1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Special VFR Clearance

Discussion in 'General Topics' started by aerospacepilot, Dec 31, 2008.

  1. aerospacepilot

    aerospacepilot New Member

    Joined:
    May 5, 2007
    Messages:
    475
    Likes Received:
    0
    I have never taken a special VFR clearance yet. My understanding is you can get a special VFR clearance to get out of an airport when the weather is below VFR. I fly out of an airport that only has a GPS approach. However, just 7 miles south straight along the freeway is another Class D airport with a VOR/DME approach for our non-RNAV airplane, with minimums down to 460 feet. The problem is we get fog a lot, and the ceiling can often be 700 or 800ft. Obviously flying 500ft off the ground and staying 500ft below the cloud deck is impossible.

    So I am trying to figure out safe, and legal ways to get back home when the weather is like this. But I am sort of confused about the regs.

    Can I get a special VFR clearance in this case? Where is special VFR valid? Only in terminal airspace, or controlled airspace? Do you need to be in radio contact while on a special VFR clearance? The two class D airspace's are not connected (about 2 miles separated between the outer bounds). Is this class G airspace where I can just be clear of clouds? There is technically an RNAV approach just above and to the west of the area I would be flying. (However, because of the proximity of the two airports, they only allow one IFR approach or departure at a time, so if I shot the VOR/DME approach to the first airport, no one would be on the GPS approach until several minutes later. )

    The airports in question are Palo Alto (KPAO) and San Carlos (KSQL).
    http://www.airnav.com/airport/KSQL

    Safety wise, the area is very flat at sea level (which is why the approach gets you down to 460ft). No major obstacles along the freeway connecting these two airports. Whenever you transition between the two airports, people only fly at 800ft (pattern altitude for the two airports). So it gets flown all the time. I am instrument rated, and if i were to suddenly go IMC, I would make a right turn out over the bay (1 mile east), start climbing, and call approach for an IFR clearance. I am not concerned about it being a safety issue if I can fly at 800ft AGL and clear of clouds, just a legal issue now.

    What do you think?

    Thanks a lot.
  2. EDUC8-or

    EDUC8-or Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2001
    Messages:
    3,072
    Likes Received:
    63
    I'll talk legality first, you would need a Special VFR clearance to depart the airport with the VOR approach, then remain clear of clouds with 1 mile visibility in the G, and then another Special VFR clearance to enter your home airport.

    Now let's talk safety, scud running at 800' trying to talk to the tower coordinating your Special VFR clearance and align to land sounds like more than a handful. It just doesn't sound safe to me.
  3. SFCC/UND

    SFCC/UND Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2006
    Messages:
    3,759
    Likes Received:
    59
    Let see if I can help you out. So we know that take off for the airport is 1,000 foot and above that we have to remain 500 feet below clouds. So we know that anything less, in your case you have to have SVFR. All you do is ask ATC for a SVFR, since you need to be in contact with them. SVFR is most used in control airspace and remember ATC don't care what you do in class G, since it pretty much the same as SVFR weather requirement. When you are flying in G, you can fly 500 feet above the ground with the clouds 5 feet above your head, as long as you have the one statue rule and clear of clouds.
  4. exerauflyboy5

    exerauflyboy5 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2007
    Messages:
    175
    Likes Received:
    3
    Okay, so your taking off out of sql on your way to pao and you wanna do SVFR.

    Not a great idea

    1. Norcal will not want you.
    2. The clouds WILL be higher and lower than you expect so your.........
    3. Proably gonna be low, very low.

    Its better to do the time and file or get IFR, and do the departure. You can get your student in the clouds and get them actual. Plus youll bank on the extra time. And maybe log the approach.

    Just because we can, doesnt mean we should.

    Just come over my way and shoot the LOC/DME in to HWD.
  5. jrh

    jrh Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2005
    Messages:
    3,628
    Likes Received:
    368
    Yes.

    Within the lateral boundaries of controlled surface area. That means if Class E, D, C, or B airspace extends to the surface, SVFR is a possibility.

    No.

    Although it will be much easier for everyone (you, Flight Service, and ATC) if you are in radio contact. I've gone SVFR out of uncontrolled airports by relaying messages through Flight Service for ATC, so I wasn't directly talking to ATC on the radio, but honestly, it was a bit of a hassle. I only did it because I was flying my VFR-only Cessna 140 and I had to get out of an untowered airport before the weather went to low IFR conditions. I wouldn't want to make a regular practice of this.

    The way I read the chart, in this area Class G extends from the surface up to 700 AGL in the area between the Class D surface areas. So if you are outside of Class D, and you are below 700 AGL, you're in Class G, and can therefore operate with only one mile visibility and clear of clouds (assuming you're flying during the day).

    Sounds fine to me!

    This is a bad idea. Don't ***ever*** make a VFR flight with the idea that "maybe I'll go IMC, but it'll be ok." Not only is this not safe, but it's illegal. You can't be in IMC hoping to get a clearance. The clearance **MUST** come before entering IMC.

    What happens if you lose comms as you go IMC? What happens if the controller is too busy to deal with you? What happens if there is a problem with your transponder and the controller can't establish radar contact with you? In all those cases, you'd be plowing through the clouds, close to the ground, in busy airspace, with no clearance and your thumb up your butt. It's a recipe for at least a violation, and maybe death.

    If the weather is so marginal that going IMC is a possibility, it's too marginal even for SVFR. Get an IFR clearance before you leave the ground.


    Here's what I would do if I really wanted to go between these airports under SVFR:

    On a nice VFR day, find a landmark along the shoreline that you know is precisely in the middle of the gap in airspace between Class D airspace boundaries. Use a GPS to make absolutely certain you are well clear of both airspaces when over this landmark.

    When SVFR weather rolls in, depart one airport under a SVFR clearance. Fly to the predetermined landmark where you know you are clear of both airspaces. Begin orbiting the landmark at 500 AGL. Report clear of the Class D airspace to the first tower. While still orbiting the landmark, call the second tower to coordinate a SVFR clearance in to the destination airport. Proceed inbound and land.

    Personally, I think this would be a relatively difficult way of getting the job done. It looks like cramped, congested airspace...not really ideal for SVFR. If you can, I'd just go IFR. But as you said, if equipment limitations for your aircraft prevent an IFR trip from happening, doing it SVFR is a safe, legal, albeit somewhat complicated way of repositioning the plane.
  6. ppragman

    ppragman Slow Plane, Fast Plane

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2007
    Messages:
    7,137
    Likes Received:
    709
    A lot of times the type of approach doesn't allow for IFR operations, the minimums are too high. Then SVFR comes in handy. What happens when you're scud running and you get stuck and you have to go IMC? Cram Climb communicate. You should have the flight planned out in advance and know where the approach cooridors are, where the mountains and obstructions are and where you can somewhat safely "punch through" if you get in deep kimchi, but its a dangerous move regardless, unless you're out in west AK, or siberia where the only other traffic is dumbasses like you doing the same thing. The best way to do it is not to do it at all unless you can do it 100% of the time without punching through but sometimes you do something stupid, or the wx changes too fast and your stuck. The real trick is recognizing changing wx in a SVFR situation.

    As for the Nay sayers above (not you JRH) SVFR is an excellent way to maneuver though the NAS, it works great. Its legal. Scud Running is legal too (provided you meet the obstacle and obstruction clearances etc.) nothing wrong with that. Just realize that you'd better be flying on those instruments, and your scan must include the outside world too. Scud Running is instrument flying, the worst kind of instrument flying. Scud running is the instrument flying that pilots do on a circling approach or right as they look up at mins, except that you continue doing that flying for extended periods of time, that's the challenge. Its not hard if you're in the mindset that at any moment you could turn around, and that you can go no lower than the minimum legal altitude for your type of operation (e.g. part 135, 500'-2mi or 1000'-1mi, or part 91, not lower than 1 mile and clear of clouds.)
  7. mojo6911

    mojo6911 Well-Hung Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2007
    Messages:
    7,341
    Likes Received:
    948
    A clearance is only required for IFR flight in controlled airspace.
  8. jml2992

    jml2992 Horse's Patoot

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2005
    Messages:
    945
    Likes Received:
    4
    Sounds legal but I have always been of the school of thought that if you can get an IFR clearance into another airport and wait it out. I've always been a little too nervous about towers that magically appear in 1 mile visibilty. I would consider long and hard before I demonstrated scud running technique to student pilots or to passengers who are unfamiliar with flight in small single engine aircraft. Less than a thousand feet doesn't give you a lot of time to react if you have an engine failure or traffic situation.
  9. zmiller4

    zmiller4 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2005
    Messages:
    2,642
    Likes Received:
    328
    Terrible advice for someone flying in the busiest airspace on the west coast. Scud running or "cramming, climbing, and communicating" in close proximity to three major airports and many others with instrument approaches is incredibly stupid. It might work for Alaska, but not in the Bay Area.

    Aerospacepilot--I wouldn't try this. It's asking for problems, especially this:
    This would put you right into the approaches for SFO. You'd create *huge* problems if you did this.
  10. ppragman

    ppragman Slow Plane, Fast Plane

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2007
    Messages:
    7,137
    Likes Received:
    709

    What else are you going to do? Fly into the ground if you can't turn around. Have you ever actually operated in conditions like this? I'm not saying that that is the primary course of action, but you've got to figure out something to do. What would you do if you went IMC and couldn't turn around there?

    BTW, when ANC gets ######, you end up getting a dozen planes or so stuck outside the surface areas holding and buzzing around in a mile or so trying not to hit each other, I've been in my fair share of congested airspaces, so don't lecture me on the difficulties of maintaining visual separation in less than desireable wx.
  11. zmiller4

    zmiller4 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2005
    Messages:
    2,642
    Likes Received:
    328
    Not put myself into that situation in the first place by attempting to scud run SVFR in extremely busy airspace.

    Many, many times...with an instrument clearance.

    Clearly, if you inadvertently enter IMC your first priorities are terrain clearance and traffic separation. You have to do whatever necessary to ensure those.

    I think that when scud running SVFR in the Bay Area--which you seem to be advocating--the chances of ending up inadvertently in IMC with no choice but climbing into one of the busiest approach paths in the country are drastically increased. I don't know of any reasonable pilot who would consider this a good idea.

    Than you know that it's not a good idea to put yourself in situation where you'd have to maintain visual separation in crappy weather, right?
  12. aerospacepilot

    aerospacepilot New Member

    Joined:
    May 5, 2007
    Messages:
    475
    Likes Received:
    0
    Ok, I tried to put as many disclaimers as I could in my original post. I wanted to address the concern about accidental VFR into IMC. I do not plan to go VFR into IMC. But, in the odd case it does happen, it is always good to have a plan. My plan would be to make a right turn over the bay (where the highest elevation is 0ft) and climb. What about the airspace? I know the airspace very well, and the only conflict in that area would be the bravo airspace for jets arriving into SFO. That starts at 2,500ft, and they are usually 3,000ft+ at that point. The airliners always stay in the bravo. So climbing 1,000ft or so to 2,000ft over flat water is what I would do in the case I accidently went VFR into IMC. The only reason I brought it up was to show I had a plan incase something happened. I agree with ppragman about this. It would be the best option if VFR into IMC occurred.

    What would happen if I had an engine failure at 800ft in SVFR. Probably the same thing that would happen if I had an engine failure at 800ft on an ILS in IMC. Except in this case I would be right over a flat highway and actually be able to see the ground if something went wrong.

    Again, if the airports are IFR, there will be NO traffic in the area. Only one IFR departure or arrival at a time for these two airports combined. I will have just shot an IFR approach, so no one will be in my area for several minutes. Jets will be much higher and out over the bay. No traffic concerns.



    As for the rest of the post, it seems I can do this legally. SVFR out of PAO and SVFR into SQL. Can someone confirm that the sliver of airspace between these two airports is class G below 700ft. What is the airspace above 700ft? If that sliver of airspace is Class E, does that mean I need to legally either a) stay 700ft or below for that segment, or b) contact someone else in that small sliver of airspace.

    One concern I saw was the difficulty with communication. This should be no problem. One radio call to PAO tower when I break out of IMC, and one radio call to SQL tower when PAO hands me off. I already addressed traffic, engine failure, and accidental VFR into IMC above.

    I want to reiterate that this will not happen often, maybe never or just once in my life. It is very common when the ceiling is like 1,500ft+ for aircraft to shoot the approach into PAO and then VFR into SQL. I have done it 2 or 3 times. No problem at all. Totally legal and just follow the freeway. I am just wondering about the time I would like to get back when the ceiling is 800ft.

    If anyone has anymore advice or some concerns, please just let me know.
  13. zmiller4

    zmiller4 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2005
    Messages:
    2,642
    Likes Received:
    328
    SVFR is essentially a way to bypass normal VFR requirements. By using it, you'd be dramatically increasing your chances of inadvertent flight into IMC. If you follow the course of action you've picked out for that scenario and turn out over the bay, you will be talking to the FAA afterwards. It's not a conversation I would want to have.

    I don't know that I'd say communication would be "no problem". I agree with what JRH said about how this would actually work. If you get SVFR out of Palo Alto, there's no guarantee that you'll immediately get an SVFR clearance into SQL. If they've got someone on approach, you may be stuck in between the two airspaces for a while...and if you've only got 2 miles between them and ceilings less than 1000', things will get really busy really fast.

    It's G below 700 if the chart on Airnav is correct.

    If you're above 700', I believe you would need to be talking to Norcal for special VFR for that airspace.

    Sure you can do it legally. Whether or not you will be able to is totally dependent on how smoothly things go with ATC. If you're flying an approach close to minimums and then relying on them to accommodate you for SVFR, you may be asking a little much.

    If you only expect this to happen once in a blue moon, why not just land at Palo Alto and wait it out?
  14. jrh

    jrh Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2005
    Messages:
    3,628
    Likes Received:
    368
    Nobody ever does.

    But that's not the point. Just because you have a plan does not mean it's an acceptable plan. An acceptable plan would be one that is both safe and legal. For instance, if you have unexpected headwinds during a long cross country, diverting to a nearby airport to pick up fuel short of your destination is an acceptable plan. It is both safe and legal. If you are considering departing on this cross country but aren't 100% certain you can make it to your destination because of the winds, it's still ok to depart because your "out" is both safe and legal.

    This "out" of flying in to IMC over the bay is only marginally safe and definitely not legal. If you're departing using an SVFR clearance, yet you aren't 100% certain you can maintain SVFR/VFR conditions, you shouldn't be departing to begin with. Sure, crazy things happen when flying, so it's possible a pilot might have to execute this plan at some point in time, but a better approach would be to not allow oneself in conditions so sketchy that the plan would be needed.

    SVFR operations are visual operations. I think we'd all agree that a pilot shouldn't depart on a regular VFR flight unless they can maintain VFR conditions, so why would a Special VFR flight be any different?

    I completely agree with you on this part.

    From the looks of it on SkyVector, I believe you are correct. Look at the map legend and study the area on a current section to be sure.

    Class E

    Here's the deal:

    SVFR clearances only apply to Class E, D, C, or B *surface* areas. SVFR departure clearance phraseology will always include something like "Report clear of the Class Delta surface area." Or, when coming inbound to an airport, the controller will always say "Upon entering Class Delta surface area, maintain Special VFR conditions..."

    The reason this is important is that the SVFR clearance does not exist outside of those areas. As soon as a pilot leaves the surface area, he must be in compliance with whatever airspace he is in. So if he is within 1200 feet of the ground and in Class G, he has to have 1 mile visibility and remain clear of clouds (the same as his SVFR clearance). If he is in Class E, he has to have the standard 3 miles vis, 500 below, 1000 above, etc.

    If you stay below 700 AGL, you'll be in Class G airspace and have to adhere to cloud and visibility requirements accordingly. If you're above 700, you'll be in Class E and have to have better visibility and cloud clearances. The important point to note here is that in either case, you'll be on your own, because nobody can issue an SVFR clearance since you're not in a controlled surface area.

    I don't see anything wrong with doing it every day as long as you understand the factors involved and plan accordingly. SVFR is a great tool when understood and used properly. I don't know why so many pilots look down on it as something risky or unsafe. It's not. It's just like anything in flying, it has its time and place.
  15. Roger, Roger

    Roger, Roger Guest

    I've had to use it once. It was a rather interesting situation...returning to the field as it was going below IFR minimums. There was a 200' layer of scud moving over the field with the ILS OTS. We were about 4 NM south of the field, and since the clouds were moving in from the north, we could see the runway from where we were. We asked for, and got, SVFR in the class D, ducked under the edge of the cloud bank, and landed.
  16. Douglas

    Douglas Old School KSUX

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2007
    Messages:
    6,790
    Likes Received:
    377
    I tried to use it once.
    Denied, "uh unable, the field is VFR"

    I wanted to do touch n' goes with my student, the ceiling was at 1000 ft, so it was right at pattern altitude. Class delta fields go VFR when the ceiling is 1000 ft agl.
  17. jrh

    jrh Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2005
    Messages:
    3,628
    Likes Received:
    368
    I've used it a lot. A few times to get in and out of airports while it was snowing, once to get out of an airport with forest fires nearby that reduced the visibility with smoke, numerous times to complete training flights when ground fog dropped the surface visibility, yet the practice area was clear...the list could go on. I love SVFR!
  18. mojo6911

    mojo6911 Well-Hung Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2007
    Messages:
    7,341
    Likes Received:
    948
    You can be in Class G, in IMC, without a clearance or IFR flight plan. Smart? No. Legal? Yes.
  19. jrh

    jrh Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2005
    Messages:
    3,628
    Likes Received:
    368
    You can be IFR in Class G without a clearance, but remember that you still have to follow all the rules of IFR flying. For instance, you have to be instrument rated, the aircraft has to be equipped for instrument flight, etc.

    Along the same lines, 91.177 defines the minimum altitudes for IFR. It says 1000 feet above obstacles in non-mountainous terrain and 2000 feet in mountainous terrain. Obviously 700 feet is below the legal limit.

    So the whole "IFR without a clearance in Class G" argument works fine if we're talking about flying at 5000 AGL in Class G in the desert of Nevada, but in this case, it would simply be trading one legal problem for another.
  20. LarryinTN

    LarryinTN Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2005
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    0
    If you have 1000 & 3 you can do T&G's VFR. No SVFR clearance required.

Share This Page