VFR vs IFR: What’s The Difference?

If you plan to fly an aircraft, you need to be familiar with sets of rules. These are the VFR, or visual flight rules, and the IFR, or instrument flight rules. Understanding the difference between the sets can make your job as a pilot easier, especially in determining which set of rules to follow for a particular flight.

Here are a few things every aspiring pilot needs to know about each set of rules:

Visual Flight Rules

Visual Flight Rules are generally used by a pilot when flying an aircraft under weather conditions that meet minimum requirements. These requirements are in accordance with Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) to make sure that there is enough visibility for the pilot to be able to avoid other aircraft.

Flying under VFR means that you need to keep safe distances from other aircraft at all times to avoid collisions. You can’t fly through clouds, as they might obstruct your line of sight and cause you to get blindsided by another aircraft. There is minimum horizontal visibility when flying under VFR, so even though pilots are free to choose their own flight paths, they typically fly on a straight line to avoid heading in the wrong direction.

Since you won’t be relying on instruments to guide your path under VFR, the rules are stricter and the options of the pilot are fairly limited. The pilot can only control the plane’s altitude based on what he (or she) can see out of the window. VFR rules strongly rely on pilot skills, so they are usually used only for smaller aircraft flying at a low altitude.

Instrument Flight Rules

When the weather conditions do not meet the minimum requirements for using VFR, pilots adjust by using instrument flight rules instead. These conditions, also known as instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), require the pilot to use flight instruments to control the altitude attitude, and course of the aircraft.

For a pilot to fly under IFR, he first needs to secure an instrument rating along with meeting the necessary experience requirements for instrument flight. Of course, his (or her) aircraft must also be type-certified and properly stocked with the equipment needed for instrument flight. These include electronic navigation equipment, Air Traffic Control-assigned compass headings, and compass bearings for forecast winds.

IFR flights are used when weather conditions are too bad for VFR flights to operate, but that doesn’t mean there are no minimum weather conditions to be met. Although visibility isn’t much of an issue with IFR as it is with VFR, other factors in the weather are considered because IFR heavily relies on electronic navigation aids. Other elements such as the height and location of terrain as well as the obstructions around the airport’s perimeter are weighed before an IFR flight gets cleared for takeoff.

Finally, since IFR flights use instrument-based navigation instead of manual pilot skills like VFR, they don’t always take the fastest route. IFR flights usually get approved within controlled airspace, so the pilot doesn’t have much room in changing routes. Airways and waypoints are decided ahead of the flight to make sure the safest route is taken, which is why filing a flight plan is required in advance.

A Final Word on VFR and IFR Flights

In simpler terms, one can say that the main difference between VFR and IVR flights is the weather conditions that they fly in.

VFR flights are used for standard weather conditions and allow the pilot to fully control aviation, while IFR flights are used in place of VFR when visibility is compromised. IFR flights counter the lack of visibility with technological solutions brought by advanced flight instruments.

If you wish to determine if your aircraft is more suitable for VFR or IFR flights, you can always count on Knisley Welding Inc. With years of experience in serving the aviation industry, Knisley Welding Inc. can take one look at your aircraft and provide you with everything you need to know.