The UK general aviation (GA) community is bracing itself for a bitter and protracted battle with 27 European Union member states whose widespread opposition to the instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) rating for pilots has forced its exclusion from the European Aviation Safety Agency draft regulation for flight crew licences (FCL).

The agency is developing a set of common standards across 31 EASA member states which will be enforceable by European law.

The IMC rating is unique to the UK due to the country's notoriously unpredictable weather and has been in existence in its various forms since 1970. The UK Civil Aviation Authority, the only national aviation authority to voice its support for the rating, says it is designed to train pilots to rescue themselves from inadvertent entry into deteriorating weather conditions.

The authority has issued around 25,000 IMC ratings to holders of air transport, commercial and private pilots licences, of which 2,300 are still current. "The IMC rating has been a safety boon," says the CAA. "There have been eight air proxes in seven years involving commercial aircraft in IMC conditions, but none of these involves a GA pilot with an IMC rating."

"A lot of people have spent time their time and money on a rating that will allow them to operate safely in bad weather and save their lives and others. EASA doesn't have a right to take this away," says a GA pilot.

The CAA and GA supporters have done a substantial amount of lobbying at European level to convince EU member states and stakeholders of the need to protect the rating.

However the opposition is widespread with countries including France, Germany, Italy and Poland appearing resolute.

"Apart from the UK nobody has come out in support of the rating. A number of states are saying nothing at all," says EASA deputy head of flight standards Eric Sivel. Opponents, which also include commercial operators, argue that rather than improve safety, the IMC rating encourages pilots to take unnecessary risks.

"Our opponents argue that if pilots choose to fly in IMC conditions they should get a proper instrument rating, but these are very time-consuming, costly and unnecessary as most of the time they are flying under visual flight rules and in visual metrological conditions," says the CAA.

The draft FCL regulation is scheduled for publication by March and should be adopted early next year following consultation, comment and review periods. EU and EASA member states then have a three-year transition period to implement the changes. EASA says it "supports the preservation of some sort of IMC flying in Europe" and is keen to find a solution.

"Although the IMC rating has not been included in the draft, pilots can continue flying with the rating until the end of the transition period in 2012. But over the next four years work we will work to build support for IMC flying throughout the EU member states," it says.