There are possibly only a few dozen Enroute IR (EIR) holders in Europe. I am one of them and I would like to share my thoughts on it. After all, this rating will soon disappear, only to rise from the ashes, re-branded and improved under the name “Basic IR”. I truly think that this is an important step to increasing the instrument rated number of private pilots. An instrument rating is a useful tool that makes any pilot a better pilot. It expands our skills and knowledge, teaches us risk management and takes us further, not only literally.
Of course, the Basic IR is what should’ve been the replacement of the proper IR. But EASA wasn’t bold enough to completely replace the way-too-complicated rating with something built on a common sense approach. The result is this Basic IR, an instrument rating that isn’t ICAO compliant, but at least enables us general aviation pilots to climb into the clouds without too much hassle.
The Basic IR will consist of three modules. One for instrument flying basics, one for enroute IFR flying and another for flying in clouds from takeoff to landing – albeit to slightly higher minimums compared to the normal IR.
Benefits of the Enroute IR or Basic IR enroute module
Many pilots and instructors tried to convince me that this rating is not useful, based on the argument that bad weather is usually encountered on takeoff and landing, while the IFR cruise is on top in the sunshine. Well yes, weather-wise I get that. What is neglected are all the other benefits of IFR flying, among those:
- Crossing the airspace of large airports: Some TMAs, such as the airspace of Zurich is almost a no-fly zone for VFR pilots. In the image above we are cruising IFR at FL090 crossing the terminal area in a straight line on a direct routing;
- Simplified radio work: When flying VFR, I often have to repeat the same information all over again on initial calls when changing frequencies. After joining IFR it will be a matter of seconds: “Langen radar, HB-ADA, direct KPT, FL090” – “Radar contact.”. That’s it. Of course, transmitting under IFR is more structured and precise but this isn’t a drawback. Once learned, it will always be the same;
- Becoming a better pilot: This could be, in my opinion, the explanation of why FAA pilots are statistically safer than those in Europe. More than half of their pilot population has an instrument rating. Most of them aren’t maintaining their currency, but they still learned a lot more about flying than the average Joe on the old continent. Personally, I feel like a safer pilot because even when flying VFR I am very certain about my navigation skills, I am more aware of my piloting (which is dependent on my currency) and I am more structured than I was before getting the IR (I also hold the FAA IR);
- Having the middle airspace for yourself: The airspace between, say 5’000ft and 12’000ft is almost empty. You’re usually above all the sailplanes and local low-level VFR traffic;
- Simple flight planning: Simply type your destination into the free flight planning tool http://www.autorouter.aero and fly it. Use their chatbot on Telegram to delay, cancel or amend your flight plan right from your smart device. The chatbot will even send you an updated briefing pack before your departure or answer your requests for the latest weather radar instantly. It really is an amazing help and I can only recommend it.
ForeFlight is also an app that I can’t recommend highly enough. With the VFR/IFR Jeppesen charts of Europe, ForeFlight it is basically the only tool you need from planning the flight to the shutdown (meanwhile it got pretty flawless regarding VFR and IFR). It helps you tremendously with your situational awareness, especially when switching from IFR to VFR and vice versa;
- No worries about complex or special use airspace: Under VFR it can be very challenging to try flying in a straight line on long cross-country flights. Or at least, the airspaces can look so intimidating at times, you just don’t bother flying beyond your known area (so you miss all these wonderful destinations in Europe). Under the instrument flight rules you simply get guided by ATC, forget about all these airspace rules (the only rule to know is to see and avoid whenever in VMC). Being based in Switzerland, for example the TMA of Zurich doesn’t intimidate me anymore. Under VFR, I never would’ve touched it with a ten-foot pole.
My last flight was a typical example of an enroute IFR flight. We headed to St. Johann, LOIJ, in Austria (they recently added an instrument approach and departure).
The flight was completely uneventful, I simply joined IFR within the TMA of Zurich and got cleared direct to the other side of it. From Lake Constance we proceeded on a couple airways and that was it. Somewhere West of Salzburg the German controller got worried about the terrain and asked me to climb to 11’000ft. I declined and canceled IFR, descending towards the runway of the ski resort in the valley.
During the approach into St. Johann I understood the reason for the NOTAM’d displaced threshold. There was a wall of snow all around the runway and taxiway. Right at the airport is a cross-country skiing entry.
The limitations of yourself and of your rating
Of course, don’t forget about those people who said that the Enroute IR or Basic IR (enroute) won’t help you in bad weather that is below you, they were right. You need visual conditions before cancelling IFR all the way to the runway. These ratings can put you in dangerous situations, because ATC only knows that you are IFR and your airplane is GPS capable. They will assume that you are fine with an “improving” 200ft ceiling. On my EIR prof check I had exactly this situation. I would’ve loved to continue and fly to minimums with the instructor in Memmingen, but I currently only have an Enroute IR and had to remember this limitation. Naturally, if I ever find myself caught on top, I would declare PAN-PAN to proceed with an approach. However, even that is a risk. If you hold an Enroute IR or Basic IR you might not have the currency to safely stay ahead of the airplane. Thus, think ahead, decide early and always verify if your plan is working or needs changing.
I absolutely recommend getting an Enroute or Basic IR
In my humble opinion, the Basic IR – even only the seperate enroute module – is already very useful, even in the most beautiful weather. It still makes flying in Europe more predictable and easier. VFR flying is harder, really. So, do it, start your instrument training and become one of those IFR pilots.