What visibility and cloud clearances are required for airplanes conducting visual approaches during IFR while flying under FAA regulations? Is the visual approach a purely VFR maneuver requiring the usual VFR weather minimums for the airspace being flown? Or does the visual approach maneuver flown under IFR supersede normal VFR weather minimums?


2 Answers 2


This depends:

Under part 91, you just have to remain clear of clouds and have a minimum of a 1,000 ft. ceiling and 3 SM visibility.

Commercial operations (121 and 135) are further restricted by their Operations Specifications and have to maintain VFR weather minimums appropriate for the airspace that they are in (among other things, see below).

Here is an excerpt from the AIM (there is more details there for different operations, with the differences between controlled and uncontrolled fields, etc.)

5−4−23(a). Visual Approach

a. A visual approach is conducted on an IFR flight plan and authorizes a pilot to proceed visually and clear of clouds to the airport. The pilot must have either the airport or the preceding identified aircraft in sight. This approach must be authorized and controlled by the appropriate air traffic control facility. Reported weather at the airport must have a ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and visibility 3 miles or greater. ATC may authorize this type approach when it will be operationally beneficial. Visual approaches are an IFR procedure conducted under IFR in visual meteorological conditions. Cloud clearance requirements of 14 CFR Section 91.155 are not applicable, unless required by operation specification.

The Part 135 Ops Spec for this contains the following requirements for a visual approach:

b. Terminal arrival IFR - Visual approach or a Charted Visual Flight Procedure (CVFP).
The flightcrew may accept a visual approach or a CVFP provided all the following conditions exist. The flightcrew may not accept a visual approach or a CVFP unless the limitations and provisions of subparagraph f. of this operations specification are met.

(1) The flight is operated and remains in Class B, C, or D airspace, within 35 miles of the destination airport in Class E airspace, or the airspace beneath the designated transition area.

(2) The flight is under the control of an Air Traffic Control (ATC) facility.

(3) The flightcrew must maintain the basic cloud clearance as specified in Section 91.155.

(4) For a visual approach without a CVFP - The flightcrew must be able to establish and maintain visual contact with the airport or maintain visual contact with the traffic to be followed as directed by ATC. In addition, the following provisions and weather conditions at the airport during the approach must be met:

(a) Reported visibility must be as specified in Section 91.155, but not lower than a visibility of three miles and reported ceiling must be 1,000 feet or greater, or

(b) When in the terminal area with the reported visibility not lower than three miles and ceiling not reported, the flightcrew may continue to a landing if the runway of intended landing is in sight and the flightcrew can maintain visual contact with the runway throughout the approach and landing, and

(c) Ceiling and cloud clearance must be as such to allow the flightcrew to maintain the minimum altitudes prescribed in Section 91.129, 91.130, or 91.131, as applicable for the airspace class in which the flight is operated.

(5) For a CVFP - The flightcrew must be able to establish and maintain visual contact with the airport or the charted visual landmark(s) for the CVFP throughout the approach and landing. In addition, the weather conditions at the airport at the time of the approach must be reported to be at or above the weather minima established for the CVFP, but never lower than the VFR landing weather minima stated in Section 135.205 in uncontrolled airspace.


f. Special Limitations and Provisions for Visual Flight Rules. All VFR operations authorized by this operations specification shall be conducted in accordance with the following limitations and provisions.

(1) The certificate holder must identify obstacles and use airport obstacle data which ensures that the performance requirements of Part 135 are met.

(2) The weather conditions must allow the flightcrew sufficient visibility to identify and avoid obstacles and safely maneuver using external visual references and to maintain minimum altitudes.


What visibility and cloud clearances are required?

VFR, as per 91.129, 91.130, or 91.131 for the various classes of airspace

  • $\begingroup$ Can you expand your answer a bit? The mention of VFR sounds like the required weather for the conditions, but the required cloud clearance can vary. $\endgroup$
    – ryan1618
    Feb 13, 2016 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ I see that you updated your answer. This seems to contradict the other answer. You're saying that VFR weather minimums for the particular airspace must be respected? $\endgroup$
    – ryan1618
    Feb 13, 2016 at 18:37

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