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VFR through Class D

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Well-known member
Apr 4, 2002
Here's the scenario that happened to me yesterday. I fly out of a Class D airport SFC-1600, overlapped by B. Field reporting OVC005. Filed IFR to another local airport, took off, got through the clouds at 500 ft, climbed to 1500 ft and cancelled IFR. We only filed to get on top and go to the practice area for VFR maneuvers. At the east edge of the D, we turned westbound and called the tower to tell them we were transitioning back through the airspace.

Controller says that VFR traffic cannot transition through Class D airspace anytime the field reports IFR. I told him we were 1000' above the clouds with unlimited visibility. He said it doesn't matter. No big deal...turned north and went around but has anyone ever heard of this? I asked him about it later in the day after scouring the FAR/AIM and he said it wouldn't be in there but that it is a rule for controllers. They can't provide separation for IFR/SVFR traffic visually if they are below a low overcast. I didn't really buy into it, thinking that it would probably be in the FAR/AIM if it were a rule rather than a preference of the controller. Anyone else ever run into this? :eek:
This is from FAA Order 7110.65N (Air Traffic Controller's Handbook) in Chapter 7 (Visual) Section 3 (VFR On Top:
Section 3. VFR-on-Top

7-3-1. VFR-ON-TOP

a. You may clear an aircraft to maintain "VFR-on-top" if the pilot of an aircraft on an IFR flight plan requests the clearance.


1. When an aircraft has been cleared to maintain "VFR-on-top," the pilot is responsible to fly at an appropriate VFR altitude, comply with VFR visibility and distance from cloud criteria, and to be vigilant so as to see and avoid other aircraft.

2. Although standard IFR separation is not applied, controllers shall continue to provide traffic advisories and safety alerts, and apply merging target procedures to aircraft operating VFR-on-top.

b. You may clear an aircraft to climb through clouds, smoke, haze, or other meteorological formations and then to maintain "VFR-on-top" if the following conditions are met:

1. The pilot requests the clearance.

2. You inform the pilot of the reported height of the tops of the meteorological formation, or

3. You inform the pilot that no top report is available.

4. When necessary, you ensure separation from all other traffic for which you have separation responsibility by issuing an alternative clearance.

5. When an aircraft is climbing to and reports reaching "VFR-on-top," reclear the aircraft to maintain "VFR-on-top."



TOPS REPORTED (altitude),



IF NOT ON TOP AT (altitude), MAINTAIN (altitude), AND ADVISE.


c. Do not clear an aircraft to maintain "VFR-on- top" between sunset and sunrise to separate holding aircraft from each other or from en route aircraft unless restrictions are applied to ensure the appropriate IFR vertical separation.


"Maintain VFR-on-top at or above one three thousand five hundred."

"Maintain VFR-on-top at or below one two thousand five hundred."

"Maintain VFR-on-top at or between six thousand and one zero thousand."

It looks like one way you could have avoided this would have been to not cancel IFR but to request a VFR on top clearance. It would be interesting to know if you were in a radar environment or not and day or night. I'm presuming day in a radar environment.
Day, radar. But our transponder was intermittent and approach was extremely busy. It was easier on all to cancel and proceed VFR. I just didn't know that you couldn't transition through Class D when VFR over the top of an OVC layer.

The original clearance asked for and given was, in fact, VFR-on-top. There was no need to remain on an IFR flight plan once reaching VFR conditions, so I cancelled. VFR on top is generally used to go from point A to point B and not to practice maneuvers. ATC doesn't like it too well when you go back and forth and round and round on an IFR flight plan in busy airspace. Had the transponder been working properly, they probably would've given us an IFR block of airspace to work. We used this technique much after 9/11 when VFR training flights were banned.
We also shot multiple visual approaches as a substitute for pattern work.
Interesting 172driver. When you request VFR on top to do maneuvers, does ATC give you a hard time about it? I've had to do just that for both my single comm and multi comm checkrides (why does the weather always have to suck on my checkride days?) - and ATC never gave me any grief about it. Of course, the airspace around here isn't nearly as busy as yours is...
If I'm reading this scenario right then the tower controller sounds correct. You were flying at 1500 with the class D extending to 1600 right? If the field is IFR and reporting at least 1 mile, then the only way to enter VFR is with a special VFR clearance. Why not just climb the 100 ft and not worry about it?
Then he should have sought out a Class B clearance, shouldn't he? (He should).

If IFR instrument approach operations were in progress at this particular airport, ATC had a responsibility to keep the airspace clear that's prtected for the approach. You could have requested instructions to keep clear VFR, but it would be just as easy to pick up IFR again, or climb with a Class B clearance...or go around.

If the field is reporting below VFR, the controller is not obligated to deal with you or get you permission to transition VFR. The airspace may be closed to one aircraft at a time, on an approach. Don't worry too much that you've been excluded. If IFR is the order of the day, pick up IFR and proceed...or go around.
I agree with you avbug, however, you will not be able to get a VFR clearance in all Class B airspace. For example, here in Chicago, you can almost consider the Class B airspace at O'hare a brick wall if you have not called at least two hours in advance, or you 1)have an emergency, or 2) are a medical aircraft transistioning to a hospital.

Get the pop-up back into the airport and take away the headache.
I think the Rule the controller was referring to is this:


a. SVFR operations in weather conditions less than basic VFR minima are authorized:

1. At any location not prohibited by 14 CFR Part 91, Appendix D or when an exemption to 14 CFR Part 91 has been granted and an associated LOA established. 14 CFR Part 91 does not prohibit SVFR helicopter operations.

2. Only within the lateral boundaries of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface areas, below 10,000 feet MSL.

3. Only when requested by the pilot.

4. On the basis of weather conditions reported at the airport of intended landing/departure.

FAAO 7110.65, Climb to VFR, Para 7-5-6.
FAAO 7110.65, Ground Visibility Below One Mile, Para 7-5-7.

5. When weather conditions are not reported at the airport of intended landing/departure and the pilot advises that VFR cannot be maintained and requests SVFR.

The "D" aispace was IFR, and the controller can't suggest you ask for SVFR. And, since this airspace underlies "B" airspace, he perhaps can't authorise it anyway.

And, FYI, there really are a few rules which controllers must apply that don't appear in the FARs;)

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