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Should you practice approaches with a student pilot?

Posted by on October 15, 2009 7 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

Here is a question from a new CFI concerning practicing approaches with a student pilot:

I am a new CFI-A, and currently finishing up one of my first students. While just buzzing around with the student under the hood performing unusual attitudes, climbs/ descents and turns, I would like to introduce to my student a little bit of the instrument approach procedures. To me it seems a little bit better with “If you enter IMC while VFR, here is how you can get out…” Can I do this as just a CFI-A and not a CFII-A?

This is a great question, and one that I’m sure a lot of newly minted CFIs have wondered.  There are actually two different approaches to this question.  First is the legal answer (what can you do) and second is the prudent answer (what should you do…IMHO).


According to 61.109 (Aeronautical Experience) Private Pilot applicants are required to have 3 hours training of simulated instrument training.  Here is the current wording:

3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

While it doesn’t specifically say “instrument approaches”, I think most people would consider an instrument approach procedure to be practicing the use of a navigation system or facility.  Also, while you are receiving vectors for an approach, you would be reviewing “radar services” right?

The other regulation to consider is the flight instructor privileges and limitations.  For this, we look at 61.195 subparagraph (c) which specifies when a CFI must have a instrument rating (on the flight instructor certificate):

(c) Instrument Rating. A flight instructor who provides instrument flight training for the issuance of an instrument rating or a type rating not limited to VFR must hold an instrument rating on his or her flight instructor certificate and pilot certificate that is appropriate to the category and class of aircraft in which instrument training is being provided.

So as long as the instrument training you are providing is not for the issuance of instrument rating, then yes, I believe you could practice instrument approach procedures with your student pilot.  But should you?


I would highly suggest that you not practice approaches with a student pilot.  And here is my reasoning:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Inadvertent IFR or VFR into IMC accidents are still a huge problem area for General Aviation as the current AOPA Nall report indicates.  (see chart) The solution however isn’t found by introducing primary students to complicated approach procedures.  The solution is teaching students 1) how to avoid getting into this situation altogether and b) how to overcome disorientation, maintain aircraft control and get the assistance from ATC that they need to find VMC conditions.

Sudden fear and panic is the feeling that will grip your student if they accidentally encounter IMC during a flight.  It is imperative that your student know how to maintain positive control and how to request assistance from ATC.

And that’s the other thing, if ATC is contacted by a VFR only pilot who is stuck in accidental IMC, ATC is not going to entertain the thought of that student shooting an approach (unless absolutely necessary and even then probably a radar approach).  ATCs’  focus and task will be on getting that pilot back to VMC conditions so that the pilot can visually acquire a airport and land.

I would also be nervous about introducing this to my student for fear that they might use this knowledge to overestimate their own ability which could lead to a false sense of confidence.  I could just hear my student thinking, “Weather isn’t that great at my destination, but Ill be fine if does deteriorates because I know that if I really really had too, I could do an instrument approach.”

Again, I would suggest using the required 3 hours with your student to thoroughly cover the basics of instrument flight.  Make sure they know and understand that maintaining aircraft control is critical and that ATC is there to help steer the pilot back to VFR conditions.


  1. JoshDMartin on Oct 18, 2009

    Good question and good answer. I wouldn’t ever teach a primary student that either for the reasons you gave.

  2. Ken Lane on Oct 22, 2009

    I’ll put students through much more than the requisite three hours for a few reasons. One, three hours simply is not enough. When I received my training twenty-five-plus years ago, hood time was not required.

    Second, I’ll put a primary student into IMC. I want them to experience it for two reasons. Actually, three. First, I want them to know flying into IMC is serious business. Until trained AND prepared, they need to work hard to avoid it. Two, they’ll see the importance of obtaining an instrument rating. Third, they’ll see just having an instrument rating is not enough. It takes proficiency and dedicated work to stay there.

    If in the event they do fly into IMC, I want them to be able to be as calm and prepared as when losing power. Simply follow the procedure for correcting the situation.

    Instrument flight should not be taken lightly, especially by primary students. But, I want them to experience it and in a safe manner. Not by inadvertant flight into IMC.

  3. Paul on Oct 22, 2009

    Great points Ken. Thanks.

    You would think that with all the VFR-into-IMC accidents, that your suggestions would make it into the FARs. I agree with you that preparation is the key in not becoming another statistic.

  4. John Eakin on Oct 27, 2009

    I have to second Ken’s comments as I always insured that students got to see the inside of a cloud and learned to respect weather. But beyond the minimum required hours and some minimal level of proficiency on the gauges, I believe it depends on the student.

    Some students struggle to meet the PTS standards, some are a little timid and need a lot of TLC. OTOH, some students need more of a challenge – if for no other reason than to demonstrate how much they don’t know.

    At certain times of the year – when I knew that the weather was improving AND I had minimums for an ASR or LOC (or whatever equipment was installed), it was standard practice to get a clearance to on top. Go to the practice area for airwork, then shoot an approach to home. The alternative may have been that the student would otherwise be weathered out of flying for weeks at a time. (Nice cool air in the practice area, too.)

    So my vote goes for knowing your student. What is appropriate for his level of experience? Will he benefit from the experience? Can it be done safely (and cost effectively for the student)?

    Keeping flight training fun, exciting, and interesting is a constant battle and a little time in actual is a lot more fun than the dreaded hood – and who isn’t impressed by breaking out on top in bright sunshine.

  5. Max Trescott on Nov 26, 2009

    I worry that by requiring Student pilots to have 3 hours of training under the hood to get a Private certificate that they may be left with the false impression that if they were to blunder into the clouds, they are now equipped to handle it. I tell them “Never enter a cloud under penalty of death” after explaining the 90% fatality rate of VFR-into-IMC accidents.
    Recently, for the first time I did demonstrated an autopilot coupled ILS approach to a student pilot learning to fly in a G1000 C172. He’s very tech savvy and I’m sure will go on to get an instrument rating soon after he finishes his Private. My purpose was not to encourage him to get trapped in the clouds, but to expose him to the benefits of an instrument rating. Candidly though, if a Private pilot understood his autopilot, it I don’t think it be that hard for a knowledgeable controller/pilot to talk a pilot, stuck on top of the clouds, through an autopilot coupled ILS.

  6. Mohammed Elmhami on Feb 22, 2010

    I recently got my PPL, and I thought that I would comment on this just to give everyone the perspective of a student. I strongly agree with John Eakin when he mentioned that you should know your student. I believe that extra instrument instruction is great as long as the student learns something from it. It will give the student a bigger picture, and hopefully it will make the student respect what can happen in IMC.
    I did the basic “under the hood” training, but it would have been nice if I had got to experience actual IMC. I know that I won’t dare go into IMC, but that’s me. Some students might feel overconfident and others might be too timid. In my opinion it is up to the instructor to determine if the experience is going to be good for the student or not.

  7. Ricarda Frymire on Mar 18, 2010

    Thanks for posting this, It’s just what I was looking for on bing. I’d much rather hear opinions from an individual, rather than a corporate site, that’s why I like blogs so much. Thanks!

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