Inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) is one of the top three causes of fatal helicopter accidents. To determine how pilots are preparing themselves to survive—and avoid—IIMC encounters, we surveyed readers anonymously about their practices. ROTOR received nearly 750 responses over a two-week period, reflecting how important this issue is to HAI’s members.
Seventy percent of respondents answered yes to the question of whether they’re an IFR-rated pilot. Fifty-five percent of those respondents maintain their IFR skills by regularly practicing IIMC recovery using a simulator or other training device, and 52% regularly file and fly IFR.
Respondents who lack a rotorcraft instrument rating cited the fact that their company flies only VFR missions as the main reason they haven’t obtained a rating (49%). Only 13.5% said they haven’t obtained an instrument rating because they don’t anticipate encountering IIMC.
We also asked respondents to provide any additional comments they wished about IFR versus VFR operations. Here are some of their illuminating—and candid—responses.
We should also be discussing night operations and their strong similarity to IMC. I’ve always treated night flying as IMC. … Being “surprised” is not acceptable.
Don’t fool yourself in thinking that having an instrument rating is the answer to handling IIMC. Being instrument rated and current is NOT the same as being prepared and trained to deal with IIMC. IIMC is all about surviving the first couple of minutes; your only goal is to not lose control and not hit anything. After those first couple of minutes, your regular instrument skills become relevant again.
IIMC deaths will continue as long as we’re allowed to fly clear of clouds at an airspeed that allows you to see and avoid objects while carrying passengers.
IIMC may present a greater risk to IFR-rated pilots flying VFR profiles than VFR-only–rated pilots. Being comfortable in IMC may sway the pilot’s judgment and increase their acceptance of deteriorating conditions to a point beyond which they run out of options for a positive outcome.
Technologies like [enhanced flight] vision systems can help, as well as increased focus on standard operating procedures and risk management via an effective safety management system and flight data monitoring. [Also] addressing topics like spatial disorientation through better training/technology advancements.
It’s disappointing that most Part 135 operators of charter aircraft don’t conduct IIMC training or checking during annual checkrides. Not only do operators fail to prepare pilots for IIMC, they actively pressure pilots into flying in weather conditions conducive to an IIMC event. … I call on HAI to prioritize pilots and safety ahead of operators’ business needs. Part of this can be achieved by pressuring operators to train and check pilots for IIMC, as well as pressuring the FAA to simplify both the certification of single-engine turbine helicopters for IFR flight and the process of obtaining an IFR Ops Spec.
Synthetic vision is a game changer and should be a required basic tool.