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10 Answers

Inadvertent IMC Is an emergency condition

Asked by: 2652 views Airspace, FAA Regulations

Where is the reference for inadvertent IMC being an emergency situation?

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10 Answers



  1. Mark Kolber on Mar 06, 2014

    I can honestly say I don’t know what you are asking. It sounds like you are asking if there is a regulation that makes an event with a high accident fatality rate an emergency (stats indicate that VFR into IMC accidents are fatal about 80% of the time).

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  2. Heather McNevin on Mar 06, 2014

    The pilot also isn’t the only one who can declare this an emergency. If you are talking to an Air Traffic Controller, they will likely declare an emergency on your behalf.

    Anytime you feel the safety of flight may be in danger, you should declare an emergency. It opens up more options to help you. Those may be the regs you are trying to reference??

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  3. Bob Watson on Mar 06, 2014

    I’ve heard at various seminars and articles that if think it might be an emergency, declare it. There are far fewer consequences to declare an emergency and explain it on the ground than to not declare one and run out of options. In the end, the decision is up to the PIC. If you think it’s an emergency, it probably is, and inadvertent flight into IMC would rate high on my list! That being said, there’s nothing to say that you can’t resolve the emergency in flight (i.e. by turning around and exiting the IMC) and returning back to normal.

    I don’t recall all the details, but IIRC, after the fact, if you have an accident, and you didn’t declare an emergency, you open yourself (or your survivors) up to a greater civil liability. The idea being that if you crashed and it wasn’t a declared an emergency, you (the pilot) must have been negligent. That’s not to say you wouldn’t be sued if you declared an emergency, but at least you’re establishing that what happened wasn’t normal operation. I think the article I read about this was in the AOPA Pilot magazine, but I don’t recall.

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  4. Mark Kolber on Mar 06, 2014

    If the question is whether, Heather is 100% correct on the options it gives you. I’m not so sure of the civil liability Bob talked about but declaring an emergency is extremely helpfu in avoiding FAA certificate action. Consider, for example, that declaring an emergency IFR will result in ATC clearing airspace around you so that there never is the loss of separation that always results in certificate action.

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  5. Kris Kortokrax on Mar 06, 2014

    It’s funny how our minds work. I read the question and thought he was asking for a reference that would indicate that inadvertent IMC constituted an emergency (as in posing great risk to the individual encountering it). Those references can be found in the Airplane Flying Handbook and the Instrument Procedures Handbook to name a couple.

    It is also interesting that the Airplane Flying Handbook recommends using the smallest practial bank angle, but in no case greater than 10 degrees for an inadvertent IMC encounter, yet the Private Pilot PTS expects the applicant to maintain a standard rate turn.

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  6. John T Moore Jr. on Mar 06, 2014

    (i guess a better way to put it is), you go inadvertent IMC prior to receiving a clearance, are you “required” to declare an emergency when you report to ATC that you have gone inadvertent IMC? Is there a specific reg. pt.91, 121,135, AIM’S etc. “that going inadvertent IMC” is a violation of”, and therefore subject to FAA disciplinary action? Is the Instrument Procedures Handbook regulatory?

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  7. Best Answer


    Kris Kortokrax on Mar 06, 2014

    No the Instrument Procedures Handbook is not regulatory.

    It sounds as if the situation you are describing is that you have departed from somewhere (airport, heliport) VFR with the intention of picking up an IFR clearance and then entered IMC. If this assumption is wrong, then the following wouldn’t apply.

    If one departs VFR, it is expected that the flight can remain in visual conditions while attempting to pick up a clearance. Knowing that the weather conditions are less than VFR and departing and intending to pick up an IFR clearance would hardly be described as an inadvertent IMC encounter. You would be instrument current in an instrument current aircraft with a flight plan on file and programmed into whatever avionics system in the aircraft. You would then be entering IMC without a clearance. This would be more likely to be characterized as a violation rather than an emergency.

    Again, if my reading of the scenario is incorrect, disregard the above comments.

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  8. John T Moore Jr. on Mar 06, 2014

    You are right Kris.

    This happened to one of the junior S-76 captains in our company who departed from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico recently.
    He had an IFR plan on file and was speaking to Houston center on the A/C satellite phone. attempting to pick up his clearance as he departed ( which is done routinely), intending to remain VFR, but then went inadvertent, and informed the controller he had.
    When he explained to me what had happened I told him he should have declared an emergency but the only reference I could find to back up my position was the IFR Procedures Handbook.
    My position was that by going inadvertent he was in violation of pt.91 & pt 135 VFR wx. minimums & cloud clearance requirements, and had announced so loud and clear!

    In his defense, I’ve been flying in the Gulf for 20 yrs. and I can tell you it is IFR of a different kind, non-radar, with constant non-radar position reports, with communications sketchy at best, routinely using the aircraft Satellite phone to communicate with ATC, or relaying through other A/C.
    We’ve recently began to use ADS-B, which has been a HUGE improvement.
    Hopefully he won’t be violated, and will learn from this experience.

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  9. Kris Kortokrax on Mar 06, 2014

    I hope he filed a NASA report. If so, then even if the FAA pursues an enforcement action, he would not have to serve the suspension if one is imposed.

    This sounds more like a situation where he might expect a warning letter instead of an enforcement.

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  10. Mark Kolber on Mar 07, 2014

    Agree on the filing of the NASA report but I’d say “maybe” on the deferral of penalty part. One of the questions the FAA’s enforcement attorneys deal with when a NASA ASRS report is involved is whether the violation was inadvertent.

    In his earlier comment Kris made the observation that departing VFR in marginal conditions expecting to pick up a clearance before entering the clouds but failing to do so “would hardly be described as an inadvertent IMC encounter.”

    If it even gets that far, the FAA could take the same view. But there is no downside to filing the report.

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