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6 Answers

Local IFR Request

Asked by: 3074 views ,
Airspace, FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Instrument Rating

I recently had an experience while flying VFR where ceilings were dropping much quicker than forecast. I requested a local IFR (about 20 miles) to get back into my home airport but was below the required altitude for the controller to give me a clearance. Not sure but think this may have been the Minimum Vectoring Altitude. I was asked if I could climb and maintain my own separation from obstacles (don't remember exact terminology). Since there were some breaks in the clouds I said yes and climbed VFR up to the requested altitude and got vectors for an ILS. My climb was from about 1800 MSL to 3200 MSL. 

Some questions:

  1. At what point was I cleared for IFR as no specific clearance was issued? Once reaching altitude I was given vectors. Was it when I was told to climb or was it when I received vectors or what?
  2. In my case I was fortunate enough to find a hole and climb to altitude VFR. What would have happened if there was no hole? Would I have been required to maintain VFR below the clouds even as they were lowering? I assume I couldn't legally climb through the clouds even if I accepted responsibility for separation. 


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6 Answers

  1. John D Collins on Mar 02, 2014

    A clearance should always include your aircraft identifier, a clearance limit, a route and altitude instructions. In the case where you are below the Minimum IFR Altitude (MIA), the controller has a procedure to follow. If you can maintain VFR in the climb, then you will get your clearance after your climb or will be instructed to climb VFR to the MIA and then follow the clearance. If you are unable to climb VFR to the MIA, the controller will ask if you can maintain your own terrain and obstacle clearance in your climb. If you answer that you can, you will be issued a clearance. See the following guidance provided to controllers:


    d. When a VFR aircraft, operating below the minimum altitude for IFR operations, requests an IFR clearance and you are aware that the pilot is unable to climb in VFR conditions to the minimum IFR altitude:

    1. Before issuing a clearance, ask if the pilot is able to maintain terrain and obstruction clearance during a climb to the minimum IFR altitude.
    NOTE− Pilots of pop−up aircraft are responsible for terrain and obstacle clearance until reaching minimum instrument altitude (MIA) or minimum en route altitude (MEA). Pilot
    compliance with an approved FAA procedure or an ATC instruction transfers that responsibility to the FAA; therefore, do not assign (or imply) specific course guidance
    that will (or could) be in effect below the MIA or MEA.
    “November Eight Seven Six, are you able to provide your own terrain and obstruction clearance between your present altitude and six thousand feet?”
    2. If the pilot is able to maintain terrain and obstruction separation, issue the appropriate clearance as prescribed in para 4−2−1, Clearance Items, and para 4−5−6, Minimum En Route Altitudes.
    3. If unable to maintain terrain and obstruction separation, instruct the pilot to maintain VFR and to state intentions.
    4. If appropriate, apply the provisions of para 10−2−7, VFR Aircraft In Weather Difficulty, or
    para 10−2−9, Radar Assistance Techniques, as necessary.

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  2. Mark Kolber on Mar 02, 2014

    In terms of your first question, if in fact the controller did not say “cleared to” language with a clearance limit, it’s anyone’s guess. Obviously at some point you had an IFR clearance since you were receiving vectors for an approach but when? Beats me.

    Maintaining your own obstacle clearance as a “pop-up” is, for all intents and purposes, the same as doing so from the ground, although on the ground you have the benefit of ODPs and other departure information. You need to maintain your own obstacle and terrain separation? Hole or no hole.

    Not enough situational awareness to be able to climb and maintain obstruction clearance to the minimum IFR altitude? Sounds like a good reason to make those kinds of decisions long before they become an emergency.

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  3. Scott on Mar 02, 2014

    When dealing with this issue, the controller needs to get you into a MVA or a valid instrument altitude prior to issuing an IFR clearance. So, you’ll be asked if you can maintain your own terrain and obstruction clearance to the MVA. If you say, you can, then I’d clear you something like this “Reaching MVA, Cleared to (destination), via radar vectors, maintain x altitude, and squawk 0101”

    If you couldn’t find a hole to climb through, or similar, and were absolutely needing an IFR clearance, at that point all you could do would be declare an emergency, and they could use other means of getting around the rules. Also, some facilities have other options for vectoring you in/around terrain.

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  4. Best Answer

    John D Collins on Mar 02, 2014


    My understanding is If the pilot indicated he could maintain his own terrain and obstacle clearance, then he could be issued a clearance such as you indicated. The guidance restricts providing any course guidance below the MIA, not issuing the clearance. If VFR was required during the climb, the controller would have to indicate the pilot was to remain VFR, which is not required if they accept the responsibility for obstacle and terrain clearance. At least that is my reading of 7110,65U section 4-2-8, otherwise what is the point of asking the question.

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  5. Heather McNevin on Mar 06, 2014

    If you had this situation on my frequency, I would ask
    “N123 are you able to maintain your own terrain and obstruction clearance through 3,600?”
    I’m asking can you be responsible to climb through 3,600 feet without smacking into anything because I can’t protect you that low. If you reply in the affirmative, we continue with your IFR.
    “N123 cleared to the ABC airport via direct, maintain your own terrain and obstruction clearance through 3,600 climb and maintain 4,000”. The first time I asked if you could climb safely, the second time I assigned you the responsibility of protecting yourself in that climb.

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  6. mmosier1 on Mar 09, 2014

    Thanks to everyone for their response. The way I’m reading this is that it is OK to climb into the clouds if I can maintain my own clearance from terrain and obstacles. I don’t have to maintain VFR in the climb.

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