to the candidate pointing out that the application was incomplete.  I took on the task of resolving this and another half days work was involved. I initially challenged the reasons for rejection. One related to the logging of simulator time in the candidate log book. The time had been certified in two separate places in the application pack and I was unaware the sim time needed to be entered in the log book in the same way as flight time. The CAA were willing to accepted training records as an alternative so I just photocopied these and prepared to send them to the CAA

The second point was that a form required for the IMCR issue was missing. You will recall that I had nothing to do with Martin’s IMCR. The Examiner had been helpful and used the skill test to fulfil two functions. In the past the examiner would have signed the page in the candidates licence and that would have been it. Now as part of the process of adding the IMCR (now IRR) to an EASA licence the CAA were required to complete a record. However it appeared they had no form for this and so required the initial issue IMCR form to be completed.  Almost no section of this form other than the name and personal details of the candidate appeared relevant. I filed in what I could which mostly consisted of writing not applicable across the boxes. However there was a box for the name and number of the examiner. This appears on other forms and it is normal practice for us to complete this from our records. On this form however there was a block for the examiners signature.

Without really thinking I signed by own name together with a large asterisk and annotated the form that I had Emailed the examiner explaining what I had done. This Email generated an explosive response from the examiner copied to several other people accusing me of malpractice and fraud, and failing to complete the candidate’s log book correctly by entering and signing for exercise numbers and being personally responsible for global warming.

Ok, I am exaggerating about global warming but the rest was both upsetting and puzzling. I had not been involved in the IMCR training which had taken place many years before, had received no financial reward and had not conducted any test. I wrote a very bland reply suggesting there had been a misunderstanding. Perhaps he would look at the forms when they reached the CAA. I few days later I got a terse Email to the effect that he now agreed there had been a ‘misunderstanding’ and accepted I had done ‘the best I could in the circumstances’. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was the end of a sorry story.

What could possibly wrong…….?

Some days later I received another Email from Martin. He had called the CAA and discovered that nothing was happening because ‘the ATO had not provided the necessary documentation’. I had no idea what else was required.

I was fortunate in my early career to be mentored by an excellent MD who had no formal qualifications but had started life as a London PC on the beat and had seen life. I was operationally responsible for a quite high profile high risk activity and dealt with complaints.  I can still recall the MD’s words when reviewing my early efforts at writing responses. ‘Success is not about winning the argument it’s about getting them off your back while keeping them happy enough to be sure you never hear from them again’

I contacted the CAA to enquire and discovered they now wanted copies of the whole training record. I copied the 20 pages of records and put them in the post first class. A couple of day later I received confirmation that the rating had been issued.

This was test day plus 47.

What could possibly wrong…….?

Aftermath Phase 3

Martin called. It emerged that his SEP rating expired in a few weeks’ time. I had no idea why this had not been revalidated with the licence issue. Martin said that they had offered to do this if he sent his licence back together with the fee. Naturally he was reluctant to give up his precious document. There is one CAA authorised examiner in Denmark so given a hundred mile car journey this could be resolved. 

Well at least ATO was on a nice little earner !

Rate One Aviation employs no admin staff. There had been no time during the training for proper invoicing so we had just asked for an interim deposit. In fact, through no fault of his own we were paying Martin to fly. His fuel and approach fees were being charged to our account in order to avoid wasted time and to allow him to benefit from the local training rate.

In summary about 15 person days were needed to deliver 32 hours of IR training and a test ready aircraft. We have invoiced for 9 days training. No charge is made for unanticipated administration and when instructing my charges go to meeting the not inconsiderable Rate One Aviation overheads. Neither Roy nor I charge for the test day spent supporting the candidate. No charge was made for the unscheduled use of the simulator. There have been almost 100 Emails exchanged.

Forums and blogs splutter at the outrageous cost of getting an IR. An ATO approval is a licence to print money.

What could have possibly have gone wrong?

European Instrument Qualification Handbook


Amidst all of the time and effort involved in establishing and running the ATO, Jim has worked extensively to prepare a comprehensive, thoughtful and illustrated Training Manual. Entitled European Instrument Qualifications Handbook, it addresses all of the challenges and issues for the private pilot brought about by the Competency Based IR and the EIR. Additionally consideration is given to the requirements around conversion of FAA (and other) licences to EASA.

We are quite happy for you to download your personal copy of this manual – you just need to register for access into our Members Area.

If you would like to purchase the fully bound glossy printed version, these are available at £40.00 including postage & packing – just drop us an email to: