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IFR in Class G?

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In a recent Flying article, I read that you don't have to be squawkin and talkin when IFR in class G. Obviously this is uncontrolled airspace... but what's to keep planes from knockin into one another?

 

Mainly I think of class G as that low airspace over an airport, but ATC will lockdown the airport for IFR departures when one is in/outbound so safe on that end. VFR has to stay clear of clouds. But what about broader areas of class G? How is IFR flight permissible and possible in that airspace?

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My understanding is you can be in IFR in Class G.  ATC will not care and you're perfectly legal.  I think the reasoning is that a lot of times ATC may not be able to radar identify you in some Class G airspace whether due to altitude or terrain or maybe just lack or radar.  So you can depart IFR from a Class G airport but you need to contact ATC and receive an IFR clearance BEFORE entering controlled airspace (Class A, B, C, D or E) under IFR.  

 

I have an FAA safety inspector from the FSDO coming by my work on Friday to give us some training and I will ask him this very question and post his answer here.  He's a smart guy when it comes to this subject matter.  He's got an ATP, flies Gulfstreams and has really stumped us in the past with some questions regarding IFR stuff.  It's always a learning experience when he comes by.

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In some parts of the US class G extends all the way up to 14,500 MSL, or even higher if it's within 1500 of terrain. For an example check out the area NW of Aberdeen, SD (kabr). An airplane could takeoff from 3w8, fly into the clouds and practice steep turns at 10,000' in IMC without talking to ATC or filing a flight plan, and its all perfectly legal. The only thing providing separation is the Big Sky theory.

Since there is no positive separation, part 125 operations (and I think 121, and 135) are prohibited from IFR in class G. We have to stay on Victor airways in parts of the country that have G all the way up to 14,500

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IFR = a clearance from ATC ( via radio or telephone in the case of non towered airport for example)

I doubt any A/C would get a clearance to fly into class G airspace.

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Wow, I'd like to see the regs that allow this. Since Class G is uncontrolled, there is technically NO instrument flight rules allowed as by definition IFR requires an IFR clearance, which you are not going to get. So the VFR cloud clearance rules would seem to be the only legal method to me:

 

Below 1200 feet AGL: 1 mile and clear of clouds

1200 AGL and higher: 1 mile and 500' below, 1000' above and 2000' laterally clear of clouds

 

But I'm willing to be persuaded. Not that I would ever do it!

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I fly IFR in Class G on a regular basis. Much of northern Canada lacks radar coverage or even radio coverage outside of the Victor airways, and is therefore uncontrolled. I'm still required to obtain clearances prior to departure (often via an RCO on an uncontrolled field), I must still file an IFR flight plan, and I must observe MEAs, etc. ATC clearances are given, but come with provisos - e.g. 'maintain 12,000 while in controlled airspace'.  I'm also usually advised by ATC that I'm leaving controlled airspace when they tell me 'radar coverage is terminated' or 're-establish radio contact at xx:xx time/within x DME of <fix> on <freq>' when I'm going back into controlled. 

 

While in G, IFR aircraft are expected to monitor and broadcast intentions on the enroute and MF frequencies, just like VFR aircraft. Further, it's common while in G and inbound to controlled airspace to broadcast your DME and heading, ie 'GJOG inbound to YZF at 8000 on 270, 75 DME' - just to help orient with other IFR traffic.

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Most of NJ is covered in class E at relatively low levels.

However, a similar challenge exists here as an IFR flight approaches an airport with low VFR ceilings. Students flying in the pattern, maintaining VFR.

VFR flight close to the clouds, and IFR descending in the clouds, students with minimal experience and "pros" calling in on the CTAF giving position reports of the instrument approach they are flying in on.

There is only a few instrument procedures that come into my home drome. I would expect that 2/3rds of the flying population there doesn't know anything about them or where their IAFs are.

Expect to join VFR traffic with a low stable cloud structure overhead. Speak early and often in normal VFR English.

One plane in the pattern may be very quiet...

This was my experience as a VFR student pilot. Hope it helps to enlighten the situation.

If i recall from my early training...There are or were some quirks in the system that may allow an IR pilot to fly in IMC in uncontrolled spaces without a clearance. But that is an oddity that is not practiced by wise aviators. The sky isn't that big anymore.

Best regards,

-a-

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IFR = a clearance from ATC ( via radio or telephone in the case of non towered airport for example)

I doubt any A/C would get a clearance to fly into class G airspace.

The later part is correct, if you are operating IFR in class G you are not on a clearance. If you try to get a clearance while in class G, you will be told to enter controlled airspace on a certain heading and/or altitude, but until reaching controlled airspace, you are on your own.

I disagree with the first statement. IFR=ATC clearance only in controlled airspace.

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I've seen this discussion before- it's my understanding that you don't need a clearance to fly an IFR flight plan wholely within class G.  You file a flight plan, take off, and then close your flight plan on the other side.  That's the reason that when taking off from an uncontrolled airport the clearance from FSS is "ACT clears N1234X to..... upon entering controlled airspace, fly heading XXX, climb to 5000, and contact center at 123.45." 

 

I may be 100% wrong here but the above is what I've seen elsewhere when this topic comes up, assuming I've understood it correctly.

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Wow, I'd like to see the regs that allow this. Since Class G is uncontrolled, there is technically NO instrument flight rules allowed as by definition IFR requires an IFR clearance, which you are not going to get. So the VFR cloud clearance rules would seem to be the only legal method to me:

Below 1200 feet AGL: 1 mile and clear of clouds

1200 AGL and higher: 1 mile and 500' below, 1000' above and 2000' laterally clear of clouds

But I'm willing to be persuaded. Not that I would ever do it!

91.173

No person may operate an aircraft in controlled airspace under IFR unless that person has --

a. Filed an IFR flight plan; and

b. Received an appropriate ATC clearance.

Notice that the rules requiring a flight plan and clearance are specific to controlled airspace. However, the pilot must be instrument rated and current, and the airplane must be IFR compliant in any airspace.

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Most of NJ is covered in class E at relatively low levels.

However, a similar challenge exists here as an IFR flight approaches an airport with low VFR ceilings. Students flying in the pattern, maintaining VFR.

VFR flight close to the clouds, and IFR descending in the clouds, students with minimal experience and "pros" calling in on the CTAF giving position reports of the instrument approach they are flying in on.

There is only a few instrument procedures that come into my home drome. I would expect that 2/3rds of the flying population there doesn't know anything about them or where their IAFs are.

Expect to join VFR traffic with a low stable cloud structure overhead. Speak early and often in normal VFR English.

One plane in the pattern may be very quiet...

This was my experience as a VFR student pilot. Hope it helps to enlighten the situation.

If i recall from my early training...There are or were some quirks in the system that may allow an IR pilot to fly in IMC in uncontrolled spaces without a clearance. But that is an oddity that is not practiced by wise aviators. The sky isn't that big anymore.

Best regards,

-a-

This is an excellent point Anthony. Reminds me of VOR 26 at my home field VAY which brings you down to 640 feet inside of LOUEY. Potentially there can be VFR traffic right in front of you as you break out on final at 640 and busy looking for the runway which is offset. And both are legal! I'd bet most of that VFR traffic has no idea where LOUEY is either!

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This is an excellent point Anthony. Reminds me of VOR 26 at my home field VAY which brings you down to 640 feet inside of LOUEY. Potentially there can be VFR traffic right in front of you as you break out on final at 640 and busy looking for the runway which is offset. And both are legal! I'd bet most of that VFR traffic has no idea where LOUEY is either!

What do you mean? Isn't Louie that guy who's always hanging around the airport cafe?

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What do you mean? Isn't Louie that guy who's always hanging around the airport cafe?

That's Louise the blond waitress. Everyone knows where she is!

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AIM Chapter 3. Airspace
Section 1. General
3−1−1. General
a. There are two categories of airspace or airspace
areas:
1. Regulatory (Class A, B, C, D and E airspace
areas, restricted and prohibited areas); and
2. Nonregulatory (military operations areas
(MOAs), warning areas, alert areas, and controlled
firing areas).
b. Within these two categories, there are four
types:
1. Controlled,
2. Uncontrolled,
3. Special use, and
4. Other airspace.
 
How do you know when you are in controlled or uncontrolled airspace?

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How do you know when you are in controlled or uncontrolled airspace?

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On a sectional chart uncontrolled airspace is indicated by a blue "zipper" line with the altitude of controlled airspace printed in it. Or it is on the solid side of a blue shaded line.

 

Uncontrolled airspace on a low altitude chart is show in brown.

 

There is no uncontrolled airspace on hi altitude charts.

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Then what is "We have an IFR inbound, hold for release?" If you're taking off from an airport in class G, ATC can still make you hold and not give you a clearance. So they do have control over uncontrolled fields?

 

So based on this IFR in class G stuff.... does that mean that any instrument rated pilot caught breaking VFR wx minimums in class G airspace can always get away with saying he was IFR without a flight plan? Basically any instrument rated pilot can fly IFR in class G at any time?

 

What is IFR anyway? I don't think it's clearly defined anywhere. Part 91 basically just talks about fuel minimums, approach minimums, takeoff minimums, cruising altitudes/headings, and communications. It doesn't ever define instrument flight rules or what "IFR conditions" are. First we need a clear definition of what instrument flight rules are before we can determine if they can be flown in uncontrolled airspace.

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(1) If you are in VMC you can expect legal VFR traffic. See and avoid rule...

(2) If you are in IMC, there will be no VFR traffic expected. Just avoid the edge of the clear side of the cloud, VFR pilots will be on the other side avoiding the cloud...

(3) If you are in Class G, you may be mixing it up with the unknowns of other IFR pilots heading into the system.

Overall, avoid IFR flight in class G areas.

-a-

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On a sectional chart uncontrolled airspace is indicated by a blue "zipper" line with the altitude of controlled airspace printed in it. Or it is on the solid side of a blue shaded line

The shaded side of the blue line generaly designates class E at 1200' AGL and above. The zippers, along with a printed altitude, are used to designate areas where class E begins at other altitudes.

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Then what is "We have an IFR inbound, hold for release?" If you're taking off from an airport in class G, ATC can still make you hold and not give you a clearance. So they do have control over uncontrolled fields?

So based on this IFR in class G stuff.... does that mean that any instrument rated pilot caught breaking VFR wx minimums in class G airspace can always get away with saying he was IFR without a flight plan? Basically any instrument rated pilot can fly IFR in class G at any time?

What is IFR anyway? I don't think it's clearly defined anywhere. Part 91 basically just talks about fuel minimums, approach minimums, takeoff minimums, cruising altitudes/headings, and communications. It doesn't ever define instrument flight rules or what "IFR conditions" are. First we need a clear definition of what instrument flight rules are before we can determine if they can be flown in uncontrolled airspace.

By not releasing you, ATC is preventing you from entering controlled (class E or greater) airspace under IFR. If you can maintain VFR, you could still take off and request your clearance airborne, but ATC will not issue the clearance until they can provide positive separation. In most parts of the US, If you could not maintain VFR, you wouldn't be able to takeoff because you would not be able maintain IFR terrain and obstacle clearance while staying out of the overlying controlled airspace, which starts at 700' AGL over airports with published IAPs.

Regarding the second and third questions; I like to think of IFR as any time VFR rules are not being maintained, and/or when on an IFR clearance. If operating IFR, you must follow all IFRules, and all of the rules of the airspace you are operating in.

With rare exception, IFR in class G can only legally occur without a clearance in sparse areas of the US where G goes all the way up to 14,500'.

Clear as mud?

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Great thread, class golf cloud clearances would apply. Up and down the northeast corridor, there is very little space other than 700-1200agl-1 mile clear of clouds.  Great for poking around and taking a peak in Alaska.

 

Not to muddy the fairly clear waters, but I predict Class G (in the metropolitan, continental USA) will all but evaporate with the wide dissemination of drone use by law enforcement and licensed operators.

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Drone use deserves it's own thread. That will be a long discussion...

Xcountry drone flights above 1,000'msl...?

Best regards,

-a-

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I can't wait to chase a drone around to see how well it can "see and avoid"

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Watch for the second unmarked one coming up from behind you...

This is how it used to work on NJ highways...

Best regards,

-a-

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91.173

No person may operate an aircraft in controlled airspace under IFR unless that person has --

a. Filed an IFR flight plan; and

b. Received an appropriate ATC clearance.

Notice that the rules requiring a flight plan and clearance are specific to controlled airspace. However, the pilot must be instrument rated and current, and the airplane must be IFR compliant in any airspace.

Consistent with this, the rules of IFR (instrument flight rules) flight talk about three types of operations  Some discuss flights "under instrument flight rules." Others refer to flights "under instrument flight rules in controlled airspace."  Still others are specific to IFR operations "in uncontrolled airspace " There is some variation in the exact terminology used for "IFR" itself, but the differentiation with respect to all IFR operations and those in controlled or uncontrolled airspace is pretty consistent.

 

For examples of each:

  • 91.173's requirement for an IFR flight plan and clearance applies to IFR in controlled airspace.
  • 91.171's requirement for VOR checks applies to all IFR operations.
  • The IFR hemispheric rule in 91.179 applies to IFR in uncontrolled airspace.

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