CFI Topics

You Do Know the Minimums for VFR, Don’t You?

Lesson 3

Don’t become a statistic. Even when operating IFR you must be looking outside if you are not “in the clouds”. Both VFR and IFR pilots have the responsibility to “see and avoid” when operating in VMC.

You can teach your students that Special VFR rules apply in certain controlled airspaces. However, a request for a SVFR clearance will be low priority if an IFR flight is in the area. It’s not a good idea to be in a busy traffic area with low visibility, right? So why would any VFR pilot want to be anywhere near instrument traffic in reduced visibility however legal they may be? I always remind my students - and pilots during flight reviews – “many things they ‘can do’ are legal, but are not necessarily safe for them”.

Your student doesn’t need to be instrument rated to understand where an IFR flight might be. All he or she needs to know is how to decipher this information on the VFR chart. Let me give you another example: Figure 2 is a photo of an excerpt from the San Diego Terminal Area Chart. The airport pictured has an ILS approach to runway 24. Notice the dashed magenta symbol leading to the dashed blue Class D symbol? The magenta area is Class E airspace from the surface to 17, 999 ft. MSL and requires VFR minimums if you want to fly through it under visual rules. In this case the magenta area protects IFR flights to the surface since all IFR flights are provided separation from other IFR traffic in controlled airspace. If the Class E Surface area did not exist then the portion of airspace outside of the Class D ring would be Class G and therefore no separation would be provided to the IFR pilot and a VFR pilot could legally fly through this area under 700 ft. AGL with 1 mile visibility while remaining clear of any clouds. A perfect setup for a mid-air collision.

You will find Class E surface areas protecting approaches anytime the approach- minimums are less than 700 ft. AGL. For example precision approaches – mainly ILS - normally will have a decision altitude (DA) of 200 ft. AGL. Additionally some VOR and GPS approaches have minimums lower than 700 ft. AGL. In these instances there will be a surface area Class E symbol protecting the approach. In the case of higher minimums for VOR, GPS, Localizer and other non-precision approach types the magenta tint band is used to protect the approach corridor. In congested areas where there are a lot of airports with instrument approaches the magenta tint band may not be immediately adjacent to the airport, but look closely at the chart and you will see it not too far out.

By reading these symbols you can determine – with some accuracy – what type of approach, either precision or non-precision, exists for a given airport whether it is a towered or non-towered one. In some cases you can determine where the instrument approach path will be and therefore have the information necessary to avoid much of the traffic that could be encountered during your flight.

An additional consideration regarding busy instrument traffic areas is to remain clear of them while practicing maneuvers. Not only is this a situation that increases the risk of a collision, but maneuvering back and forth, up and down near the approach area could cause an instrument approach to be “called off” to avoid hitting you and your student. ATC must provide proper and adequate separation from other traffic in controlled airspace and if your maneuvering interferes with that separation than the IFR flight will be vectored away causing a delay, at the very least, for that pilot. It only takes a little thought and planning to increase the safety of a flight and be considerate of others.

Figure 2

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