What makes an aircraft IFR certified?

By Erlend Vaage

Basic requirements

The aircraft itself has to be able to be IFR certified. You can find this information in the EASA type certificate list (TCDS). A search in the database can come out like this:

A note in the POH or a placard in the cockpit stating “VFR only” will also prevent you from flying IFR with that aircraft.

The basic legal requirements can be found in NCO.IDE.A.125:

 Aeroplanes operated under IFR shall be equipped with: 

 (a) a means of measuring and displaying the following:

    (1) magnetic heading;

    (2) time in hours, minutes and seconds;

    (3) pressure altitude;

    (4) indicated airspeed;

    (5) vertical speed;
    (6) turn and slip;
    (7) attitude;
    (8) stabilised heading;

    (9) outside air temperature; and
    (10) Mach number, whenever speed limitations are expressed in terms of Mach number;
 (b) a means of indicating when the supply of power to the gyroscopic instruments is not adequate; and

 (c) a means of preventing malfunction of the airspeed indicating system required in (a)(4) due to condensation or icing. 


(b) Typically a suction indicator for vacuum driven gyroscopic instruments or a voltmeter/ammeter for electric instrument.

(c) Pitot heat.

More about this in the book Instrumentation.

You can actually fly a lot of your training for your instrument rating on an old Cessna 172 like this one! Photo from Pixabay.

A few myths – debunked

As you can see, there is no requirement for dual altimeters, dual radios, dual VORs, GPS, autopilot etc.

Additional requirements

As most flight schools for the instrument ratings operate under Part.NCO, the aircraft will have to be equipped for the kind of operations they will perform.

And when training for your CB-IR/BIR with your instrument instructor you will need to follow the same regulations.

And then there’s the national requirements! I’ve made this page to give some guidance.

Radio communications equipment (NCO.IDE.A.190):

 (a) Where required by the airspace being flown aeroplanes shall be equipped with radio communication equipment capable of conducting two-way communication with those aeronautical stations and on those frequencies to meet airspace requirements.

 (b) Radio communication equipment, if required by (a), shall provide for communication on the aeronautical emergency frequency 121,5 MHz

 (c) When more than one communication equipment unit is required, each shall be independent of the other or others to the extent that a failure in any one will not result in failure of any other. 

Navigation equipment (NCO.IDE.A.196)

(a) Aeroplanes operated over routes that cannot be navigated by reference to visual landmarks shall be equipped with any navigation equipment necessary to enable them to proceed in accordance with:

   (1) the ATS flight plan; if applicable; and

   (2) the applicable airspace requirements.

(b) Aeroplanes shall have sufficient navigation equipment to ensure that, in the event of the failure of one item of equipment at any stage of the flight, the remaining equipment shall allow safe navigation in accordance with (a), or an appropriate contingency action, to be completed safely.

(c) Aeroplanes operated on flights in which it is intended to land in IMC shall be equipped with suitable equipment capable of providing guidance to a point from which a visual landing can be performed. This equipment shall be capable of providing such guidance for each aerodrome at t which it is intended to land in IMC and for any designated alternate aerodromes.

Explained examples

(a) (1) If filing a SID or STAR where GNSS (GPS) waypoints are used, you will then have to be equipped with a suitable GNSS reciever meeting the performance requirements. More about this in the book Flight planning and monitoring and Radio Navigation.

(a) (2) E.g. RNP-5 for a specific airway or routing.

(b) E.g. a single VOR receiver will not provide you with any backup, but dual VOR receivers or an additional GNSS will.

(c) This information will normally be given on your instrument approach plate. Let’s look at one, e.g. the LOC Rwy 34 approach for ESST (Torsby, Sweden):

The LOC Rwy 34 approach for ESST (Torsby, Sweden)

As you can see, ADF and DME is required to fly this approach, including the missed approach procedure (which includes a turn to the locator (TY)). As the approach is of the localizer type, there is actually no need for a glide path indication in the aircraft.

Another funny thing about this approach, is that the DME is actually for the instrument approach for runway 16 (opposite). Therefore, the DME frequency differs from the LOC frequency. This means you will also have to be able to tune and ident your DME to another frequency than the LOC. Not all equipment is capable of this.

Transponder (NCO.IDE.A.200)

Where required by the airspace being flown, aeroplanes shall be equipped with a secondary surveillance radar (SSR) transponder with all the required capabilities.

This is pretty much self-explainatory. But be aware that a MODE S transponder is mandatory in most of Europe. The national AIPs will provide you with the current regulations.

Flying at night

If flying at night, you will have to be equipped with lights according to NCO.IDE.A.115:

Aeroplanes operated at night shall be equipped with:

(a) an anti-collision light system;

(b) navigation/position lights;

(c) a landing light;

(d) lighting supplied from the aeroplane’s electrical system to provide adequate illumination for all instruments and equipment essential to the safe operation of the aeroplane;

(e) lighting supplied from the aeroplane’s electrical system to provide illumination in all passenger compartments;

(f) an independent portable light for each crew member station; and

(g) lights to conform with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea if the aeroplane is operated as a seaplane.

And now for some Q&A:

Q: Can I train for my CB-IR/BIR in a traditionally equipped C172 or a PA28

A: Yes, a lot of it! All of the basic instrument flying skills (which is much the same as you were introduced to in your PPL-programme). And maybe some VOR and NDB tracking, including DME if you are so equipped.

It could actually make a lot of sense starting out on a simpler aircraft and then move over to a more suitably equipped aircraft for the operations you will perform later on.

Q: Will I need a GPS?

A: Yes and no. PBN-operations are now a part of the training – and so a suitable GPS receiver will have to be present for that part of the programme (and your Skill Test). The navigation database shall also be updated at all times.

Q: How do I know if the installed equipment is approved for IFR?

A: The installed equipment shall be described in the POH/AFMS. It will also have to be installed correctly. It is part of the installers job to ensure the requirements of the STC are met and the AFMS/POHS is correctly marked-up to show the final approved capability.