Instrument flight rules

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Instrument flight rules (IFR) are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules (VFR).

Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) defines IFR as: “Rules and regulations established by the FAA to govern flight under conditions in which flight by outside visual reference is not safe. IFR flight depends upon flying by reference to instruments in the flight deck, and navigation is accomplished by reference to electronic signals.[1]” It is also referred to as, “a term used by pilots and controllers to indicate the type of flight plan an aircraft is flying,” such as an IFR or VFR flight plan.[2]


Basic Information

Visual flight rules

To put instrument flight rules into context, a brief overview of VFR is necessary. Flights operating under VFR are flown solely by reference to outside visual cues, which permit navigation, orientation, and separation from terrain and other traffic. Thus, cloud ceiling and flight visibility are the most important variables for safe operations during all phases of flight.[3] The minimum weather conditions for ceiling and visibility for VFR flights are defined in FAR Part 91.155, and vary depending on the type of airspace in which the aircraft is operating, and on whether the flight is conducted during daytime or nighttime. However, typical daytime VFR minimums for most airspace is 3 statute miles of flight visibility and a cloud distance of 500' below, 1,000' above, and 2,000' feet horizontally.[4] Flight conditions reported as equal to or greater than these VFR minimums are referred to as visual meteorological conditions (VMC).

Visual flight rules are much more simplistic than IFR, and require significantly less training and practice. VFR provides a great degree of freedom, allowing pilots to go where they want, when they want, and how to get there.[5] Pilots are not required to file a flight plan, do not have to communicate with ATC (unless flying in certain types of "busier" airspace), and are not limited to following predefined published routes or flight procedures.

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