Saturday, March 27, 2010

"New York Approach, Falcon 900, I am canceling my IFR flight plan - request traffic advisories."

Is there ever a good reason to cancel your Instrument Fight Rules (IFR) flight plan? Is it possible to operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and not compromise the safety of flight? I believe the answer to both questions is yes.

Based upon many discussions with other pilots, I believe most pilots think flying is safer while operating under Instrument Flight Rules.  When I ask them to explain why they think it is safer, the answer most pilots will offer the explanation of having an Air Traffic Controller watching over their flight is the reason.

The fact so many pilots think this may in fact contribute to a less safe situation. Their belief will result in a much less thorough traffic watch as well as a more relaxed overall operation. I have taken the opportunity to cancel my IFR flight plan while flying with a both a co-pilot and a flight engineer.  Their reaction was almost uniform with both of them almost coming to attention and becoming very interested in looking out the windows. You might say the safety of our flight was enhanced by the canceling of the IFR flight plan.

I must add the conditions under which I would cancel the IFR flight plan had been very carefully considered.  First of all, the weather would always include excellent visibility and clearance from clouds.  We had to be in radar contact and receiving traffic advisories from the controller as well.

Now let me ask you this question. Specifically, what service does a pilot receive while under Instrument Flight Rules that he does not receive while under Visual Flight Rules operations?

Answer: The air traffic controller is obligated to assure separation from other "known" IFR traffic. This is his first priority. Traffic advisories are only given to IFR traffic if workload on the part of the controller permits.

This is true also of VFR traffic receiving traffic advisories.  They are only provided on a work load permitting basis on the part of the controller.  Many pilots may be operating on the incorrect belief that flights operating on an IFR flight plan receive priority for traffic advisories over flights operating under VFR.

This may be the primary reason why so many pilots think flying under IFR is safer than flying under VFR.

Another question, does the air traffic controller have an option to refuse your IFR cancellation?  The answer is no.  He neither approves nor disapproves an IFR cancellation.  He only has the option to acknowledge it.  The pilot in command is the sole determiner and is responsible for choosing which set of rules either IFR or VFR he follows for his operation.


  1. examining FAA accident reports show the majority of accident reports are VFR related, particulary in GA. This statement can be magnified when dealing with marginal VFR.
    IFR operations in lousy weather make flying safer as the usually inexperienced VFR pilot stays on the ground.
    Isn't it always the PIC responsibily to see and be seen? When flying IFR this responsibilty is always somewhat diminished. And when center advises of traffic, don't we always report: sorry, we are IMC?
    I thought these comments could ruffle some feathers....let' wait and see, Bo