Differences Between Visual Flight Rated (VFR) Pilots and Instrument Flight Rated (IFR) Pilots

Not all pilots are certified to fly in all conditions. While any pilot who gets in the cockpit must be trained and certified to fly using Visual Flight Rules (VFR) – flying by sight and without the assistance of instruments -certification to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR) – when the pilot is flying with limited or completely obstructed visibility and must fly using only the instruments in the cockpit as guides – requires far more extensive training, practice runs, and independent certification.

Covered in This Article

  • Visual Flight Rating
  • Instrument Flight Rating
  • How a Pilot’s Rating Can Affect An Aviation Accident Case

If you’re injured or someone you love is killed in a plane crash, then the issue of the pilot’s certification and whether or not he or she was qualified to fly in the conditions in which the crash occurred may come into play as you seek compensation with a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Our attorneys want to explain the differences between a visual flight rating and an instrument flight rating for pilots before you delve into pursuit of legal remedies.

Visual Flight Rating

All pilots must be trained in how to fly using VFR, and those that do are said to have attained a visual flight rating. A pilot who only has this certification can only fly during the daytime, must keep sight of land at all times, and cannot fly into cloud cover at all. If a pilot only has obtained a VFR, then he must make sure conditions are such that he can see outside the plane and avoid coming into contact with other aircraft before taking off.

Pilots who only have visual flight rating are forbidden from flying over a ceiling of 18,000 feet – what is known as Class A air space – because they can no longer see the ground. Furthermore, there are situations in which pilots with VFR must fly even lower. For instance, if low-hanging enormous cumulonimbus clouds block visibility, then the pilot must fly around them.

Whenever a pilot who only has a VFR will be flying a plane, he or she must devise a flight plan that avoids encountering clouds or darkness. The pilot must be certain that Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) – the ability to see clearly around the plane – are maintained throughout the course of the flight plan.

Instrument Flight Rating

Obviously, to fly a commercial plane, a pilot must have an IFR rating, for these aircraft spend most of their time flying in Class A airspace where clouds are plentiful. They will also be called upon to fly at night. For a pilot to become certified to fly while solely using his or her instruments, the pilot must obtain far more training in the classroom, in simulators, and flying cross country accompanied by an instructor. Qualifications just to consider pursuing an IFR are: must already have a private pilot’s license or a commercial pilot’s license, must be at least 17-years of age, must demonstrate the abilities to read, write and speak English and already have a visual flight rating. If the pilot can fulfill these prerequisites then he or she must also:

  • Train for an FAA Medical Certificate or pass a practical examination in an FAA-certified Level D flight simulator.

  • Undergo a minimum of 15 hours of instrument flight training from an instructor who is certified to teach IFR. This will include education about instruments and their uses, as well as, meteorological conditions.

  • Fly at least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as the pilot. A flight is considered to be “cross-country” if it’s at least 50 nautical miles from the airport where the plane departed.

  • Receive instruction from a certified instructor in ground training.

  • Complete 40 hours of actual or simulated flight time (if the pilot is observed by a certified instructor, up to 20 hours can be conducted in a simulator).

  • Fly at least one cross-country supervised flight of at least 250 nautical miles that is directed by Air Traffic Control and flown under IFR.

  • At least three hours of instrument training from a certified instructor within the two calendar months before taking a certification test.

  • Receive log training and endorsement from a certified trainer in air traffic control (ATC) clearances, flying by instruments, pre-flight operations and preparation, landing approaches using instruments alone, emergency protocols, and post-flight procedures.

All of this preparation is necessary because flying under IFR is so much more challenging than flying under VFR. The pilot flying under IFR must know the importance of relaying the aircraft’s position to ATC at all times, so the plane doesn’t ram into another aircraft in mid-air. Not to mention, the pilot must be aware of the challenges that can be presented not only by a lack of visibility when flying into and out of clouds but also by turbulence that can often lurk around changes in the Jet Stream that occur near cirrus clouds.

How a Pilot’s Rating Can Affect Your Wrongful Death Claim

If someone you love was killed in a plane crash, then the two different kinds of flight ratings could impact your wrongful death claim significantly. First off, if the pilot who was flying the plane didn’t have an instrument flight rating and was flying through clouds or in darkness when the crash happened, then the pilot is definitely liable for the crash. If the pilot was working for a company, then the company would also likely incur liability by allowing him to fly in IFR conditions without an instrument flight rating. However, it should be noted that it’s highly unlikely a major airline would allow a pilot into the cockpit without certification in IFR. This could happen, though, with a smaller charter business.

Additionally, the expectations of VFR and IFR outline reasonable behavior for a pilot flying under these conditions. If the pilot who caused your loved one’s crash ignored these reasonable expectations, then he or she is also negligent for any crash that results. For example, pilots flying with VFR have developed a practical way to avoid collisions with other planes. A pilot flying at a magnetic course heading between 0 and 179 degrees will fly at an odd-thousand altitude like 3,500 or 1,500 feet. Meanwhile, pilots who are flying in a magnetic course direction between 180 and 359 degrees fly at even-thousand altitudes like 2,600 or 4,600 feet. Pilots are not supposed to fly under 500 feet unless over water or an unpopulated area. Since pilots flying in opposite directions will be at least a thousand feet from each other, collisions, can be avoided with ease.

On the other hand, when pilots using IFR fly into a thick cloud bank, then they’re expected to relay their position constantly to ATC to avoid collisions with other planes.

When pilots ignore these responsibilities or others of the same ilk, then they are likely liable for any plane crashes. In order to prove that liability and enable your family to obtain damages for the loved one you’ve lost, you will likely need the assistance of an experienced airplane crash attorney.

With over 25 years of experience litigating case throughout the country, our lawyers know how to help. To learn more about IFR, VFR, and how we can assist you with a plane crash case, then call us today for a free consultation at 1-855-326-0000 (toll free).

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