Special VFR

January 4, 2012 by Tim McAdams

On a sectional map, many large airports have “NO SVFR” printed near the airport information. SVFR refers to Special VFR, which allows a pilot to fly in lower visibility in controlled airspace. When giving flight reviews to helicopter pilots, I ask what that means. Occasionally, I am told that SVFR is not permitted at that airport. The correct answer is SVFR is not permitted for fixed-wing aircraft. FAR 91.157 states the requirements for SVFR, and appendix D, section 3 contains the verbiage that prohibits SVFR for fixed-wing only.

In fact, many of the requirements for SVFR are different for helicopters. A helicopter pilot still needs an ATC clearance and must remain clear of clouds; however they are exempted from the 1 statute mile restriction and the requirements for night time operations. Additionally, helicopters are excluded from the takeoff and landing requirements outlined in 91.157 (c). However, as with fixed-wing aircraft, the controller cannot suggest SVFR, a helicopter pilot must still request it.

In Canada the requirements for helicopters are more stringent than in the US. For example, a pilot must have at least 500 hours as pilot-in-command, have completed an approved pilot decision making course and received ground/flight instruction on issues related to reduced visibility. More details on additional requirements can be found in Canadian Aviation Regulation 602.117.

  • John

    I use this occasionally. At my airport (KMDW), ATC says, “say your request” as a matter of course.

  • Eugene

    I have requested SVFR many times and for varying reasons during my 35+ years of helicopter flying. Don’t forget however, the aircraft must be IFR certified and capable and the pilot must be IFR rated and current.

  • mike

    Eugene review 91.157 neither the helo nor the pilot need to be ifr certified or current. Otherwise most would just file ifr. Very few single engine helo’s are ifr certified. I fly a Bell 407 not certified ifr utillize svfr all the time.

  • Neil

    Interesting topic. I have been given SVAR clearance many times but on occasion a tower has refused for no obvious reason and I woinder if the ATC person on duty knows the difference between fixed wing and rotor rules for SVAR. It’s a good topic for a full magazine article…

  • Alan Barnes

    It’s *always* at the discretion of ATC whether they approve your request for SVFR or not. It could be a workload issue for them. Also, it’s IFR at the field so they maintain separation between you and the IFR traffic flow. If they can’t find a spot to fit you in they’re going to deny the clearance. You’re not seeing everything they are seeing. I would wager that they are well aware of the differences between airplane and helicopter rules for SVFR.

    That being said, if the weather is deteriorating to the point where you really need to land, either just find a place to land or declare an emergency and they can issue a clearance based off of that and bypass visibility (or any other) requirements. You may have to make a phone call after that but it’s better than putting the ship on the ground in a less controlled manner.

    And never make a flight that depends on you getting a SVFR clearance at the destination since that’s not a guaranteed thing.

    SVFR info is 91.157 and in the AIM 4-4-6 http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/ATpubs/AIM/aim0404.html#aim0404.html.3

    Phraseology here http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/fss/fss0405.html