Special VFR


VFR Visibility Requirements:

  • In order to operate under Visual Flight Rules
  • Pilots must have certain visibility requirements and maintain a set distance from clouds [Figure 1]
Airspace VFR visibility requirements
Airspace Visibility Requirements
Airspace VFR visibility requirements
Airspace Visibility Requirements

Special VFR:

  • SVFR is a tool for non-instrument rated pilots to continue operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)
    • Said another way, special VFR allows you to fly using the more relaxed Class Golf minimum visibility requirements in more restrictive airspace
    • VFR requirements will match those of basic VFR minimums if you are within 1200' of the ground, only requiring 1 mile visibility and clear of clouds, despite the airspace class the pilot is operating
  • It may be conducted under the weather minimums and requirements listed below, vice basic VFR listed in FAR 91.155, below 10,000' MSL within airspace contained by the upward extension of the lateral boundaries of the controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport

Special VFR Requirements:

  • Special VFR is available to pilots operating under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 91
    • This encompasses general aviation
  • Requirements are minimal but differ based on if an aircraft is fixed wing, or rotary wing
  • Requirements: Fixed Wing:

    • Day:

      • Operations performed under Part 91
      • ATC Clearance (before entering controlled airspace)
      • Clear of clouds
      • At least 1 statute mile flight visibility
    • Night:

      • Between sunrise and sunset (or in Alaska, when the sun is 6° or more below the horizon) unless:
      • Day requirements, plus:
        • Be instrument rated (as per part 61)
        • Aircraft is equipped in accordance with 91.205(d)
          • VFR during the day
          • IFR at night
    • Takeoff and Landing:

      • Unless ground visibility is at least 1 statute mile; or
      • If ground visibility is not reported, unless flight visibility is at least 1 statute mile
        • For the purposes of this paragraph, the term flight visibility includes the visibility from the cockpit of an aircraft in takeoff position if:
          • The flight is conducted under this part 91; and
          • The airport at which the aircraft is located is a satellite airport that does not have weather reporting capabilities
        • The determination of visibility by a pilot is not an official weather report or an official ground visibility report
  • Requirements: Rotary Wing:

    • Helicopters are afforded certain exceptions that fixed-wing are not:
      • At night pilots need not be IFR certified
      • Helicopters must remain clear of clouds and may operate in Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E surface areas with less than 1 statute mile visibility

SFVR Clearances:

  • An ATC clearance must be obtained prior to operating within a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area when the weather is less than that required for VFR flight
  • A VFR pilot may request and be given a clearance to enter, leave, or operate within most Class D and Class E surface areas and some Class B and Class C surface areas in special VFR conditions, traffic permitting, and providing such flight will not delay IFR operations
  • It is not necessary to file a complete flight plan with the request for clearance, but pilots should state their intentions in sufficient detail to permit ATC to fit their flight into the traffic flow
  • The clearance will not contain a specific altitude as the pilot must remain clear of clouds
  • The controller may require the pilot to fly at or below a certain altitude due to other traffic, but the altitude specified will permit flight at or above the minimum safe altitude
    • In addition, at radar locations, flights may be vectored if necessary for control purposes or on pilot request
    • Note that as per FAR 91.119, the pilot is still ultimately responsible for obstacle or terrain clearance
  • Traffic separation will be provided from IFR aircraft, other SVFR traffic
    • ATC does not provide separation after an aircraft leaves the Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area on a special VFR clearance
  • Pilots arriving or departing an uncontrolled airport that has automated weather broadcast capability (ASOS/AWSS/AWOS) should monitor the broadcast frequency, advise the controller that they have the "

    one-minute weather

    " and state intentions prior to operating within the Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface areas

Special VFR operations exceptions:

  • Special VFR operations by fixed-wing aircraft are prohibited in some Class B and Class C surface areas due to the volume of IFR traffic
  • In these situations, aeronautical publications will mention "NO SVFR"
  • A list of these Class B and Class C surface areas is contained in 14 CFR Part 91, Appendix D, Section 3 and are also depicted on sectional aeronautical charts
    • Atlanta, GA (The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport)
    • Baltimore, MD (Baltimore/Washington International Airport)
    • Boston, MA (General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport)
    • Buffalo, NY (Greater Buffalo International Airport)
    • Chicago, IL (Chicago-O'Hare International Airport)
    • Cleveland, OH (Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport)
    • Columbus, OH (Port Columbus International Airport)
    • Covington, KY (Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport)
    • Dallas, TX (Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport)
    • Dallas, TX (Love Field)
    • Denver, CO (Denver International Airport)
    • Detroit, MI (Metropolitan Wayne County Airport)
    • Honolulu, HI (Honolulu International Airport)
    • Houston, TX (George Bush Intercontinental Airport/Houston)
    • Indianapolis, IN (Indianapolis International Airport)
    • Los Angeles, CA (Los Angeles International Airport)
    • Louisville, KY (Standiford Field)
    • Memphis, TN (Memphis International Airport)
    • Miami, FL (Miami International Airport)
    • Minneapolis, MN (Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport)
    • Newark, NJ (Newark International Airport)
    • New York, NY (John F. Kennedy International Airport)
    • New York, NY (LaGuardia Airport)
    • New Orleans, LA (New Orleans International Airport-Moisant Field)
    • Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia International Airport)
    • Pittsburgh, PA (Greater Pittsburgh International Airport)
    • Portland, OR (Portland International Airport)
    • San Francisco, CA (San Francisco International Airport)
    • Seattle, WA (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport)
    • St. Louis, MO (Lambert-St. Louis International Airport)
    • Tampa, FL (Tampa International Airport)
    • Washington, DC (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base, MD)


  • A private pilot with VFR equipment during the day can request SVFR, it is not until night that you must be instrument rated, and the aircraft instrument equipped
  • Special VFR is a tool available to any private pilot
  • ATC will never solicit a Special VFR clearance unless specifically requested by the pilot
  • At the end of the day however, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should
    • Always maintain your personal minimums regardless of what the regulations say you can do