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I was going over Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR) with my instructor recently and he told me that he has only requested it a few times, and that it is mainly used if you are flying from deteriorating weather into improving weather. In other words, you are sure that where you are going is clear. I got thinking about it and felt that if there were ever an SVFR situation, I would most likely ground the flight (until I get my instrument rating that is).

That being said, how often do pilots request SVFR?

It seems like it would cause people to end up in situations that they can't handle i.e. weather deteriorates more instead of getting better, does this happen often?

It has been mentioned that SVFR rules vary from country to country, I am asking about peoples experiences in the USA but am happy to hear of other similar situations around the world as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ You will most likely not get a good reply, as SVFR differs from country to country and there may be several reasons to request SVFR. Germany recently changed VMC in control zones and will see a rise in SVFR requests, but I am not aware of any sources to quantify how many there are... The second question would be easier to answer... $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Mar 19 '15 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ My apologies I did not realize the ambiguity, I guess my question is related to SVFR in the US ill edit it to reflect this. $\endgroup$ – Dave Mar 19 '15 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the edit, I updated the question with the faa-regulations tag, so further answers will take this into account. I'll leave my answer below however as well. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Mar 20 '15 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ Here is a case where a pilot requested an SVFR clearance in deteriorating weather and the resulting crash ended up on National News: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Dubroff $\endgroup$ – DLH Jan 14 '19 at 22:17
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From my experience in the US at the facilities I've worked, and the discussions I've had with other controllers, it depends heavily on the area's weather patterns. The facilities I've worked, it's been usually a tool, when people are trying to get in right before the weather hits, or they're seeing good improvement in neighboring airports and at the main one, and know that it'll be good enough to make it between the two areas.

Other places, like coastal or areas where fog banks are common, SVFR can be useful, esp if only half the field is covered in clouds, and you need to make it in or can easily get out.

Personally, I'd probably just file IFR and cancel when I got to a good spot VFR, if I just wanted to go out and enjoy, versus just flying to a destination.

Also, note, SVFR in terms of separation is only one SVFR aircraft(and really aircraft period) in the airspace at a time. So, you'll be delayed to come in if there's IFR, or other SVFR aircraft ahead of you.

Helicopters generally do request it more than fixed wing aircraft in my experience. Also, realize a pilot has to explicitly request SVFR, a controller can't prompt or hint at the correct terminology to use to request like saying "Do you have a SPECIAL request"

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    $\begingroup$ Is it now the case that an SVFR departure is not allowed if an IFR craft is inbound? The reason that I ask is that back in the 1990s we used to expedite our departure by using SVFR to avoid having to wait for an arriving/departing IFR aircraft at non-radar airports. We would typically fly out from under the stratus in a few miles, climb until we knew center would be able to see us, then pick up our IFR clearance. This was especially useful for commuter operations at Wenatchee, WA and Redmond, OR. $\endgroup$ – Terry Nov 4 '15 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ Correct, No SVFR in the airspace if there is an IFR aircraft at or inside the airspace, so usually you'd terminate SVFR operations when an IFR aircraft is ~15 miles from the airspace to allow enough time to get the aircraft in or out of the airspace before the IFR arrival gets in. $\endgroup$ – slookabill Nov 4 '15 at 11:02
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I've done it once, or maybe twice in 1200 hours of flying.

The first time was when I was stuck at an airport in the LA basin which was below standard VFR minimums due to how thick the smog was. I filed SVFR to take off, and by 5000 feet I was above the smog layer and it was blue skies the rest of the way home.

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Copters fly SVFR more often than fixed-wing for a number of reasons: SVFR minimums are lower (see 91.157), can be done at night, and are not subject to the "NO SVFR" of Part 91 Appendix D Section 3 that prohibits SVFR at large Class B airports.

Also, Copter instrument approaches can terminate at the MAP with an SVFR clearance to the airport. Such approaches may even be noted on the flight plan. For example, the MAP for JFK COPTER RNAV (GPS) 028°(PDF) depicts various VFR routes to the NYC heliports. These can be flown SVFR.

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  • $\begingroup$ Deleted my answer and gave you the upvote, thanks @rpb! $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Mar 24 '15 at 23:20
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The below was posted before the OP clarified in his question that he was interested in FAA-based data and anwers.

I am not aware of any statistical data, but I can answer the second question in your text.

Remember that SVFR is not only about visibility, but also about staying clear of clouds. Airspace D in Germany requires cloud distances of 1.000ft vertically and 1.5km horizontally. You are also required to remain at least 500ft above ground during flight, except for landings and takeoff.

If your cloud base drops below 1.500ft, you could technically no longer maintain VMC, even though maybe your visibility was more than 10km. In this case your only option is to request SVFR.

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I've flown SVFR a lot. Like requesting access to military routes (MR on your area maps) it seems to be something that lots of people don't use but those who know how to use them discover they are great!

I have found that traffic control (especially the non-tower sites you address as e.g. "Radio Hawthorne") love hearing these requests and are eager to help you figure out the details you need to get what you want - probably because it's a bit more interesting than most of the requests they hear :)

Caution, Opinion ahead:

I highly recommend you learn to use it and memorize a few of the versions more relevant to your location (e.g. "SVFR to VFR on top" to get above spotty low clouds). You'll sound like a pro and traffic control will usually be quite friendly and receptive about it. In fact I can't recall ever being turned down on such a request, although I have received advice to change my strategy once or twice (including once when I was guided into a channel to see about a dozen military craft go by at close enough range to count mustaches). SVFR is a fun and powerful tool for the general aviation pilot and an excellent way to build skill. Do them with your instructor too while you have the chance because they are indeed a skill that is worth working on.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would you want to fly on a military route? While legal, its greatly increasing the risk of a mid-air. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Mar 24 '15 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Rhino Driver - Quite to the contrary, I find they are usually completely abandoned and avoided because using them involves contacting a controller and asking permission and people have been conditioned to think they must be busy. As a practical matter I think they are very nearly always empty, at least I've only ever encountered traffic on one ONCE and that was when I was flying straight over an air base on what turned out to be air show day. Otherwise they are just nice empty patches of sky in my (anecdotal) experience. $\endgroup$ – Ezekiel Kruglick Mar 24 '15 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ Its been my experience that most near mid-airs I've heard about involving military and civilian aircraft have occurred in MOA's or MTRs when we are task saturated and unable to see. At 350+ kts from 200-500 AGL, the majority of the pilots time is going to be spent clearing terrain and making designated target times. Often, terrain masks the presence of other aircraft leading to dangerously close passes--such as when I rolled over the top of a mountain and suddenly had a HUD full of aircraft in front of me. In this case I passed close enough to see the faces of the crew. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Mar 24 '15 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Rhino Driver - interesting, sounds like you might have been in the military aircraft? I usually open by asking if the MR is clear and have assumed if they tell me "yes" that it means no scheduled flights. Whereabouts are your experiences from. On the West Coast there are thousands of miles of MR with what seems like very little activity on them. Do you think that most MR flights are pre-planned and in the system so flight operations would know about them or no? $\endgroup$ – Ezekiel Kruglick Mar 24 '15 at 23:43

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