1. The scenario-- ceiling and visibility at KSHR are unlimited, but there is an area of broken low cloud extending east from the town of Big Horn, the base of which appears to be around 900 to 1000' AGL. In the middle of the day, a pilot preparing to depart from KSHR under VFR intends to depart to the southeast, generally following I-90, and expects that he may need to underfly this cloud layer to continue his flight, and so requests a Special VFR clearance. Is this something that ATC is authorized to grant, despite the good weather reported at the airport itself?

If the answer is "no", then what is the highest reported cloud ceiling over the airport that would allow a SVFR clearance to be granted, assuming horizontal visibility is no factor? And could the clearance be granted if the cloud layer was only "scattered" or "few"?

(By the way, this is not a question about "extensions". The entire Class E "surface area" at KSHR is E2 airspace, with no E4 "extensions".)

(And also not intended to be a question about safety-- assume the pilot has reason to believe the cloud layer will end shortly as the aircraft continues further southeast, and is prepared to return to the airport if it doesn't.)

  1. A similar scenario that might perhaps be more palatable from a safety standpoint-- appears to me that the answer might be identical to (1), except for a possible issue of whether said pilot is truly unable to maintain basic VFR-- there is a band of clouds near Big Horn, and a pilot approaching KSHR from southeast under VFR in broad daylight would like to overfly the tops with less than 1000' clearance to facilitate his descent toward KSHR. Again, ceiling and visibility at KSHR are unlimited. May a SVFR clearance be authorized in this situation?

Please make it clear whether your answer is based on operational experience as a pilot or controller, or on a parsing of the FARs and FAA Orders, or both. All of these types of answers are welcome. Here's an FAA Order that is relevant-- FAA Order 7110.65Z "Air Traffic Control" -- See page 7-5-1-- download PDF here.

The fundamental purpose of this question is to ask about whether good weather at the airport will prevent a SVFR clearance from being authorized to deal with weather conditions some distance away, but still within the "surface area" designated for the airport. I'm seeing now that there may be addition naunces around whether said conditions really cause a pilot to be unable to maintain standard VFR cloud clearance and visibility while still continuing his flight (specifically with case (2), the case where the pilot is overflying the clouds) but that's not the main thrust of the question.

  • $\begingroup$ (Related to aviation.stackexchange.com/q/345/34686 , but not a duplicate, as that question doesn't ask specifically about what happens when the weather at the airport is unlimited, and several answers imply that the weather at the airport itself must be incompatible with the cloud clearance minimums associated with standard VFR flight, in order for a SVFR clearance to be granted. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ (Also similarly related to, but different from, aviation.stackexchange.com/a/42449/34686 .) $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall -- yes, and the question was asked with the idea that the pilot might expect to need to underfly said cloud layer. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall -- ok, made some changes. But the question is about whether the SVFR may be authorized in such a situation, not about what the pilot may do if it is authorized. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I get that. Thanks, and it’s a good question in that regard. Considering though that you can be cleared IFR when it is clear, is there a valid reason to believe that special VFR might be denied? Because my assumption is that ATC would be compelled to provide you the clearance requested as long as weather is not IMC. What you choose to do with it is on you… Interested to see what others say. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


Your Question: May a SVFR clearance be granted if the ceiling and visibility at the associated airport are unlimited? (Considering the scenario presented in the question)

FAA JO 7110.65Z - Air Traffic Control Handbook, paragraph 7-5-1 b., states:

SVFR operations may be authorized for aircraft operating in or transiting a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area when the primary airport is reporting VFR but the pilot advises that basic VFR cannot be maintained.


The basic requirements for issuance of a SVFR clearance in subparagraph a apply with the obvious exception that weather conditions at the controlling airport are not required to be less than basic VFR minima.

14 CFR § 91.155 - Basic VFR weather minimums show, in pertinent part, what the minimum visibility and cloud clearance requirements are for operating VFR in controlled airspace (e.g., Class E surface area airspace).

If a pilot cannot maintain VFR in accordance with these requirements then an alternative regulation, 14 CFR § 91.157 - Special VFR weather minimums (SVFR), can be used by the pilot to legally operate, under specified conditions, within airspace where less than FAR 91.155 VFR minimums exist (e.g., Class E surface area airspace).

So, when read together (FAA JO 7110.65Z, FARs 91.155 and 91.157), it appears clear that a pilot may obtain a SVFR clearance while flying in the Class E surface area airspace when the primary airport is reporting VFR conditions (e.g., ceiling and visibility unlimited).


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