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Departing IFR in VMC Conditions?

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Active member
Nov 29, 2001
A good friend and I talked about this in regards to Aspen or Telluride, CO. If you were to depart ASE or any airport for that matter with VMC conditions prevailing while on an IFR flight plan AND clearance, would you be obligated to the IFR Departure procedure and climb gradient requirements? I am leaning towards saying "yes" and have operated this way for all of my career, but I wish to have some of you "bright" minds chime in on this. Thanks in advance. HF
If operating in visual conditions, and can maintain your own terrain separation, you do not need to adhere to the departure proceedure, unless cleared for a specific departure proceedure.

Minimum climb gradients are applied to gaurantee terrain separation (obstacle clearance) for the departure route specifid in the DP. Without maintaining those climb gradients at a minimum, one cannot be assured obstacle protection.

Operations manuals and opspecs may require an operator to adhere to the departure proceedure, but under Part 91, an operator is not required to do so. All operators are strongly encouraged to file, and to fly, departure proceedures.

If not assigned a departure proceedure, a pilot may determine the proper departure. If guidance is provided in a DP, the pilot may fly it, and should fly it unless able to assure obstacle clearance. AIM 5-2-6(d) advises that each pilot should "determine if obstacle avoidance can be maintained visually or if the DP should be flown, and...consider the effect of degraded climb performance and the actions to take in the event of an engine loss during the departure."

Departing ASE, I always fly the proceedure, regardless of weather conditions.
ASE departures

When I flew cargo in mountainous country out west, I would request of departure control or center a VFR climb while providing my own terrain seperation, if I had visual contact with the terrain and could safely operate clear of it.

Recently we flew into ASE and asked for the same going out no problem. Also have requested that at EGE.

Here's the ASE departure procedures:

1) ASPEN TWO Departure - Vector by ASE departure

2) LINDZ THREE Departure - Pilot Nav As soon as possible, but no later than crossing airport boundary, turn right to a heading of 360 degrees (a 30 degree right turn from runway heading) and hold this heading for at least 2 miles from the airport.

I concur with avbug that using the established DP assures terrain seperation in any case, VMC or IMC.
The best that you can do besides not hitting anything is to let ATC know what you are doing. As long as they know what you are wanting you to do then they will usually let you and they can also let other traffic in on what is happening. Most generally when you take off vfr with an ifr clearance the intent is to skyrocket out of there on course. This is where it can bite you. If you receive a "climb on course" clearance ATC is expecting you to be flying the SID or published ifr departure procedure. Last month there was an incident in Missoula which will open knew discussions about this.
If you are on a course per a clearance and you request "VFR Climb," ATC still expects you to maintain that course although you can deviate a bit from centerline as long as you stay in the course boundaries. It gives you more leeway as far as altitudes and climbrates.

Capnflyright made a good point about if you are doing a VFR departure, make sure ATC knows what you are going to do.
"VFR climbs" or "visual climbs" on an IFR flight plan are strictly forbidden by the Ops Specs for any part 121 operation and for part 135 turbojet operations in the U.S. There is no provision for excemption, and your POI does NOT have the authority to provide for one. The only way around it would be to have a point on point excemption from the FAA Chief Counsel's Office, Washington, D.C. The only provision for a VFR departure is when you cannot otherwise get a clearance. The intent of this excemption is for when someone has flown into a non-tower airport and not cancelled their IFR flight plan, effectively closing the airport. Lack of comm is not considered a reason for a VFR departure unless there are no phones at the airport! Same for VFR arrivals, don't cancel unless the airport has been closed to IFR by someone not cancelling.

Following is the official interp:

U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation Administration

MAY 25 1994

Dear Mr. Roberts:

The following information should clarify your questions regarding the IFR requirements set forth in paragraph B33 of the standard operations specifications for FAR Part 121 and 135 operators

All FAR 121 operations and all FAR 135 turbojet operations not specifically excepted by paragraph B33a, b, or c of the operations specifications must be conducted under instrument flight rules. No other visual flight rules (VFR) operations are allowed except those outlined in paragraph B33a, b, and c.

We understand your question regarding the request of an aircraft departing an airport with operating air traffic control (ATC) facilities for a VFR climb out to a specified altitude, this would not be an appropriate request and would be contrary to paragraph B33.

The only provisions for VFR takeoff and departure are those outlined in paragraph B33c. The provisions in B33c apply only to airports which do not have operating ATC facilities and it is not otherwise possible to obtain an IFR clearance.


David R. Harrington
Manager Air Transportation Division
Flight Standards Service
Professional pilots need to erase the words VFR and Part 91 from their vocabulary. Most are under the impression that when in visual conditions or when repositioning an airplane the regs dont apply anymore. There is no such thing as operating VFR while under an IFR flight plan. Its either IMC or visual conditions. VFR rules do not apply and I doubt anyone is really squawking 1200 while on a XC in their Lear
Are you saying that pilots operating under Part 91 aren't professional? I'll take very strong exception to that. I'll also take exception to the fact that VFR isn't possible for a certificate holder, as this is quite untrue.

Find "IMC" in the FAR.

Never squawked 1200 while VFR in a Lear? I certainly have. Legally, and while flying for a certificate holder. Dig into your regulations a bit more, and review the OpSpecs. It's legal, possible, and done all the time.
I've flown under VFR flight rules, with 1200 in the box, during 121 operations quite often.

In what type aircraft and under what circumstances, distance from the airport, reasons, etc?

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