I’ve been watching IFR checkride prep videos and several of them mention that among the things you can do with your IFR ticket is to:

Fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) in controlled airspace.

If you have your IFR ticket, you can depart Class G in IMC if you have filed a flight plan. So I’m a bit confused about why they put that restriction on the privilege.

But it also got me thinking. You need an IFR ticket to fly in controlled airspace, but is there a regulation that says you need one to fly in uncontrolled airspace? Or does NTSB 3935 flying in IMC without your IFR ticket automatically imply careless and reckless flying?

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    $\begingroup$ You cannot fly in IMC in any airspace without an IFR rating. What qualifies as IFR changes with the airspace according to the VFR rules. G just has the most relaxed conditions. Usually flying at minimums at low altitude is called "scud running" and greatly reduces your lifespan. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 11 '17 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I can’t find any regulation that says that you can’t fly in uncontrolled airspace without an IFR rating. Can you point me to the regulation? $\endgroup$ – JScarry Jun 11 '17 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's pretty simple, if you aren't VFR, you are IMC, which requires an IFR rating. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 11 '17 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @JScarry, reference 14 CFR 61.3 (e) (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: $\endgroup$ – mongo Jun 11 '17 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JScarry As a general rule, 91 deals with operations and equipment, and 61 deals with people and qualifications. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jun 11 '17 at 19:45

In the US, an appropriate instrument rating is needed to fly when WX conditions are below VFR minimums, and at night for SVFR. 14 CFR 61.3(e)

Additionally, one needs an appropriate instrument rating to fly under an IFR clearance when in controlled airspace, regardless of the WX.

Notes: ATP and things like a category and class in an airship are exceptions. Also an airplane instrument rating works in gliders. Etc.

Addendum: Specific to the OP's citing a NTSB report, the following comment is added: To rely on the mentioned NTSB report, it is important to read the findings, and understand that, a.) the pilot intended to hit VFR conditions before 700AGL and upon entering controlled airspace, b.) the pilot told people he was taking off despite qualified observers noting 200 ft clouds, c.) the airport where approach was based said they were below IFR, which would leave the pilot few options if he needed to land nearby. Given that, it is easy to agree with the NTSB. Just because something is legal, doesn't mean it is best practice, and in this case it is likely the pilot did not do as stated.

One final point, IFR without a clearance in Class G is a decision which should not be taken lightly. Years ago, I routinely did it, and the airspace was uncontrolled at safe IFR enroute altitudes. Departing a Class G airport, with less than VFR conditions, and expecting VFR before hitting controlled airspace at 700AGL is dubious. The vest majority of my IFR flights in uncontrolled airspace, that were without benefit of clearances, were where there are large areas of uncontrolled airspace, and safe IFR altitudes could be flown enroute. Furthermore, while ATC did not issue clearances for flight in uncontrolled airspace, coordination with ATC where possible, and also with local FSS were done. That is different from popping off an airport that is likely IMC, and stating that one intends to climb into VFR weather before hitting 700AGL and controlled airspace. The frosting on the cake is having the field in the area be below IFR limits for approaches. Good judgment is hard to legislate.

  • $\begingroup$ Generally, the FAA considers exercising privileges which one is not certificated in as evidence of careless and reckless operation. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jun 14 '17 at 20:59

The first answer above resolves the initial portion of your question.

The second part of your question involves the issues discussed in the NTSB case (NTSB Order No. EA-3935) found by following your link (https://www.ntsb.gov/legal/alj/OnODocuments/Aviation/3935.pdf).

In this case, the court decided that although aircraft operations without an ATC clearance in uncontrolled airspace under IMC was "technically legal," based on the specific facts and circumstances involved the operation at issue was conducted in a manner that was in violation of FAR 91.13(a). Also, a careful reading of the case reveals that the court determined that operation was "careless" as opposed to "reckless." This is an important distinction.

Further, note that in order to be in violation of FAR 91.13(a) the operation must involve the "life or property of another." So, it is quite possible that if given all of the facts and circumstances surrounding this NTSB case, except that the pilot was alone and owned the aircraft he was flying, no violation would have been found.

Then, going back to your first question (already answered), if the pilot has a current instrument rating, operations under IFR and IMC in uncontrolled airspace without an ATC clearance is not, on its face, illegal. But, be careful to consider all of the circumstances of your flight before you decide to depart.

Lastly, remember ATC does not provide IFR separation between aircraft in uncontrolled airspace. If a pilot receives an IFR clearance from an airport located in "uncontrolled" airspace, the actual ATC clearance/separation does not apply until the aircraft enters "controlled" airspace. The general exception to this is that ATC will not issue a "release" to a following (second) aircraft departing in uncontrolled airspace until the first aircraft is in controlled airspace and positive IFR separation can be assured.


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