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Competency Based Modular Instrument Rating

Thoughts about the Competency Based Modular Instrument Rating, by Matt Lane

Matt Lane is a CPL/FI/FE and currently Head of Training at RAF Brize Norton Flying Club; he also trains and examines for a number of schools around the Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire area and is on the AOPA Instructor Committee. He is more than happy to talk to anyone considering the CBM IR who wants advice or training recommendations.

For many years, the Modular IR would entail completing a Multi-Engine course of 45 hours of training at an EASA Training Organisation (assuming 10 hours credited for holding a CPL). However due to heroic efforts of a number of GA organisations on the EASA FCL.008 working group, the Competency Based Modular IR (CBM IR) route was introduced into EASA FCL legislation and UK CAA documentation in Summer 2014. The aim of this course is to train PPL or CPL holders for the IR, taking into account prior instrument flight instruction and experience. The actual breakdown of requirements is quite complex and I won’t attempt to dissect it here, but it can result in a substantial cost and time saving on the 45 hour route.

I am a CPL, FI and Examiner, and have been instructing and examining for the IMC rating for about 7 years. My next goal was to obtain my Multi-Engine Piston (MEP) rating and Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (ME-IR). I completed my MEP successfully in May 2015, and the plan was to complete the IR during Summer 2015 in a scheduled break between work roles.

In practice, the CBM IR meant I could credit my previous IFR training (during CPL course and IMC rating and instructor courses) and IFR Pilot-in-Command time such that I needed to complete a minimum of 15 hours IR MEP training at a Training Organisation. I would of course still need to reach test standard, but I reasoned that even if I took over the minimum 15 hours, I should be able to achieve a substantial cost and time saving on the full route.

Having now successfully completed the course and test, this write up is a collection of my thoughts which I hope may help other pilots considering the CBM IR. I don’t intend to describe the course content and test in detail, as it is well detailed in CAA Standards Document 01 and is of course the same as the normal IR, but to concentrate on some considerations specific to the Competency Based route.

Theoretical Knowledge (TK)

I completed the ATPL TK course so can’t really comment on the new CBM IR TK course. I had already done CPL TK some years ago for my CPL, but I elected to take the full suit of ATPL exams (only credit was VFR Comms!) rather than the CBM IR course so I retained future options once I had the CPL-IR. They are a pain to get through and could be improved, but they are the system and exams aren’t going to go away. They are do-able if you just knuckle down and I know a large number of people who could have passed them all by now if they had redirected the amount of moaning and griping about exams towards actually studying! I used ProPilot (now CTC) with everything ipad based which was brilliant; the days of lugging multiple large ring folders around are thankfully long gone.

Choosing a Training Organisation

I set myself a number of criteria when looking for an Approved Training Organisation (ATO):

* Must be daily commutable from home – avoids hotel costs and keeps family time.
* Home based instrument approaches – avoids having to waste time flying for approaches.
* Must have more than one runway to avoid loss of flying days due cross-winds.
* Good track record of IR passes / know the IR test and standards well.
* More than one MEP aircraft available – I didn’t want to lose days of training due to maintenance or unserviceability. 
* Good, professional and responsive customer service attitude (somewhat of a rarity in UK it would seem!).

I approached a number of ATOs, some never supplied a reply to emails or calls, and a number replied they had little appreciation of the CBM-IR and didn’t have the relevant approvals in place. However, Aeros at Gloucester were really helpful and came straight back to me. They were just waiting for their CBM-IR approval to come back from the CAA and suggested a visit. After a detailed discussion in person, including meeting the staff, a tour of facilities, simulator and aircraft, I came away very impressed and signed up for a three week block of training. Aeros and Gloucester ticked all the boxes for me, and I would urge people to draw up a similar list of their personal criteria and stick to it. A personal visit is also vital to ensure you like the feel / style of the organisation, meet some of the instructors and get a warm feeling that your course is going to be well organised and run efficiently. I would also encourage people to pretty much forget about making direct course cost comparisons – badly taught lessons, hotel / travel bills and generally inefficient training could easily negate any cost savings.

Choice of Aircraft

After discussion with friends, I was keen to do the course on a modern EFIS aircraft. Not only would this be the kind of machine I hoped to fly post-IR, but I reasoned that making life more difficult than necessary for the course by not making the most of all available technologies would be false economy. Luckily Aeros were able to offer the Diamond DA42 or Tecnam P2006T, both fitted with Garmin displays and autopilots. In the end, I plumped for the Tecnam as it had good availability, was cheaper than the DA42 and the build and feel appealed to me. A total cruise consumption of 40 litres an hour for 130kts IAS / 145kts TAS from the two Rotax 912s was certainly impressive. Had it been autumn/winter, I would have probably gone for the DA42 due to it’s Flight-Into-Known-Icing clearance which the Tecnam lacked; certainly in the UK lack of de-icing capability could seriously restrict your training progress.

The Tecnam P200T – Aeros have two available:

Cockpit with Garmin 950 – same as G1000 but without integrated engine instrumentation:

I found the Garmin setup (Garmin 950 in the Tecnam) to be a revelation for instrument flying. The sheer amount of information available is hugely impressive, the large format display makes attitude selection and the scan easier, and capabilities like auto-ident of nav aids and wind vector displays give you valuable capacity when airborne. The IR in the UK also still contains a large degree of single-needle tracking work, especially NDB procedures and holds, and I found the Garmin ability to overlay the ADF display onto the HSI with selectable course bar makes life much easier for the non-precision tracking elements. Having said all that, the Garmin philosophy and controls take some learning and time spent on ground briefing / reading and practice on a ground computer simulator is vital before airborne use. There is also the horrible design trap of having the course selector and barometric pressure setting on the same rotary selector – many a student has inadvertently changed the altimeter pressure setting when changing course and failed to notice before a descent or climb.

Many readers will perhaps be thinking of using their own or group aircraft. I would counsel a degree of caution here. Most ATOs and their instructors know their own aircraft and settings inside out, and know what works for the IR flight profile. Some privately operated aircraft also have quirky equipment or instrument fits, and I would say that a good HSI, autopilot and well integrated airways approved GPS are vital – anything less will make your flying far more demanding than it need be. Doing the course on your own aircraft is certainly not impossible, but do think carefully before introducing more complications to the course.

Attitude and Approach

By this, I mean the mental versions! The course and flying was very mentally draining and needed total focus, I would strongly recommend it needs to be done in concentrated blocks of time and you need to switch off from work/other distractions – no taking work emails and phone calls. If you don’t immerse yourself in the training I would say it will take you noticeably longer. The hourly rate for good quality IR training is high (even if single engine), you must maximise progress in the aircraft and be well prepared for every trip.

Before starting the CBM IR I would urge people to be honest (or seek an honest opinion from an IRI) over the level and standard of their current IFR flying; you could end up spending a lot of time airborne sorting out problem areas or bad habits and actually end up spending more than the full IR course which uses extensive simulator time before the aircraft. Breezing in to an ATO expecting to be test perfect after the minimum 10 hours is certain to be unrealistic; each training sortie is around 2 hours long so the hours can mount up quickly.

Some people may also have been out of the training environment for a long time – it is important to remember that ATO instructors know what standards of aircraft operation, sortie management, checks and handling will be required during the IR test and you must be prepared to work to this. They also know what the Examiners will and won’t permit during test; for example holds will have to be flown manually and using single-needle tracking, with any moving map mode deselected and autopilot NAV mode is not permitted. Some of this could no doubt generate debate and may not be how you intend to operate post-IR test, but the course is designed to train and test a generic baseline IR flying ability. Overall, it is important to switch your brain and attitude into training mode and accept the course for what it is – getting you to pass standard for the IR test schedule.

The Flying

The full IR sortie and test profile is something like: instrument departure, enter airways, short airways routing to destination airport, radar vectored precision approach to minima, missed approach, simulated engine failure during go around, diversion back to home airfield. General handling (stalls and limited panel) on way back. Join hold then simulated asymmetric procedural non-precision approach to minima, asymmetric visual go-around into asymmetric circuit to land. A typical profile from Gloucester would be departure, direct BADIM to route the L9 airway to ERNOK, radar vectored ILS at Cardiff, then return to Gloucester for holds, NDB approach and circuit.

The aim of the training was build up to practicing these full profiles as soon as possible, so we started with procedures at Gloucester, then added in the airways section, then included the asymmetric work until we were flying the full profile each sortie. We also aimed to visit most of the airfields that could be expected on test routes. The cost of approaches adds up significantly so remember to budget for this. Although I was experienced at IMC rating level, these profiles were a huge step up in complexity and workload, I frequently landed totally wrung out and a two hour sortie went by in a flash! Luckily the training at Aeros was superb, with really good value-added pre-flight briefings and post-flight debriefs, so I was able to progress well and quickly brush up on weaker areas.

Knowing the timeline for each flight and the pre-flight planning and sticking to it is vital – there is nothing worse than feeling rushed or being behind the timelines, and it will compromise the quality of your flying. Every flight I worked back the timeline from the beacon slot, through to take off, taxi time, start of checks and defined a ‘crew in’ time which I made sure everything was ready for and we worked to. Availability of training approach slots seems to be getting ever constrained; from Gloucester we used Cardiff and Coventry regularly – Bristol and Birmingham were very difficult to get available, and Oxford was generally booked up by the home school. This makes flexibility over sortie timing and being accurate when booked in ever more important.

The IR is a very procedural, checklist and set process driven type of training and flight. One of the most vital things is to know and memorise the pitch attitude, power and speed settings for every phase of flight; you simply do not have the time or capacity to be faffing around with reconfiguring the aircraft. For example, it should be instinctive to be able to set a desired descent rate, at a desired speed, while maintaining required heading. Cockpit management is also very important, a well organised kneeboard with clear PLOG and approach charts and checks all readily available is crucial – routing back to the GST beacon to join the hold for an NDB approach when the runway has swapped on you is not the time to find out your plate for the opposite runway approach is in the back of the aircraft, ask me how I know!

Single pilot IR is hugely demanding on your capacity, if your RT isn’t slick and you are stumbling over checks you will struggle and waste expensive training hours. Time spent practicing procedures with a computer and ‘hangar flying’ sat in the aircraft learning checks can really help progress. I used the RANT XL software every evening during the course, with various wind scenarios, just to practice the holds and procedures and replay anything that hadn’t gone so well during the day.

In common with most EFIS cockpits, the Tecnam standby instrumentation is a small reserve attitude indicator, ASI and altimeter, albeit with no balance ball strangely. This means that the traditional limited panel failure scenario of no attitude indicator and no directional gyro cannot be replicated during the test and a sign off of competency in these aspects during training is required. Like most schools, this could be done in Aeros FNPT2 simulator which was configured like a Piper Seneca and we booked in one simulator sortie. We also took the training opportunity to practice in depth some procedural aspects like DME arcs and procedure turns that would be expensive to do for prolonged times in the aircraft. I had mixed feelings about the simulator; the ability to pause and replay procedures was really useful but I didn’t find it the easiest thing to fly accurately. I would recommend anyone planning to use FNPT time plans a concentrated schedule with defined training / aims and completes it before going into the aircraft, rather than adhoc sessions, as felt it could set back your handling accuracy in the aircraft to keep swapping.

After 15 hours of flying, I completed a full 2 hour mock test profile with the CFI. This went well and following some really useful debrief points and good tips, he recommended me for test. Unfortunately, this coincided with a peak holiday period and I had a frustrating wait of over a week for CAA Flight Test Bookings to source an available Examiner for the test. Worried that I could go a bit rusty during the week, I elected to do another test profile with my instructor and this was really worthwhile. At £746 for an initial test and and £500 odd for a partial (plus aircraft hire), you really don’t want to partial or fail for lack of another training sortie or two and I strongly recommend people try and set a conservative budget for their training hours.

The Test

I was blessed with good weather on test day, main cloudbase was around 4-5000ft so we would be in IMC for the en-route sections, but holds and approaches would largely be clear of unhelpful turbulent cumulus cloud. Our destination airfield for planning was Coventry with the airways section through the Daventry CTA via the DTY VOR, an ILS would be flown at Coventry with holds and non-precision approach back at Gloucester. The wind was almost calm which was a mixed blessing, it made for a degree of stability but relatively high groundspeeds on approach which required some thought and the light wind meant both Gloucester and Coventry kept swapping runways and approaches so I had to be prepared for a variety of procedures! In the end, all went well and I was delighted to achieve a first time pass. It was a demanding sortie, but Aeros instruction had been spot on and I felt absolutely ready and prepared for everything the examiner wanted to see.

Final Impressions

The single-pilot IR course and test is undoubtedly some of the most demanding flying you can undertake, but it is tremendously rewarding and will add hugely to your flying capability and confidence. It is important to remember that the course is designed to train you to pass the IR test schedule and is not like everyday ‘touring’ usage of an IR; to be honest getting holds and procedures / approaches well flown and accurate is the best use of expensive training hours rather than chugging along an airway which is relatively simple. I found Aeros and Gloucester to be excellent in every respect, other schools have good reputations as well, choosing a organisation that you are comfortable and happy in is vital.

I feel the most important lesson is that you must get an honest appraisal of your IFR skills and flying standards from an IRI before attempting the course; for some people extended training hours in the aircraft could easily outweigh CBM IR savings and you might have been better attempting the normal modular IR course with its simulator phase lead in. However, if you are prepared to focus on the course, work hard and absorb the training it is a fantastic opportunity to obtain a hugely capable rating in an accessible and efficient manner.

(C) M A Lane, Sep 2015