Say a pilot plans to make a cross country flight along Victor airways, but under VFR. Depending on workload and communication effectiveness along the way, our hero may provide the planned fairly complex route to the FAA at least three times.

  1. Flight Service Station
  2. Tower, if departing from such an airport
  3. Approach/Departure Control or ARTCC

This seems like needless frequency congestion. Our hero happens across a suggestion from an ATC specialist that appears to solve the problem for everyone, emphasis in the original.

If you file an IFR flight plan through any system, I will receive it. Make it clear to the first controller you contact that you want to fly your filed route as VFR and give the altitude. It is a very simple amendment I will be happy to make. The only difference on my flight strip is the altitude block that says 60 for IFR or VFR/65 for VFR, and a V in your data block on my radar scope. If you do this, do not accept an IFR clearance. If a controller says cleared to any fix, that is an IFR clearance. Using this method, everything on my end will work smoothly whether you depart a towered or nontowered airport, and this would be the easiest method for the controllers involved. CAVEAT: I do not know if it is legal for a non-IFR rated pilot to file an IFR flight plan even if you don’t accept an IFR clearance.

May a pilot lacking an instrument rating or currency legally do so?

  • $\begingroup$ What are you supposed to do if given an IFR clearance? Cancel IFR at that point? $\endgroup$ Commented May 15, 2016 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ Legality is interpreted by courts, and the NTSB. See my revised answer. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidSchwartz Simply don't accept the IFR clearance $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ The FARs say you can't fly an IFR flight plan as a non-instrument-rated pilot. But the rules do allow even non-pilots to file IFR flight plans so that dispatchers and such can do it. $\endgroup$
    – Bill
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to take a moment to point out that the required training for the DC SFRA actually instructs for VFR flights to file IFR to trigger the ATC system to generate a discreet transponder code, but VFR flight within the DC SFRA doesn't require an instrument rating. (faasafety.gov/files/gslac/courses/content/405/1310/…) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


My instrument students, when they get more advanced, file FP with their name, and in remarks say "Training xxxxxx CFII"

That way it is clear. The FAA office investigated one student, dug up his past flight plans, and determined that the way he filed was acceptable. The FAA told me they had reports of him going actual prior to his receiving a rating. I gather if the remark wasn't filed, there would have been more questions.

Having said all that, my recommendation is that you file a VFR flight plan for flight following, and then advise ATC upon check-in. If you are leaving a controlled airport, normally you will advise clearance or ground prior to departure, and then when switching from the tower to departure you will check in with the phrase, "flight following." On a workload permitting basis you will receive the same handling as IFR flights, in general, and there will be no question as to your intent.

Addendum #1 Just because there is no regulation prohibiting behavior, does not mean that an agency such as the FAA will not prosecute. In fact, FAA issued a LOI in 2008, on just this topic, stating that if a pilot were to file an IFR flight plan, without holding an IFR pilot certificate, they would consider that intent to violate 61.3.

Now, whether that resulted in certificate action or caused a letter to be filed in your folder, I cannot say, but I would not want my certificate jeopardized by the poor judgment of filing IFR when one was not authorized to conduct IFR operations.

The 2008 LOI comes a decade or so after the incident I reported above with a student.

I don't see how any responsible person can advocate filing a flight plan which is premised upon false and misleading information. Furthermore, while there is not a specific regulation dealing with this particular lack of judgment, the FAA has made clear, with this specific matter, that would consider such a flight plan filing to be a intent to violate 91.3. Not something that I can see advocating for anyone to do...

Addendum #2 enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Well that's good to know. I will include my CFI's name on future plans until I get my rating. He'd been having me file to learn the system, and then we fly together or not at all, if it's just for practice. $\endgroup$
    – Bill
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 0:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In this comment, one of our more recent arrivals who's a controller mentions that there's no way for them to pull up a flight plan that's filed as VFR (those go to FSS and no further). Given the LOI here...there doesn't seem to be a good way to get a flight plan for a VFR operation to be delivered to ATC? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject, flight following appears to permit VFR flight plan callups at least at the local three or four C airspace approach controls. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 21:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi mongo and @Unrec—said recent arrival here. I'm interested in what you mean about "permitting VFR flight plan callups." My suspicion is the radar controller is simply putting you in direct to your destination because they have no way of seeing any more complicated route that you may have filed with FSS. Do you have reason to believe otherwise? $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Returning to the LOI... IMHO it shows poor research on the part of the attorneys who wrote it. Notice they coordinated with FSS but not (apparently) with Air Traffic, who would have told them that suggesting the pilot file a "VFR" (FSS) flight plan is completely useless when it comes to assigning a squawk and knowing what their planned route is. Perhaps, in the age of ForeFlight, the regulations could be rewritten to distinguish between "FSS" and "ATC" flight plans, rather than "VFR" and "IFR" flight plans. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 18:28

I am not aware of, and have not been able to find any regulation governing the filing of flight plans.

The only applicable rule that I know of in the FAR's is 14 CFR 61.3(e), which says that no pilot may act as PIC under IFR (which you would not be doing in the situation that you describe above):

(e) Instrument rating. No person may act as pilot in command of a civil aircraft under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR flight unless that person holds:

(1) The appropriate aircraft category, class, type (if required), and instrument rating on that person's pilot certificate for any airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift being flown;

(2) An airline transport pilot certificate with the appropriate aircraft category, class, and type rating (if required) for the aircraft being flown;

(3) For a glider, a pilot certificate with a glider category rating and an airplane instrument rating; or

(4) For an airship, a commercial pilot certificate with a lighter-than-air category rating and airship class rating.

I do remember my instructor having me file IFR flight plans when I was working on my instrument rating (with them as the PIC), and for that matter many airlines and flight planning services often file flight plans on behalf of a pilot. I doubt that all of them have instrument ratings (many aren't even pilots) yet it happens all of the time and I can't find any examples of violations.


As @mongo provides in his answer, the FAA has issued an LOI on this matter, and while my answer stands as far as the legality of having non-certificated people file flight plans, they feel that it would be against the rules to list a non-qualified pilot as the PIC. Therefore, if you are filing on behalf of someone else who is qualified, all should be well, but don't do it if the PIC is not instrument rated.

  • $\begingroup$ The question is not really about second or third party persons filing flight plans. Rather it is about a pilot, filing an IFR flight plan, perhaps with the intent of cancelling it, but filing it for himself, and with himself as the pilot of record on the flight plan. The FAA has interpreted that action as something they might seek enforcement on, and therefore it is ill advised. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mongo What are you trying to say? I mention that in my answer, and even commented on yours saying that you made it clear with your reference.... The way that the question is worded, people may still end up here and find the additional information useful, but again, everything that I said agrees with you. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ The last two sentences of the OP posting made it clear that the pilot filing would be the pilot flying, and that they lacked a rating or currency. The last sentence of your last two paragraphs deal with the filer, and the real issue is who is the flier. The answer should address the concern of the OP, not a variant which could be confused with the question being asked. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @mongo Nothing which I said contradicts what you just said.... The last two sentences say "I do not know if it is legal for a non-IFR rated pilot to file an IFR flight plan even if you don’t accept an IFR clearance. May a pilot lacking an instrument rating or currency legally do so?" I answered that question, as well as the question of whether the PIC needs to be instrumented rated while referencing your answer since you found the LOI. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Comment to you and @mongo. The Goodish LOI emphatically does not say that the FAA considers it against the rules to list a non-qualified person as PIC. Rather they consider it against the rules for a non-qualified person to act as PIC. Filing an IFR flight plan does, as the Goodish letter points out, signify intent to break the rule. But filing the flight plan is not in and of itself a violation. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 22:26

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