Sorting out the ratings
With a plethora of different kinds of instrument ratings around these days, it might be helpful to clarify just what is what. So here’s my quick (and by no means comprehensive) guide.
The ‘full’ instrument rating – earning an unadorned ‘IR’ in your licence – is just that. The holder is entitled to the full privileges of the instrument rating after passing seven written exams and a skills test. In the EASA version, minimum flying training hours are fifty hours single-engine or 55 hours multi. The rating can be used anywhere in the world and must be revalidated every year. Aviation authorities in other countries (such as the FAA in the US) have different training requirements but the rating carries the same privileges.
The ‘competency based’ instrument rating (CB-IR) carries exactly the same privileges as the full IR. Indeed, it is a full IR, the only difference being the route getting there and the extra letters ‘CB-IR’ on your licence. It’s an EASA rating but valid globally. You still need to pass seven exams but the theory is somewhat less involved than the full IR. The minimum training hours are also a little lower. A key benefit for many UK pilots is that some of the hours flown for the IR(R) rating as well as subsequent IFR trips can count towards the total required – hence the competency bit. This is currently the best option for a European private pilot to achieve an instrument rating.
The ‘IR(R)’ (or IMC rating as it used to be called) is a restricted
instrument rating issued only in the UK. You’ll need a minimum fifteen hours flying training and there’s a single written exam. The rating gives you some of the privileges of the full instrument rating but the landing visibility minimums are higher, and crucially you cannot fly in Class A airspace, which essentially bars you from the IFR system. And you can’t use the rating outside the UK. On the horizon is the ‘BIR’ or
basic instrument rating, which will allow EASA licence holders to fly IFR anywhere in Europe including Class A airspace, although to higher minimums than the full IR. The goal is to make a much more accessible instrument rating for private pilots. The final rollout is still to come, hopefully within a year or two, but when it does it will probably largely supersede the CB-IR as the best way to get a sizeable slice of the privileges of an instrument rating for substantially less hassle and expenditure.
And finally, to add to this headache of acronyms, the ‘EIR’ or
en route instrument rating. In my opinion, this is a poorly-conceived idea which I won’t go into, largely because almost nobody has bothered to get one since it first arrived on the scene alongside the CB-IR.