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Let's say an IFR flight was planned to depart from a non-towered airport with class G airspace extending from the surface to 700 feet AGL. The flight visibility and ceiling both go down to 0. Can the pilot get an IFR clearance?

If the airport had class E airspace from the surface up it would be in controlled airspace from the ground and I'm positive that an IFR clearance could be issued allowing IFR flight in that class E airspace right from takeoff.

In the case of class G airspace from the ground, the airspace is uncontrolled. Could an IFR clearance be issued that allows IFR flight and waives the basic VFR weather minimums for class G airspace?

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The key point is in your last sentence:

In the case of class G airspace from the ground, the airspace is uncontrolled.

Uncontrolled airspace is, well, uncontrolled. An appropriately rated, current pilot, in an appropriately equipped aircraft, may fly IFR in class G airspace without either a clearance or a flight plan. There are no clearances to waive VFR minima in class G, because the flight is conducted under IFR.

If an entire flight is flown in class G airspace, a pilot does not need to talk to a controller at all. When class G airspace is overlaid by controlled airspace, like class E, the pilot will need a clearance before entering controlled airspace. The controller will provide a clearance (FAA Order 7110.65, p. 4-3-2):

WHEN ENTERING CONTROLLED AIRSPACE (instruction), FLY HEADING (degrees) UNTIL REACHING (altitude, point, or fix) BEFORE PROCEEDING ON COURSE.

Once the pilot is released for departure, they would depart IFR in class G, where they would be responsible for their own terrain and traffic clearance (using tools like an Obstacle Departure Procedure). As soon as they climb into class E airspace, they receive the benefits and responsibilities of flying in the ATC system.

An interesting border case is raised by wbeard52. In this case, a pilot departed a class G airport with class E starting at 700 AGL, and broke out of the clouds before entering controlled airspace. The ruling basically said that taking off in this situation without a clearance is not explicitly illegal, but falls under "careless or reckless operation" prohibited by FAR 91.13.

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    $\begingroup$ I heartily disagree that you can conduct an entire flight under IFR in class G airspace. I know this is old, but as the accepted answer here it comes up as the second hit on a Google search of IFR in class G airspace. I am disappointed that there is no commentary challenging this assertion. So, I hearby challenge you to explain how conducting an entire flight under IMC in Class G airspace could be legally considered IFR vs a violation of VFR cloud clearance requirements. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 10 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ P.S. Your explanation should include a description of how one would maintain safe and appropriate separation from other IFR traffic in the Class G. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 10 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Whatever is not prohibited is permitted. What regulation do you think would prohibit conducting an entire flight under IMC in Class G airspace? Note that 14 CFR § 91.173 prohibits IFR in controlled airspace without a clearance, but not in uncontrolled airspace. $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Feb 11 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Terran Swett, I normally espouse a similar libertarian philosophy on these matters, but I stop at gross negligence that endangers others. To answer your question, the one that requires you to have 1 mile vis and remain clear of clouds in class G airspace, and the one cited above that prohibits careless and reckless operation. But, you flipped the question on me. I wasn’t asking about IMC, I was asking about IFR. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 11 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ To further clarify the point I’m driving towards, let’s take weather completely out of the equation: It is VMC, CAVU, clear and a million, and you want to conduct a flight entirely in Class G airspace. If you wish to conduct it under instrument flight RULES, how would you actually execute this plan in accordance with the rules? Please be specific, and don’t mix IFR and IMC terminology. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 11 at 17:52
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Let's say an IFR flight was planned to depart from a non-towered airport with class G airspace extending from the surface to 700 feet AGL. The flight visibility and ceiling both go down to 0. Can the pilot get an IFR clearance?

Yes. The ATC clearance will use the words "when entering controlled airspace"...

Is it legal to takeoff from a Class G airport with less than 1 sm visibility?

I don't know. Here is an interesting ALJ decision from one pilot who did that. Although, his specifics are just a little different. An excerpt from the decision. Case 3935.

Respondent has appealed from the oral initial decision issued by Administrative Law Judge Joyce Capps at the close of an evidentiary hearing held in this matter on July 8, 1991. In that decision the law judge found that respondent's takeoff from an uncontrolled airport into clouds without a clearance or release from air traffic control (ATC) was not a violation of 14 C.F.R. 91.155(a), but was in violation of 14 C.F.R. 91.13(a).

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    $\begingroup$ It's important to note that the ATC clearance begins upon entry into controlled airspace and NOT before. No separation services are provided until then. Another thing to note is that class G airports typically don't have departure procedures, so terrain/obstacle impact is a very real threat. $\endgroup$ – newmanth Oct 12 '15 at 3:18
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    $\begingroup$ The only exception I've found to "class G airports don't have departure procedures" is KTNX -- but unless you're doing "black" things for the USAF or are a Janet pilot, good luck flying into/out of there! $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Nov 24 '15 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ Wow! Great find on Case 3935. I found the FAA's response both amusing and true With regard to respondent's assertion that, "[i]f anytime an aircraft enters clouds in uncontrolled airspace it is careless without a clearance then the FAR's should be changed," we note that it would be neither wise nor possible for the FAA to attempt to specifically prohibit every form of conduct that it considered careless. $\endgroup$ – Canuk Sep 7 '16 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ Many Class D airports revert to Class G when the tower is closed. They usually have obstacle departure procedures. and often SIDs, depending on the surrounding terrain and obstacles. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Feb 11 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject -- Re "The only exception I've found to "class G airports don't have departure procedures" is KTNX" -- the first one I googled had departure procedures -- see flightaware.com/resources/airport/KCVO/procedures $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer May 13 at 22:51
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Most non-towered airports are Class G until 700 or 1200 AGL. There are MANY non-towered airports with IFR approaches and ODPs. Every time you descend while IMC into Class G on a published approach or depart on an ODP or Diverse Departure after being released for an IFR departure, you are legally flying in Class G while IMC.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is a good point being made here that ties in the accepted answer, with the one Ian W just made above. In the cases you describe the pilot would either be launching within an expected window of time whereby an IFR clearance would become active upon reaching controlled airspace, or entering uncontrolled airspace at the tail end of a published instrument approach procedure for which they are cleared. If neither of these conditions are met, you are not IFR. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 10 at 19:51
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If the flight is conducted entirely in class G airspace, then possibly.

Pilots operating an aircraft under Part 123 or Part 125 cannot do so as the it requires at least 1 NM visibility for an aircraft with 1-2 engines and at least 1/2 NM visibility for aircraft with more than two engines. Flights conducted under Part 91 operations allow for a departure under zero-zero conditions, though it is not advisable to do so.

If one does conduct the flight under Part 91 operations in Class G airspace in zero-zero conditions, an instrument rated pilot may depart into these conditions without an IFR clearance (though the pilot may want to have his/her head examined if they tried this!). It would not be permissible for any segment of this flight to enter controlled airspace in IMC without first filing a flight plan and obtaining an IFR clearance before entering.

On a side note, if you remained in hard IMC in class G airspace with all nearby airports in zero-zero conditions, you would not be able to land as I don't know of any such airports equipped with a CAT III-C ILS approach into it.

Departures into class G airspace with an Class E shelf overhead is commonplace. However the pilot must file an IFR flight plan prior to contacting either the local flight service station or clearance delivery from a nearby towered airport. Typically, the clearance will be issued with a clearance void time, meaning that the pilot must make the departure and make contact with an ARTCC befor that time or a new IFR clearance must be obtained.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with your very first statement, but otherwise an excellent answer. (See my other comments on the "accepted" answer...) $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 11 at 18:23
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A late response. Instrument Flight Rules require that the aircraft is under the control of a 'separation manager' usually ATC authorized to provide separation. ATC are not authorized to provide control in Class G airspace, so there is no separation from other traffic. The aircraft captain is therefore required to separate and keep well clear from other traffic. This is done by applying the Visual Flight Rules and VFR can only be flown in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). Therefore, taking off in weather that makes staying VMC impossible is not legal. IFR cannot exist in Class G airspace.

In Class E airspace you can fly IFR and be required to maintain VFR separation from aircraft not flying IFR that the controller may not see.

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  • $\begingroup$ The FAA responded to this question in 04/19/16 referencing a 1993 NTSB ruling: “91.173 requires an IFR flight plan and ATC clearance in ‘controlled airspace’ but is silent with respect to ‘uncontrolled airspace.’ Per this regulation and assuming an IFR capable aircraft and pilot, it would also be permissible to fly in IMC without a clearance. HOWEVER, 91.13 prohibits operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner, and the NTSB has previously ruled that under certain conditions, takeoff into clouds without a clearance or release was 'extremely dangerous' and in violation of 91.13(a).” $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 10 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ The key phrase is “...under certain conditions...”. So, flight from Class G in IMC is technically legal even though it is actually stupid and reckless. The NTSB has grounds to take legal action if they choose. It is a grey area. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 10 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, welcome to AviationaStackExchange. feel free to Ask, Answer, and Comment on any topic. Just remember, unless you have something materially new or you can contradict the previously accepted posts with citations, to stick with answering active posts instead of dredging up ancient ones. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 10 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ He is contradicting the accepted answer, and I agree with this one. (I went in circles on another post regarding this issue.) There are certain key elements required to operate under Instrument Flight Rules. If you don't meet them you are not operating according to IFR, you are merely flying in IMC. There is a difference. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 10 at 19:35
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Interesting situation to fly IFR in class G. Class G has min VFR vis at 1 mi day. Less than 3 mi vis is classified IFR so to me it appears you are IFR even when flying VFR in class G.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any sources to back up your answer? $\endgroup$ – dalearn May 13 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ There is a distinction between IFR and IMC. IFR means flying under instrument flight rules. IMC means Instrument Meteorological Conditions. Likewise VFR and VMC. You are only IFR if you have a clearance from ATC. As mentioned in the answers, departing in IMC without an IFR clearance is probably illegal and is definitely careless and reckless. Departing Class G in VFR conditions in the day means visibility of 1 mile and COC—3 mile is is clearly not IFR. $\endgroup$ – JScarry May 14 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ IFR conditions are classified as vis 1-3 mi and/or ceilings <1000 ft. LIFR is vis < 1 mi. This is an interesting subject and I have never seen anyone answer it to my liking even FAA ops inspectors. So to fly in class G at anything lower that 3 mi vis you are "flying VFR" in IFR conditions. IFR vis regulations do not change for class G or any other class airspace. $\endgroup$ – user49536 May 14 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @user49536 -- you are mistaken, there is no reason to say " Less than 3 mi vis is classified IFR" or IFR conditions are classified as vis 1-3 mi and/or ceilings <1000 ft" or "So to fly in class G at anything lower that 3 mi vis you are "flying VFR" in IFR conditions.". Even if you changed "IFR" to "IMC" the statements would still not be true. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer May 16 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest you check up on what is or isn't IFR. Here is a start. aviationweather.gov/taf/help?page=plot Like it or not IFR conditions have always been 1<3mi vis. In class G <1200 ft FAA allows an exception to fly VFR COC in IFR conditions (was beneficial for ag spray) but by that variance it does not change the fact that 1<3 mi is classified IFR weather conditions. So my friend it is a paradox as I pointed out in the discussion. $\endgroup$ – user49536 May 17 at 15:48
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There is no doubt that the FAA envisions flight under Instrument Flight Rules in Class G airspace as something that may be done in compliance with the regulations.

For example, as another answer pointed out, page 4-3-2 of FAA Order JO 7110.65W gives an example of an IFR clearance containing the following language:

WHEN ENTERING CONTROLLED AIRSPACE (instruction), FLY HEADING (degrees) UNTIL REACHING (altitude, point, or fix) BEFORE PROCEEDING ON COURSE.

Also, as another answer noted,

Most non-towered airports are Class G until 700 or 1200 AGL. There are MANY non-towered airports with IFR approaches and ODPs. Every time you descend while IMC into Class G on a published approach or depart on an ODP or Diverse Departure after being released for an IFR departure, you are legally flying in Class G while IMC.

Here are examples of approach and departure procedures published for an airport in full-time Class G airspace (Class E airspace begins at 700' AGL in this location) -- https://flightaware.com/resources/airport/KCVO/procedures

Another answer mentions a 1993 NTSB ruling finding that a pilot who took off in uncontrolled airspace in IMC conditions with no IFR clearance at all was in violation of FAR 91.13.

Page 5 of the same ruling states the following:

According to FAA aviation safety inspector Lawrence Smith, the standard procedure for taking off from an uncontrolled airport in IMC is to seek an ATC time-limited clearance to depart from the airport and fly into controlled airspace according to a pre-filed flight plan.

(italicization and bolding added)

Therefore the answer to the actual original question

Let's say an IFR flight was planned to depart from a non-towered airport with class G airspace extending from the surface to 700 feet AGL. The flight visibility and ceiling both go down to 0. Can the pilot get an IFR clearance?

is unambiguously "yes", at least if the pilot is operating under part 91. (For why this matters, see https://www.thinkaviation.net/standard-takeoff-minimums/ .)

If the original question were "Do the FAA and NTSB look favorably on flights conducted in IMC conditions in Class G airspace with no associated IFR clearance of any kind?", then the answer would have to be "no".

It does seem unfortunate that this latter point is not explicitly spelled out in the regulations. Likewise the issue of what actually is the distinguishing characteristic of a flight that is operating under "Instrument Flight Rules"-- is it simply the fact that an IFR clearance has been issued in association with the flight, or is it something else? These are apparently matters that have somehow "slipped through the cracks", just like the issue of clearly stating whether various regulations prohibiting certain activities in Class-E-to-surface airspace surrounding an airport also pertain to the airspace enclosed by a Class-E-to-surface "extension". (For example see Does FAR 91.155c apply to class E surface extensions? )

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