Visual Flight Rules


  • While used virtually interchangeably, there is a big difference between Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR)

Visual Flight Rules:

  • Visual Flight Rules (VFR) concern the regulation associated with flight in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)

Visual Meteorological Conditions:

  • No person may operate an aircraft under basic VFR when the flight visibility is less, or at a distance from clouds that is less, than that prescribed for the corresponding altitude and class of airspace
    • Student pilots must comply with 14 CFR Section 61.89(a) (6) and (7)
  • Except as provided in 14 CFR Section 91.157, Special VFR Weather Minimums, no person may operate an aircraft beneath the ceiling under VFR within the lateral boundaries of controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport when the ceiling is less than 1,000'. (See 14 CFR Section 1.155(c))

VFR Cruising Altitudes:

  • VFR Cruising Altitudes [Figure 1] are established to reduce mid-air collisions by establishing cruise altitudes goverend by FAR 91.159 which states:
    • Except while holding in a holding pattern of 2 minutes or less (see VFR Holding), or while turning, each person operating an aircraft under VFR in level cruising flight more than 3,000 feet above the surface shall maintain the appropriate altitude or flight level prescribed below, unless otherwise authorized by ATC:
      • When operating below 18,000 feet MSL and:
        • On a magnetic course of zero degrees through 179 degrees, any odd thousand foot MSL altitude + 500 feet (such as 3,500, 5,500, or 7,500); or
        • On a magnetic course of 180 degrees through 359 degrees, any even thousand foot MSL altitude + 500 feet (such as 4,500, 6,500, or 8,500)
      • When operating above 18,000 feet MSL, maintain the altitude or flight level assigned by ATC
  • ATC may give other restrictions if you are under their control, say with flight following or when within controlled airspace
  • IFR Cruising Altitudes can be found by referencing FAR 91.179
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
Figure 1: VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels

Basic VFR Minimums:

  • No person may operate VFR below the requirements for the applicable class airspace
  • Students must comply with 14 CFR Section 61.89(a) (6) and (7)
  • Except as provided in 91.157, may operate an aircraft beneath the ceiling under VFR within the lateral boundaries of controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport when the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet (See 14 CFR Section 91.155(c)

Airspace VFR visibility requirements
Figure 2: Airspace Visibility Requirements

VFR in Congested Areas:

  • A high percentage of near midair collisions occur below 8,000' AGL and within 30 miles of an airport
  • When operating VFR in these highly congested areas, whether you intend to land at an airport within the area or are just flying through, it is recommended that extra vigilance be maintained and that you monitor an appropriate control frequency
  • Normally the appropriate frequency is an approach control frequency
    • By such monitoring action you can "get the picture" of the traffic in your area
  • When the approach controller has radar, radar traffic advisories may be given to VFR pilots upon request (Flight Following)

VFR Flights in Terminal Areas:

  • Use reasonable restraint in exercising the prerogative of VFR flight, especially in terminal areas
  • The weather minimums and distances from clouds are minimums
  • Giving yourself a greater margin in specific instances is just good judgment
    • Approach Area:

      • Conducting a VFR operation in a Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E surface area when the official visibility is 3 or 4 miles is not prohibited, but good judgment would dictate that you keep out of the approach area
    • Reduced Visibility:

      • It has always been recognized that precipitation reduces forward visibility
      • Consequently, although again it may be perfectly legal to cancel your IFR flight plan at any time you can proceed VFR, it is good practice, when precipitation is occurring, to continue IFR operation into a terminal area until you are reasonably close to your destination
    • Simulated Instrument Flights:

      • In conducting simulated instrument flights, be sure that the weather is good enough to compensate for the restricted visibility of the safety pilot and your greater concentration on your flight instruments
      • Give yourself a little greater margin when your flight plan lies in or near a busy airway or close to an airport

Follow IFR Procedures Even When Operating VFR:

  • To maintain IFR proficiency, pilots are urged to practice IFR procedures whenever possible, even when operating VFR
  • Suggested IFR proficiency practices include:

    • Obtain a complete preflight and weather briefing. Check the NOTAMs
    • File a flight plan. This is an excellent low cost insurance policy. The cost is the time it takes to fill it out. The insurance includes the knowledge that someone will be looking for you if you become overdue at your destination
    • Use current charts
    • Use the navigation aids. Practice maintaining a good course-keep the needle centered
    • Maintain a constant altitude which is appropriate for the direction of flight
    • Estimate en route position times
    • Make accurate and frequent position reports to the FSSs along your route of flight
  • Simulated IFR flight is recommended (under the hood); however, pilots are cautioned to review and adhere to the requirements specified in 14 CFR Section 91.109 before and during such flight
  • When flying VFR at night, in addition to the altitude appropriate for the direction of flight, pilots should maintain an altitude which is at or above the minimum en route altitude as shown on charts
    • This is especially true in mountainous terrain, where there is usually very little ground reference
    • Do not depend on your eyes alone to avoid rising unlighted terrain, or even lighted obstructions such as TV towers