Is it legal for large, multi-crew, aircraft (such as the A380 or B747) to go VFR? I would guess it's legal just as any other aircraft. Is this ever done, like during training or test-flights? If it isn't legal, what's the limiting factor?

I'm talking real VFR from take-off to landing, not an VFR-on-top IFR clearance.

As I don't have a spare 747 sitting around waiting for me to take it out for an afternoon spin, I'm interested more in the general sense, is it legal anywhere, and are airlines taking advantage of it?

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    $\begingroup$ VFR is mostly staying out of clouds and See-and-Avoid, however the last is kinda hard when you are going 800+ km/h and have a terrible turn radius $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Feb 14 '14 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ During the volcanic ash in Europe a few years ago, Lufthansa transferred a few wide bodies under VFR rules from Munich to Frankfurt, as far as I know, as IFR flights were forbidden. So yes, it's possible. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 14 '14 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak; see-and-avoid still applies to IFR traffic. Depending on airspace (E for example), the controllers will only separate you from other IFR traffic, and it's still your responsibility to see and avoid VFR traffic. $\endgroup$ – falstro Feb 14 '14 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven: that's must've been fun for the pilots! $\endgroup$ – shortstheory Feb 14 '14 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ Is it legal..... Where? Different countries have different rules and regulations on these things. :) $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 14 '14 at 13:14

The FAA treats large airplanes the same as any other airplane when it comes to VFR flight. They are required to maintain the same distance from clouds, only fly with the same minimum visibility, see and avoid other aircraft, etc.

However, since only IFR flights are allowed above FL180 (without a special exemption), and large turbine airplanes are terribly inefficient at low altitudes, so it doesn't happen very often.

In the US, Part 121 flights have the most restrictions of any of the operating rules, and they have multiple regulations relating to VFR flight, including this one1:

14 CFR 121.611 Dispatch or flight release under VFR.

No person may dispatch or release an aircraft for VFR operation unless the ceiling and visibility en route, as indicated by available weather reports or forecasts, or any combination thereof, are and will remain at or above applicable VFR minimums until the aircraft arrives at the airport or airports specified in the dispatch or flight release.

So yes, even if it is operated by a 121 carrier, they are allowed to fly VFR by the regulations. However, they must also comply with their Operations Specifications and Flight Operations Manuals which will have detailed procedures covering the conditions where it is allowed.

Outside of 121 there are even fewer restrictions on VFR flight.

1 There is also:

  • §121.347 - Communication and navigation equipment for operations under VFR over routes navigated by pilotage.
  • §121.349 - Communication and navigation equipment for operations under VFR over routes not navigated by pilotage or for operations under IFR or over the top.
  • §121.649 - Takeoff and landing weather minimums: VFR: Domestic operations.
  • §121.667 - Flight plan: VFR and IFR: Supplemental operations.
  • $\begingroup$ Is the FL180 cut-off international? I thought it was only because there's airspace A above FL180 (true in the US, not everywhere though). Germany has airspace C from FL100 (mostly) and up and does not necessarily require an IFR clearance, but I don't know if there's an FL180 cutoff. $\endgroup$ – falstro Mar 1 '14 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ @roe Well, as I said in my answer this is per the FAA and US rules. One answer can't possibly cover the legal aspects everywhere in the world. For instance, in the Bahamas VFR is not allowed at night. I'm sure that there are some countries that require IFR flights in other circumstances as well, and doubt that Class A airspace above FL180 is universal. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 1 '14 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Oops, didn't mean to imply anything weird, I was just wondering if there was some other rule you might know about regarding FL180 except for the fact that there's class A above it (in the US). $\endgroup$ – falstro Mar 1 '14 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @roe Airspace designation is left up to the individual ICAO member countries, so could be different. As you said, it it Class A above 18,000 feet in the USA (which is why I said no VFR) but it could be different in other countries. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 1 '14 at 16:45

Generally the airlines operating procedures will only permit IFR operation. Occasionally non-revenue flights for aircraft positioning etc, will operate VFR for expediency. I know of one pilot who has delivered old airliners to the Mojave boneyard on a VFR flight from LAX.


As far as I know, the size of the aircraft does not matter much. You just cannot plan airline flights (carrying passengers) in VFR.

Although I think, in case the destination airport is uncontrolled and you have VMC (and the airspace class allows), you can cancel IFR and proceed VFR bellow the VFR maximum altitude.

Depending on the country and class of airspace you're flying in, you might also have other limiting factors such as speed (200/250 KIAS) and altitude (18,000/20,000 ft).


Do heavies go VFR? Absolutely, and not only do they go VFR they do carrier breaks as well.

The US Navy has a "scheduled airlines" that ferries personnel and equipment around the continent. Its passenger line uses DC-9's. I was in Beeville, Texas going through advanced jet training in the A4. We were already in the pattern doing carrier pattern touch-and-go's when we heard a DC-9 call at the VFR initial. We were expecting the following call to be for a straight-in VFR approach, and to our amazement we heard, "Tower Heavy 201 for the break." The tower came back quickly, "Break approved."

This was the coolest thing I have ever seen. Absolutely stunning. This big guy comes in to the field at 800 feet and makes the break! I was cheering in the cockpit watching it.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ According to Wikipedia, the US Navy retired the last of its DC-9s in 2014. They now use Boeing C-40A Clippers, which are 737-700s. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jan 28 '17 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I wasn't sure if they were still using them. It has been a while. I was in Beeville well before 2014 :) I always imagined the pilot was a cross between a fighter pilot, fond of the break, and a P3 pilot not afraid to get the wingtip close the wave tops. Thanks for your comment and contribution, $\endgroup$ – Aaron Jan 28 '17 at 16:19

I believe if you are operating under part 121, you are IFR always. I would suspect if you are relocating an airliner and under part 91, you could fly VFR but I would bet the airline would require IFR as their standard operating procedures.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not true in the US: Part 121 has provisions for being dispatched under VFR (see @Lnafziger's answer). An example are the old Continental Express ATRs out of KEWR which routinely flew VFR to avoid delays. $\endgroup$ – casey Feb 14 '14 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ I saw that. I had thought I read that all 121 went IFR after a few mid-air collisions, but I guess I read that incorrectly. $\endgroup$ – David Espina Feb 14 '14 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @casey "This is not true in the US". I thought "part 121" was a section of US federal law? If some assertion about it is "not true in the US", then it's not true at all, right? $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jan 28 '17 at 11:24

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