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Asked by: 14507 views FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Instrument Rating

Is there any difference between?

VFR on TOP & VFR over the TOP


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3 Answers

  1. John D. Collins on Mar 19, 2012

    VFR on Top is an IFR clearance where you are required to follow both VFR and IFR rules. The primary difference is that you maintain your own altitude in VFR conditions above the clouds.  See the AIM quoted below for details.


    VFR over the Top is a term used to describe a VFR flight where you overfly clouds with the presumption that you will maintain VFR at all times including the climb to get on top of the clouds and the descent to land at your destination.  An example where it might be reasonable to be used would be to overfly a stratus layer in a valley, such as takeoff from the San Francisco Bay Area and overfly the central valley to a destination in the Sierras, where both the departure airport and destination airport are in the clear.


    AIM: 4−4−8. IFR Clearance VFR-on-top

    a. A pilot on an IFR flight plan operating in VFR weather conditions, may request VFR-on-top in lieu of an assigned altitude. This permits a pilot to select an altitude or flight level of their choice (subject to any ATC restrictions.)

    b. Pilots desiring to climb through a cloud, haze, smoke, or other meteorological formation and then either cancel their IFR flight plan or operate VFR-on-top may request a climb to VFR-on-top. The ATC authorization must contain either a top report or a statement that no top report is available, and a request to report reaching VFR-on-top. Additionally, the ATC authorization may contain a clearance limit, routing and an alternative clearance if VFR-on-top is not reached by a specified altitude.

    c. A pilot on an IFR flight plan, operating in VFR conditions, may request to climb/descend in VFR conditions.

    d. ATC may not authorize VFR-on-top/VFR conditions operations unless the pilot requests the VFR operation or a clearance to operate in VFR conditions will result in noise abatement benefits where part of the IFR departure route does not conform to an FAA approved noise abatement route or altitude.

    e. When operating in VFR conditions with an ATC authorization to “maintain VFR-on-top/maintain VFR conditions” pilots on IFR flight plans must:

    1. Fly at the appropriate VFR altitude as prescribed in 14 CFR Section 91.159.

    2. Comply with the VFR visibility and distance from cloud criteria in 14 CFR Section 91.155 (Basic VFR Weather Minimums).

    3. Comply with instrument flight rules that are applicable to this flight; i.e., minimum IFR altitudes, position reporting, radio communications, course to be flown, adherence to ATC clearance, etc.
    NOTE− Pilots should advise ATC prior to any altitude change to ensure the exchange of accurate traffic information.

    f. ATC authorization to “maintain VFR-on-top” is not intended to restrict pilots so that they must operate only above an obscuring meteorological formation (layer). Instead, it permits operation above, below, between layers, or in areas where there is no meteorological obscuration. It is  imperative, however, that pilots understand that clearance to operate “VFR-on-top/VFR conditions” does not imply cancellation of the IFR flight plan.

    g. Pilots operating VFR-on-top/VFR conditions may receive traffic information from ATC on other pertinent IFR or VFR aircraft. However, aircraft operating in Class B airspace/TRSAs must be separated as required by FAA Order JO 7110.65, Air Traffic Control.
    NOTE− When operating in VFR weather conditions, it is the pilot’s responsibility to be vigilant so as to see-and-avoid other aircraft.

    h. ATC will not authorize VFR or VFR-on-top operations in Class A airspace.


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  2. Derek Schwalenberg on Mar 19, 2012

    Interesting you brought this up today. I had a little fog layer OVC008 with tops 017 and I had four flights (all primary students though) scheduled for the day. I don’t typically take primaries into IFR but a little in-and-out with plenty of time for a good lesson I thought might be good experience. Anyway, I filed a roundrobin back to my home base with MANEUVERING BETWEEN VOR AND VOR in the remarks. ATC shot down my VFR-on-top request though and said I could just cancel and go VFR when I broke out on top though. They were very nice about it, even gave me flight following (or traffic advisories whatever they call it now), offered me the approach back in if I needed it, and explained that VFR-on-top has to be on a specific route of flight. Learn something everyday. We did get all our maneuvers in and by the time we came back it was 8mi haze but sky clear. PIREPed it for them and bid the gooday as I switched backed to tower.

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  3. Derek Schwalenberg on Mar 19, 2012

    Well was fog that was lifting type deal..

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