Visual Flight Rules


  • While used virtually interchangeably, there is a big difference between Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
  • Think you've got a solid understanding of visual flight rules? Don't miss the visual flight rules quiz below, and topic summary

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 Cloud Clearances:

  • Cloud clearances can be remembered with the memory aid: "152"
  • Cloud clearances can be remembered by the way you read a book
    • You read up and down (1000 ft above, 500 feet below
    • And horizontal (2000 ft horizontal

VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels:

  • VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
    VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
  • VFR Cruising Altitudes [Figure 1] are established to reduce mid-air collisions by establishing cruise altitudes governed 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
  • VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
    VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
  • 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
  • Memory Aids:

    • The 13 Colonies (an odd number) were on the east coast of the U.S.
    • Eastern states have odd shapes
    • NEODD SWEVEN: North East Odd, South West Even

Basic VFR Weather Minimums:

  • No person may operate VFR below the requirements for that class of airspace unless approved for special VFR
    • FAR 91.157 (Special VFR), allows aircraft to operate 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))
  • Students must comply with 14 CFR Section 61.89(a) (6) and (7)
  • Basic VFR Weather Minimums
    Basic VFR Weather Minimums

VFR in Congested Areas:

  • A high percentage of near midair collisions occur below 8,000' AGL and within 30 miles of an airport
  • Risk areas include channelizing terrain, sight-seating areas, or designated alert areas
  • 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:

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

    • Obtain a complete preflight briefing and check NOTAMs
      • Prior to every flight, pilots should gather all information vital to the nature of the flight
      • Pilots can receive a regulatory compliant briefing without contacting Flight Service
      • Pilots are encouraged to use automated resources and review AC 91-92, Pilot's Guide to a Preflight Briefing, for more information
      • NOTAMs are available online from the Federal NOTAM System (FNS) NOTAM Search website (, private vendors, or on request from Flight Service
    • 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. Pilots can file flight plans either by using a website or by calling Flight Service. Flight planning applications are also available to file, activate, and close VFR flight plans
    • 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

Required Equipment for VFR Operations:

  • Required equipment for VFR operations can be divided up into day, and night operations
  • Day operations can be remembered with the acronym TOMATO FLAMES while night operations include all those required for day with the addition of instruments remembered using the FLAPS acronym
  • Day Operations:

  • Night Operations:

    • Instruments and equipment specified above for day operations
    • Approved position lights
    • An approved aviation red or aviation white anticollision light system on all U.S.-registered civil aircraft
      • Anticollision light systems initially installed after August 11, 1971, on aircraft for which a type certificate was issued or applied for before August 11, 1971, must at least meet the anti-collision light standards of FAR parts 23, 25, 27, or 29, as applicable, that were in effect on August 10, 1971, except that the color may be either aviation red or aviation white
      • In the event of failure of any light of the anti-collision light system, operations with the aircraft may be continued to a stop where repairs or replacement can be made
    • If the aircraft is operated for hire, one electric landing light
    • An adequate source of electrical energy for all installed electrical and radio equipment
    • One spare set of fuses, or three spare fuses of each kind required, that are accessible to the pilot in flight

Requirements to operate VFR:

  • It is the responsibility of the pilot to ensure that ATC clearance or radio communication requirements are met prior to entry into Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace
  • The pilot retains this responsibility when receiving ATC radar advisories (See 14 CFR Part 91)

Visual Flight Rules Case Studies:

  • National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Identification: SEA04LA095:
    • The NTSB determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's inadequate planning/decision, VFR into IMC, and his failure to maintain terrain clearance. Factors include mountainous terrain and instrument meteorological condition
  • National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Identification: LAX04FA113:
    • The NTSB determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: the pilot's disregard for an in-flight weather advisory, his likely encounter with marginal VFR or IMC weather conditions, his decision to continue flight into those conditions, and failure to maintain an adequate terrain clearance altitude resulting in an in-flight collision with trees and mountainous terrain

Visual Flight Rules Knowledge Quiz:


  • Pilot training requires instruction on how to handle VFR into IMC with the AOPA offering a syllabus to assist
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