Say you are doing an instrument training flight with a CFII and you are practicing IFR navigation. You will be taking off and returning to the same airport, but you are not certain exactly where your CFII might have you go. For instance, your CFII wants to see how you handle deviations in flight. Ths is just an example as I'm sure there are other reasons one would need to be IFR without a specific routing or destination. How would you file such a flight plan? Can you file an IFR flight plan without a specific routing?

Another reason I can think of would be a test or acceptance flight that needs to be conducted in class A airspace. You would have to be on an IFR plan to fly there, but your ultimate destination would be right back where you came from. You might not be able to indicate specific waypoints, etc., instead you would be requesting block altitudes, etc. if you need room to perform maneuvers.

  • $\begingroup$ Military folks run into a similar issue when filing IFR to/from working areas (R-areas and MOAs) -- basically, they wind up with a flight plan in two halves at that point... $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2017 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ When you open your IFR flight plan, ATC and you have a contract. You promise to follow the plan and they promise to keep other IFR aircraft away from you. In order for that to work, they need to know where you are going. Also, in the event of lost comms, they need to know what you are going to do. You should file to an airport or a waypoint that is guaranteed to be VFR and then amend/cancel your flight plan if you want to practice deviations. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ You could file to terminate at a fix. You would be within the "real" ATC structure until you reach the fix at which point your CFII would simulate further ATC instructions. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ You can file a flight plan with the same departure and destination. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ Related-- I hadn't seen the present question when I asked this one-- aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/56680/… $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 20:11

3 Answers 3


If operating within a single area (TRACON) then file from KABC -> KABC and in remarks put "Practice APCHS KXYZ KDEF". The controller will be asking you what your next approach will be at some point.

Another tactic is to file to ABC VOR (or some other fix) and request a hold. I like this method, as the student gets a hold with an EFC and that gives me time to decide how many orbits they will need as well as the next approach request. I normally have the student ask for the next approach, as it keeps their workload up.

The first suggestion is generally preferred because in the event of lost com, in a true IMC environment, it is clear that you will be returning to KABC, unless you encounter VFR first.

Remember that an IFR clearance can end at a fix (even a pilot defined fix) and when you are in VMC that can be useful. Similarly, an IFR clearance can begin at a fix, and that can be accomplished in a non-radar environment.

Addendum #1 Frequently this type of plan is often referred to as a tower clearance, or if it spans TRACONs it may be called a tower-to-tower. However, where there are no local approach facilities, center handles this type of clearance as well. Other than just normal approach practice, an area clearance is used to permit photographic missions with cloud cover and instrument student experience with lake effect icing. For example, a photographer wanted photos of a water fall, through an opening in the clouds. We got on top, stayed IFR, and maneuvered for his shots.

  • $\begingroup$ For air work IFR, there's also a quadrant clearance: "Cleared to fly [NE, SE, SW, NW] quadrant of [or between XXX and XXX radial of] ABC VOR between YY and YY DME at ZZ thousand block ZZ thousand." Quadrants are specifically described in the P/CG. You're not likely to get this if there's a lot of other traffic around. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 12:14

JScarry's comment is the answer.

The system has multiple levels of safety and assumes that if communications are lost, you'll fly the last clearance.

For instrument training or test flights, you can file a flight plan from airport A to airport B via VOR XYZ or airway V-99. Fly the clearance you receive, then, before you land at B, ask for more clearances to fly to airport C or repeated approaches to B or whatever you want to do.

You will get clearances that always have a valid ending and allow ATC to work out what you will be doing and keep other traffic away from you should communications be lost.

The system was designed when radar coverage was not as extensive as today and radios were not as good as today.

Update to my answer:

If you wanted to do approaches at, say, three airports then fly back home, you can file a flight plan with those airports as points on the route, and with you home airport as the destination. And put in the Remarks section that you intend to fly an approach at all three airports. Also, tell the approach controller at each that you intend to do a low approach or touch and go then he or she can ensure your flight plan is not closed at the intermediate airports. There is a good discussion of this subject in Opposing Bases podcast number 257 here: Opposing Bases

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    $\begingroup$ Today when? Last time my wife and I went up the audio panel went out and we had no TX on either radio. Luckily we had a handheld. We were both lapsed pilots from the 90's, and we joke that we flew old airplanes then, but we're still flying the exact same ones now. $\endgroup$
    – Bill
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill Your correct. And I've twice lost all comms in this modern era. Once an electrical problem at a single point of failure left me with no radios, no lights, no nothing - at night. So as you imply, we do still need to do it like this so that ATC knows what we're going to do if they cannot reach us. $\endgroup$
    – Flynn
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 18:05

You usually file a local IFR for this kind of flying, usually with a flight plan indicating the airports you will be flying approaches into or other details about your flight. ATC will generally clear this depending on the airspace, workloads, etc.


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