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Special VFR

Introduction:

  • Pilots operate under either Visual or Instrument Flight Rules
  • As weather conditions deteriorate from visual to instrument meteorological conditions however, pilots may find themselves in areas which legally require Instrument Flight Rules, but where navigation can still be accomplished visually
    • In these situations pilots have another option, Special VFR (SVFR)
  • SVFR operations may be authorized for aircraft operating in or transiting a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area when the primary airport is reporting VFR but the pilot advises that basic VFR cannot be maintained
  • Provided that certain requirements are met, pilots may request their Special VFR clearance from Air Traffic Control
  • A special VFR clearance is never a given and in fact some exceptions do exist

Flight Rules & Meteorological Conditions:

  • In order to operate under Visual Flight Rules, visual meteorological conditions (3 Statute Miles (SM) visibility and at least 1,000' ceilings) must exist
    • In addition to operating within VMC conditions, pilots must maintain specific distances from clouds, depending on airspace [Figure 1]
  • When weather conditions deteriorate below either 3 SM visibility or 1,000', they become instrument meteorological conditions
  • Special VFR, or SVFR, therefore exists as a tool for pilots to continue operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)
  • 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
  • When either visibility or ceilings fall below 3 SM or 1,000', Instrument Flight Rules exist
Airspace VFR visibility requirements
Airspace Visibility Requirements
Airspace VFR visibility requirements
Airspace Visibility Requirements
NO SVFR
NO SVFR

Special VFR Requirements:

  • Special VFR must be specifically requested by the pilot but differ based on if an aircraft is fixed wing, or rotary wing
  • Fixed Wing Requirements:

    • Day:

      • Operations performed under Part 91
      • ATC Clearance (before entering controlled airspace)
      • Maintain clear of clouds
      • At least 1 statute mile flight visibility (reported at the airport of intended landing/departure)
    • 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
    • Said another way, IFR traffic will always have priority over SVFR traffic
  • 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
    • Note this in fact means VFR cloud clearance minimums do not apply
    • A pilot may fly right up against, so long as they remain clear of a cloud layer
  • 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
    • The pilot is ultimately responsible for obstacle or terrain clearance however, FAR 91.119 exempts takeoff and landing operations
  • "Cleared [to enter/out of/through], [airport] surface area (and if required) [direction] of [airport], [routing], and maintain special v-f-r conditions (and if required), at or below [altitude below 10,000 feet MSL], cleared for [arrival/departure procedure], cleared for [coded arrival or departure procedure] arrival/departure, (additional instructions as required)"

Priority:

  • 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
  • SVFR flights may be approved only if arriving and departing IFR aircraft are not delayed
    • The priority afforded IFR aircraft over SVFR aircraft however, is not intended to be so rigidly applied that inefficient use of airspace results
    • The controller has the prerogative of permitting completion of a SVFR operation already in progress when an IFR aircraft becomes a factor if better overall efficiency will result
  • ATC will inform an aircraft of the anticipated delay when a SVFR clearance cannot be granted because of IFR traffic
  • "Expect [number] minute delay, (additional instructions as necessary)"

Non-Towered/Closed Airports:

  • Pilots must request the clearance from the Terminal Radar Approach Control or Air Route Traffic Control Center
  • 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
    • When weather conditions are not reported at the airport of intended landing/departure and the pilot advises that VFR cannot be maintained and requests SVFR

Special VFR operations exceptions:

  • Where fixed-wing Special VFR operations are prohibited (certain Class B and Class C Surface Areas), 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)

Conclusion:

  • 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
    • Additionally, it is a great tool to avoid inadvertent IMC
  • 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
  • Remember that SVFR only applies within the terminal area (approximately 5 NM around the airfield) and therefore operations outside of this area (usually class E airspace) require VFR minimums be maintained
  • Use Special VFR with caution, especially at night
    • The requirement for an IFR rated pilot with an IFR equipped airplane is there as preparation for possible inadvertent IMC

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