VFR on Top

Introduction:

  • Must be requested by the pilot on an IFR flight plan, and if approved, in VFR, allows the pilot the choice to select an altitude or flight level in lieu of an assigned altitude
    • This permits a pilot to select an altitude or flight level of their choice
  • Pilots desiring to climb through a cloud, haze, smoke, or other layer may cancel their IFR flight plan to operate VFR-on-top
  • A pilot operating in VFR conditions may request to climb/descend in VFR conditions
  • Not intended to restrict pilots to operate above a layer, instead permits operation between or where no weather exists
  • Clearance to operate "VFR-on-top/VFR conditions" does not imply cancellation of the IFR flight plan
  • VFR-on-top is not permitted in certain airspace areas, such as Class A, certain restricted areas, etc.
  • Pilot assumes responsibility to be vigilant so as to see and avoid other aircraft
  • Fly at the appropriate VFR altitude as prescribed by 91.159
  • Comply with the VFR visibility and distance from cloud criteria in 91.155
  • Comply with instrument flight rules applicable (minimum altitudes, position reporting, communications, and adherence to ATC clearances)
  • Should advise ATC prior to any altitude change to ensure the exchange of accurate traffic information

Equipment:

  • No person may operate an airplane over-the-top or at night under VFR unless that airplane is equipped with the instruments and equipment required for IFR operations under 91.205(d) and one electric landing light for night operations
  • Each required instrument and item of equipment must be in operable equipment

Restrictions:

  • VFR-on-top is not permitted in certain airspace areas, such as Class A airspace, certain restricted areas, etc. Consequently, IFR flights operating VFR-on-top will avoid such airspace

Reporting:

IFR-to-VFR on Top:

  • You can fly in great visibility above a layer of clouds, provided you have a safe way to get up and far more importantly, a safe way to get back down
  • Along the Pacific Coast, particularly in winter, there can be dense early morning fog with visibility less than 1/2 mile on the runway, but the fog layer tops out in bright sun only a thousand feet higher
  • Even the low coastal hills are above it all in clear air, as are all the inland airports
  • Closer to home, most, if not all, airports located in the bottom of a valley can experience the same thing, particularly after a nighttime temperature inversion
  • Instead of flying the whole flight on an IFR flight plan along assigned routes, you can file a flight plan for IFR to VFR-on-top
  • Instead of filing IFR, you file you file your flight plan IFR to VFR-on-top
  • You still go through all the complete instrument procedures of getting a clearance before you take off, reading it back, flying an assigned route or assigned departure procedure, squawking an assigned code on your transponder, and contacting a controller
  • You depart on an instrument flight just like any other instrument flight
    • The difference is that the instructions in your instrument clearance read something like "...departure frequency [Frequency], climb as filed to VFR-on-top, if not VFR by [Altitude], maintain [Altitude] and advise..."
  • Once you break out on top of the clouds, you can cancel IFR and fly VFR
  • Remember again that IFR flight is an entirely controlled procedure, while VFR flight outside the boundaries of an airport is uncontrolled
  • The same controller who was just telling you what to do is now only advising you
  • You cannot casually lapse back and forth from one to the other
  • The controller is going to remind you of this after you cancel IFR by instructing you to "Maintain VFR"
  • In fact, while the Instrument portion of the flight is handled by an air route traffic control center (called XYZ Center on the radio), the visual portion of the flight plan is on file with a Flight Service Station located somewhere else on a different frequency, (called ABC Radio)
  • In effect, you have two flight plans on file with two different groups of people, each of which needs to be activated and closed>
    • The Instrument flight plan opens automatically when you are cleared for takeoff
    • It closes when you tell a controller "cancel IFR"
    • The visual portion of the flight plan does not automatically activate
    • It activates when you call Flight Service and activate it, and closes when you call and close it
    • After you cancel IFR, you need to call a Flight Service radio - whose frequency is typically found on your sectional chart - and activate your VFR flight plan
    • Then you need to either close it by phone or radio when you land
    • If for some reason you don't break out of the clouds as expected, a second flight plan is used if you need an assigned routing to continue
  • Also, if you don't arrive at your destination, someone will come looking for you and they will know where to look

VFR-on-Top Responsibilities:

  • Pilot Responsibilities:

    • This clearance must be requested by the pilot on an IFR flight plan, and if approved, allows the pilot the choice (subject to any ATC restrictions) to select an altitude or flight level in lieu of an assigned altitude
      • NOTE: VFR-on-top is not permitted in certain airspace areas, such as Class A airspace, certain restricted areas, etc. Consequently, IFR flights operating VFR-on-top will avoid such airspace
      • REFERENCE: AIM, Paragraph 4-4-8 , IFR Clearance VFR-on-top AIM, Paragraph 4-4-11 , IFR Separation Standards AIM, Paragraph 5-3-2 , Position Reporting AIM, Paragraph 5-3-3 , Additional Reports
    • By requesting a VFR-on-top clearance, the pilot assumes the sole responsibility to be vigilant so as to see and avoid other aircraft and to:
      • Fly at the appropriate VFR altitude as prescribed in 14 CFR Section 91.159
      • Comply with the VFR visibility and distance from clouds criteria in 14 CFR Section 91.155, Basic VFR Weather Minimums
      • Comply with instrument flight rules that are applicable to this flight; i.e., minimum IFR altitudes, position reporting, radio communications, course to be flown, adherence to ATC clearance, etc.
    • Should advise ATC prior to any altitude change to ensure the exchange of accurate traffic information
  • Controller Responsibilities:

    • May clear an aircraft to maintain VFR-on-top if the pilot of an aircraft on an IFR flight plan requests the clearance
    • Informs the pilot of an aircraft cleared to climb to VFR-on-top the reported height of the tops or that no top report is available; and once the aircraft reports reaching VFR-on-top, re-clears the aircraft to maintain VFR-on-top
    • Before issuing clearance, ascertain that the aircraft is not in or will not enter Class A airspace

Conclusion:

  • Still looking for something? Continue searching:

References: