Carrying on from "Why does flying IFR require a rating?" How can a non-IFR rated pilot file and fly SVFR without visual contact with the horizon?

For the U.S., Wikipedia says 1 mile visibility is the limit. Isn't that too low even in daylight?

Having only the surface in-sight, be it a calm lake or urban area, without seeing the horizon, must be a huge workload for a VFR pilot.

  • $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: "the aircraft must remain clear of clouds with the surface in sight, and maintain a certain flight visibility minimum (1,500 metres according to ICAO, one statute mile in the US, 1,500 m visibility, in sight of surface and clear of cloud in Europe). The pilot continues to be responsible for obstacle and terrain clearance." $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Sep 6, 2016 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ @mins Yup, surface in sight without horizon can be very confusing. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Sep 7, 2016 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ This is scud running in controlled airspace and is just as dangerous. It should also be noted that many times you don't need to see the horizon at all to be VFR, especially at night or in haze. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 7, 2016 at 2:49

1 Answer 1


In order to fly an SVFR clearance, the pilot and planned flight must meet several criteria. The AIM 4-4-6 as well as 14 CFR 91.157 spell out the basic requirements:

  • You must have at least a private pilot certificate to obtain an SVFR clearance during daylight hours as well as an instrument rating to obtain an SVFR clearance at night. Student pilots are not permitted to request an SVFR clearance.

  • You must obtain an SVFR clearance to depart from Class E, D, C and B airspace if visibility is below VFR minimums. SVFR clearance may be prohibited in some Class D, C, and B airspace due to the volume of IFR traffic. Check the airspace NOTAMs for these areas prior to departure.

  • You must have at least 1 statute mile visibility on both the ground and in the air as well as remain clear of clouds (airplane) or simply remain clear of clouds and have at least 1 statute mile visibility for operations in Class B, C, and D airspace (rotorcraft helicopter).

All an SVFR clearance allows is for a VFR pilot to enter, depart or operate in controlled airspace using day VFR minimums for Class G airspace. If it is done correctly by a competent private pilot and only in these conditions, it can be done safely as it provides the pilot with enough visual references to safely operate in VFR. It is also advisable to do a realistic assessment of one's own abilities to control an airplane in marginal conditions and set conservative minimums for things like congested airspace or other weather in the area. It is not advisable to do this if weather briefings anticipate IMC after departure. Likewise if you have little experience operating in congested controlled airspace or if you struggle to stay ahead of the airplane under additional stressors, SVFR may not be advisable.

  • $\begingroup$ No, you must have an instrument rating to fly an SVFR clearance at night only. You can fly an SVFR during the day without an instrument rating. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ The logic is that the only reason you couldn't fly VFR is the risk that you would collide with an aircraft flying IFR (say, if they pop out of a cloud that you are flying very close to). So if ATC makes sure there are no IFR aircraft in the vicinity, it's no different in the pilot skills required from just barely VFR conditions. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, If you are at an airport in Class G airspace during daylight hours and the visibility is 1 SM, you can depart that airfield as it is VFR conditions for that airspace. It CAN be safely flown by a competent private pilot with no formal instrument training during these conditions in this kind of airspace. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Can you summarize the difference between fixed and helo in your 3rd bullet point? It doesn't seem any different $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Sep 7, 2016 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ The only major difference lies in the SVFR operation of a helicopter in controlled airspace which is not around a towered airfield. There are no visibility minimums for operating a helicopter in Class E airspace, but you must remain clear of clouds here. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 18:11

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