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3 Answers

Routing when VFR on top

Asked by: 4967 views Instrument Rating

If I am flying VFR-on-top I fully understand I am to fly VFR-appropriate altitudes, 6,500, 8,500 etc. But once I am on VFR-on-top can I deviate from my filed/assigned routing and go direct without telling ATC, or do deviate from the previous IFR cleared route, MUST I ask for and receive ATC permission if VFR-on-top?

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3 Answers



  1. Matthew Hammer on Aug 10, 2010

    Pilots flying VFR-on-top on an IFR flight plan must:

    1) Fly at the appropriate VFR altitude.

    2) Comply with VFR visibility and distance from cloud requirements.

    3) Comply with instrument flight rules applicable to the flight (e.g., minimum IFR altitude, position reporting, radio communications, *course to be flown*, adherence to ATC clearance, etc.).

    (Taken from the Instrument Procedures Handbook.)

    Basically, VFR-on-top is not a “cowboy” clearance… you can’t just fly off wherever you want for whatever reason you want. You’re still operating on an IFR clearance.

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  2. H. Michael Miley on Aug 10, 2010

    I consider VFR On Top be IFR. As such, the only way to change re-routing is with ATC clearance unless you cancel IFR. If you are traveling somewhere (rather than doing maneuvers), remember to open a VFR flight plan after that since one is not opened automatically.

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  3. Guy on Sep 12, 2011

    I’ve been both a center air traffic controller and a CFII for 30+ years.  A VFR-on-top clearance is an IFR clearance.  It is intended to give the pilot the flexibility to change his/her altitiude in order to remain in VFR conditions while on an IFR route clearance.  It must be requested by the pilot.  Deviation from the assigned route is not authorized unless approved by ATC.  This is no different than a pilot requesting a deviation for weather avoidance.  Hope this helps. 

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