What Does VFR and IFR Mean in Flying (2022)

Aircraft flying in the National Airspace System operate under two basic categories of flight: Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). While many different types of flights occur under these two rules, every aircraft that leaves the ground will fall into one, or both, of these categories during the flight.

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What Does VFR and VMC Mean?

Visual Flight Rules simply means that the aircraft is intended to operate in visual meteorological conditions (VMC, i.e. nice and clear weather). Clouds, heavy precipitation, low visibility, and otherwise adverse weather conditions should be avoided under VFR. Most general aviation flying and flight training occurs in visual meteorological conditions.

What Does IFR and IMC Mean?

Instrument Flight Rules implies that the flight may operate in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC, meaning cloudy or otherwise adverse weather conditions). However, many aircraft may operate under IFR while completing the entirety of the flight in VMC due to the efficiency provided by IFR flying as well as the safety of continuing to avoid bad weather. Just because you can fly in the clouds or less than acceptable weather under IFR doesn’t mean you should.

How Does VFR and IFR Affect Flying and Flight Planning?

While IFR provides efficiency, additional safety, and usually consistent contact with air traffic control, it requires that pilots follow an exact pre-determined/pre-planned flight route. Deviations are allowed in instances of emergencies, diversions, traffic and weather avoidance, but generally air traffic control expects you to fly the route and altitude you were given, called a clearance.

VFR flying, however, affords the freedom of flying any route and altitude you choose, barring specific airspace limitations. Aircraft flying under IFR, for example, can be directed through Bravo airspace, or even restricted airspace, without a specific clearance to do so. Flying under VFR, pilots must verify restricted airspaces are not active before entering, and receive specific clearance into the aforementioned Bravo airspace. VFR pilots also lose the inherent safety and traffic avoidance callouts from air traffic control when flying under VFR, even if they are receiving Flight Following, which is a little extra albeit unguaranteed help as air traffic control watches you on radar.

How to Choose Whether to Fly Under VFR or IFR?

Choosing whether to fly VFR or IFR depends on several factors, including;

  • Equipment available on the aircraft
  • Current and forecast weather conditions
  • Goals of the flight

Pilots planning to practice maneuvers in the local area generally will remain VFR throughout the flight to maintain the flexibility required. Likewise, student pilots and their instructors will remain VFR when conducting cross country flights for the purpose of a private pilot certificate. General aviation enthusiasts flying for fun, such as for breakfast or lunch, or to take friends and family sightseeing, will often fly VFR. Pilots will also be limited to VFR if their aircraft is not equipped with the required equipment for IFR flight, or they do not hold the required instrument rating to act as pilot-in-command on an IFR flight plan.

Finally, some instrument rated pilots may not be current or proficient enough to operate under IFR, especially if the weather is not conducive to VFR flight. These pilots will either opt to fly VFR or wait for the weather to improve to within their personal minimums before challenging themselves to IFR flight in IMC conditions.

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What Are the Benefits of Operating Under IFR Versus VFR?

The benefits of operating under IFR are numerous.

  • Often the equipment on board allows for very precise flight along a route that is more direct than the twists and turns that might be required to dodge airspace and some weather under VFR.
  • IFR also allows an aircraft to depart in weather that is less than required for VFR, and enter the clouds once the IFR clearance has been received.
  • IFR allows pilots to get above the clouds to smoother air, above terrain and obstacles, and above much of the traffic.
  • Under IFR, air traffic control provides a watchful eye and will bring to attention any potential traffic hazards.

It is still the responsibility of the pilot-in-command to “see and avoid” other traffic even while operating IFR whenever the aircraft is in VMC. Above 18,000 feet an IFR flight plan is required. In the airlines, pilots will always fly IFR as required by the specific regulations that pertain to their operations, as well as their company’s operating procedures. However rare, some exemptions have been granted to airline movement on a case-by-case basis and there are some circumstances where movement under VFR may be preferred.

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What Does VFR and IFR Mean in Flying (1)

How to Fly Under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)? Earn Your Pilot Instrument Rating

An Instrument Rating (IR) is a pilot rating you can add to your pilot certificate and is earned through intensive training focused on flying solely by reference to instruments, allowing you to fly under IFR. A well-trained and proficient instrument pilot can fly an airplane from point A to point B without ever having to look out the window except for takeoff and landing.

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(Video) VFR VS IFR

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FAQs

What is IFR and VFR in flying? ›

There are two sets of rules for flying any aircraft: VFR and IFR. VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules. IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules. Depending on the weather conditions a pilot may opt for one set of rules or the other. Mostly, it's the weather that makes the pilot fly VFR or IFR.

Which is better VFR or IFR? ›

IFR flying is astronomically more challenging than is VFR flying, but those pilots who achieve this distinction are invariably better and safer pilots, both when flying IFR and when flying VFR. Aviating under IFR, a pilot is authorized to fly into clouds in what is called zero visibility.

What does IFR mean in flying? ›

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) are rules which allow properly equipped aircraft to be flown under instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). IFR are detailed in ICAO Annex 2: Rules of the Air, Chapter 5: Instrument Flight Rules.

What does VFR stand for in flying? ›

Visual flight rules (VFR) are the single most important piece of piloting an aircraft. VFR are simply a set of regulations that an aircraft can operate in clear visual conditions such as sunny, clear days.

Do airlines ever fly VFR? ›

Airlines can definitely fly VFR with passengers. Usually they will only do it when departing or arriving at a non towered field, but they definitely can do it.

Do airlines always fly IFR? ›

Above 18,000 feet an IFR flight plan is required. In the airlines, pilots will always fly IFR as required by the specific regulations that pertain to their operations, as well as their company's operating procedures.

How long does it take to get your IFR? ›

Instrument Rating Training Includes:
Instrument Rating Requirements
Cross-Country PIC50 Hours
Instrument Time (Actual or Simulated)40 Hours
Flight Time From Authorized Instructor15 Hours
Cross-Country Flight250 Nautical Miles With Specific Instrument Requirements to Complete the Flight

Can VFR fly through clouds? ›

They demand that we cannot fly into clouds, let alone fly while embedded in clouds. Below 10,000 ft MSL, VFR flight must be at least 500 ft below clouds or 1,000 ft above clouds, and horizontally must be at least 2,000 ft away from clouds.

Can you fly VFR at night? ›

Prudent pilots typically set higher weather minimums for night VFR flights. FAR 91.157—In order to get a Special VFR clearance at night, you must have an instrument rating, an instrument-equipped airplane, 1 mile visibility, be able to remain clear of clouds, and a Special VFR clearance from air traffic control.

How many hours is IFR rating? ›

Learning to fly in IFR conditions includes a minimum of 40 hours of actual or simulated flight time, 15 with an instructor. Some flight training may be completed in a flight simulator.

Can a private pilot fly IFR? ›

After earning your Private Pilot License (PPL) with your VFR rating, you are ready to become Instrument Rated (IR) where you will train to fly in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions. FAA guidelines for IFR are designed to protect pilots from accidents caused in conditions of poor visibility.

Can you fly IFR without GPS? ›

Yes you can file direct even without a GPS. However it would be advisable to perform a RAIM check during your pre-flight along your intended route and determine that you would be in RAIM during the route. If for some reason your GPS loses RAIM capability then you should proceed using VOR/DME/ADF.

How far can you fly VFR? ›

Just over three times the length of a 5,000-foot runway would be about three miles--legal VFR. You can also use normal traffic pattern spacing as a guide. Downwind should be three-quarters of a mile to a mile away from the runway. That can be used as a guide as well.

How high can a VFR pilot fly? ›

VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels:

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)

At what altitude does IFR start? ›

When the prescribed minimum altitude for IFR operations is at or above 18,000 feet MSL and the atmospheric pressure is less than 29.92”, add the appropriate adjustment factor from TBL 4-5-3 to the flight level equivalent of the minimum altitude in feet to determine the adjusted minimum flight level.

Can VFR pilots fly in rain? ›

So: In my view, flying VFR in heavy rain is not a serious problem as long as you maintain adequate visibility. The same goes for IFR as long as you watch out for heavy precipitation associated with convection and you make sure your electronics stay dry.”

What does squawk 7000 mean? ›

7000. ICAO. VFR standard squawk code when no other code has been assigned. EASA countries. Code that pilot shall set when not receiving air traffic services, unless otherwise prescribed by the competent authority.

How Low Can Planes legally fly? ›

An aircraft can legally fly as low as 500ft above the ground & if in sparsely populated areas or over water there is no minimum height limit but must remain at least 500 feet from any vessel, structure, or person. Aircraft can also fly lower than 500ft when landing and taking off.

What is a plane squawk? ›

Squawk is a common term used in air traffic control to describe a specific type of radio signal that comes from the plane's transponder. So this funny word is not just for the birds–pilots of all types of planes get to squawk, too.

Do commercial planes use VFR or IFR? ›

IFR allows an aircraft to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and must always be used when flying in Class A airspace – commercial aircraft worldwide must always operate under IFR. Stobo explains that UK HEMS missions are preferentially flown under VFR if possible, but must be IFR in controlled airspace.

How much does it cost to get IFR rating? ›

It will likely cost around $7,500-$10,000 to get your instrument rating. However, unlike other types of training and education, you can spend a lot more money on flight training than you expected to pay.

How much does instrument rating cost? ›

How Much Does an Instrument Rating Cost? An instrument rating costs between $8,000-10,000 depending on aircraft rental, instructor time, ground school, study materials, and the written and checkride fees.

Does instrument rating expire? ›

Privileges and Limitations

Your Instrument Rating never expires, but you must have flown 6 approaches, a holding pattern, and tracked a course within the 6 months preceding the month of the flight.

Can a private pilot fly VFR-on-top? ›

To fly VFR on top, you must be an instrument-rated pilot on an instrument flight plan and request a VFR-on-top clearance. (To complicate matters, this is sometimes called IFR over the top.) This allows you to climb through clouds to VFR weather above them.

Who has final authority when flying solo? ›

The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft.

Is VFR-on-top legal? ›

“The short answer is yes. You may legally fly on top as long as you can maintain the appropriate VFR cloud clearances.

Do pilots avoid clouds? ›

Airline pilots will normally take action to avoid any cumulonimbus clouds, but particularly those bearing mammatus formations, as these indicate especially severe turbulence within the cumulonimbus.

How do pilots fly through clouds? ›

When aircraft fly inside clouds, they fly under "instrument rules". It doesn't matter whether the visibility is reduced (at night) or totally blocked (in a thick cloud), this mode of flying simply assumes the crew has no external visual reference, they fly solely using indications given by on-board instruments.

How do VFR pilots navigate? ›

One of the most common ways to navigate under VFR is by selecting, during the pre-flight briefing, ground features which are marked on the VFR navigation maps and then looking for them on the ground during the flight.

What is considered IFR? ›

The regulations define weather flight conditions for visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR) in terms of specific values for ceiling and visibility. IFR means a ceiling less than 1,000 feet AGL and/or visibility less than three miles. Low IFR (LIFR) is a sub-category of IFR.

What is a VFR pilot? ›

VFR Pilot: Visual Flight Rules

This means you will fly using visual references . For instance, you'll look for landmarks, highways, bodies of water, etc. Pilots are also on the lookout for other aircraft so they can see and avoid them. VFR pilots are dependent upon the weather.

Can you fly VFR at night? ›

Prudent pilots typically set higher weather minimums for night VFR flights. FAR 91.157—In order to get a Special VFR clearance at night, you must have an instrument rating, an instrument-equipped airplane, 1 mile visibility, be able to remain clear of clouds, and a Special VFR clearance from air traffic control.

How do I get an IFR rating? ›

To get your instrument rating, you must satisfy the following requirements:
  1. Hold at least a private pilot certificate.
  2. Be able to speak English.
  3. Take a ground school training course or receive ground training from an authorized instructor.
  4. Receive a logbook endorsement certifying you are prepared for the FAA knowledge test.
30 Jul 2020

Why do pilots say squawk? ›

In short, SQUAWK refers to the communication that comes from an aircraft's transponder — or the radio equipment that a plane has that allows it to communicate with the radar system of air traffic control on the ground.

How high can a VFR pilot fly? ›

VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels:

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)

What does squawk 7777 mean? ›

According to the AIM 4-1-20(e): Under no circumstances should a pilot of a civil aircraft operate the transponder on Code 7777. This code is reserved for military interceptor operations.

Can VFR pilots fly in rain? ›

So: In my view, flying VFR in heavy rain is not a serious problem as long as you maintain adequate visibility. The same goes for IFR as long as you watch out for heavy precipitation associated with convection and you make sure your electronics stay dry.”

How long does it take to get your IFR? ›

Instrument Rating Training Includes:
Instrument Rating Requirements
Cross-Country PIC50 Hours
Instrument Time (Actual or Simulated)40 Hours
Flight Time From Authorized Instructor15 Hours
Cross-Country Flight250 Nautical Miles With Specific Instrument Requirements to Complete the Flight

Do helicopters talk to ATC? ›

If these helicopters are operating in controlled airspace, communication with ATC will be done by normal VHF radio. There is no need for a dedicated communications person, the pilot will be in contact with ATC.

Do pilots avoid clouds? ›

Airline pilots will normally take action to avoid any cumulonimbus clouds, but particularly those bearing mammatus formations, as these indicate especially severe turbulence within the cumulonimbus.

Can you fly VFR in Broken clouds? ›

Cloud layers, of whatever type, are always given with altitude of the bottom of the layer, measured in feet AGL. The last two cases, broken and overcast, describe a cloud layer that may not be penetrated in VFR flight. The bottom of such a layer constitutes a ceiling for VFR flight.

How do pilots fly through clouds? ›

When aircraft fly inside clouds, they fly under "instrument rules". It doesn't matter whether the visibility is reduced (at night) or totally blocked (in a thick cloud), this mode of flying simply assumes the crew has no external visual reference, they fly solely using indications given by on-board instruments.

How much does it cost to get instrument rating? ›

How Much Does an Instrument Rating Cost? An instrument rating costs between $8,000-10,000 depending on aircraft rental, instructor time, ground school, study materials, and the written and checkride fees.

How many hours does IFR training take? ›

Becoming an instrument rated pilot requires 40 hours of simulated or actual IFR conditions. How long this takes depends on how often you are able to fly. Assuming each training flight is 2 hours in length, it would require 20 training flights.

How much do new pilots make? ›

According to figures from The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for airline pilots is $114,200, but starting pay for a regional airline First Officer could be as little as $28,000, while ending pay for a major airline Captain could be several hundred thousand per year.

Videos

1. The differences between IFR and VFR flight explained (cockpit audio)
(Josh Youssef - flyJFY)
2. 5 3 Visual Flight Rules
(Robert Kowalski)
3. 7 IFR ACRONYMS EVERY PILOT MUST KNOW
(ATPL Student)
4. 201 - The Semi-Circular Rule (Era Flug Aviation Tutorials)
(Era Flug)
5. VFR Pilot Flying In IFR Conditions
(MojoGrip)
6. WHAT IS A VFR FLIGHT
(TheFlightGuide)

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