Rules of the sky above us explained

Is there a set of rules for flying? Just like anything else. So, yeah, of course.

It began when Boeing manufactured the first spacecraft sent to the moon by NASA in the mid-1960s. After decades of aeronautical progress, this is a remarkable achievement. These early pioneers were essential in influencing visual flight rules.

So the regulations and methods for flying aircraft in various conditions are referred to as flight rules. Flight rules consist of the following:

  1. Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
  2. Instrumental Flight Rules (IFR)
  3. Night Visual Flight Rules (NVFR)
  4. Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR)

Visual Flight Rules

The single most critical aspect of controlling an aircraft is VFR. VFR simply refers to a set of rules that allow an aircraft to fly in clear visual conditions, such as on a sunny, clear day.

To regulate the aircraft’s height, navigate, and avoid obstacles and other aircraft, a pilot must be able to see beyond the cockpit. To guarantee that aircraft operating under VFR are seen from a sufficient distance to assure safety, governing authorities specify certain conditions for VFR flight, including minimum visibility and distance from clouds.

It is achievable and extremely simple to fly a plane only by reference to exterior visual cues, such as the horizon for orientation, surrounding buildings and terrain features for navigation, and other aircraft for separation, in relatively clear weather circumstances. This is referred to as flying under visual flight rules (VFR), and it is the most prevalent method of operation for small planes. However, flying VFR is only safe when the outside references can be seen clearly from a safe distance; when flying through or above clouds, in fog, rain, dust, or other low-level weather conditions, these references can be obscured. As a result, the most crucial variables for safe operations during all phases of flight are the cloud ceiling and flight vision.

For most airspaces, the standard daytime VFR minimums are 3 statute miles of flight visibility, 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, and 2,000 feet horizontally from the clouds. Visual meteorological conditions are flight conditions that are equal to or greater than certain VFR minimums (VMC).


Any aircraft flying under VFR conditions must have the essential equipment on board (which also includes some instruments necessary for IFR). VFR pilots may use cockpit instruments as secondary navigation and orientation aids, but they are not required to do so; the view outside the plane is the primary source for keeping the plane straight and level (orientation), flying to the intended destination (navigation), and avoiding obstacles and hazards.

Obstacles and other aircraft must be “seen and avoided” by the VFR pilot. VFR pilots are responsible for maintaining their separation from all other aircraft and are not often allocated routes or altitudes by air traffic control (ATC). VFR aircraft may be required to have a radio, depending on the category of airspace in which the flight is being conducted, to assist Air Traffic Control in identifying the aircraft on the radar so that ATC can provide separation to IFR aircraft.

Visual meteorological conditions are meteorological conditions that meet the minimum standards for VFR flight (VMC). If they are not met, the conditions are classified as instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and a flight can only take place in IFR.

Visual flight rules are typically easier to understand than instrument flight rules, and they require far less training and practice. VFR gives pilots a lot of freedom, allowing them to go wherever they want when they want, and with a lot more flexibility in terms of how they get there.


Instrumental Flight Rules

The rules and procedures for flying planes are entirely on the aircraft’s instrument panel for navigation.

The FAA established rules and regulations to regulate situations where flight by outside visual reference is not safe. IFR flight relies on pilots using instruments on the flight deck to navigate, and navigation is done using electronic signals. It’s also a term pilot and controllers use to describe the type of flight plan an aircraft is flying, such as IFR or VFR.

When flying an aircraft under VFR is not safe due to weather obscuring visual cues outside the aircraft, instrument flight rules must be utilized instead. IFR allows an aircraft to fly under instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which are weather conditions that are less severe than VMC but still safe for flying.

When flying in “Class A” airspace, regardless of weather conditions, you must use instrument flight rules. Because the bulk of flights enters Class A airspace, commercial airliners and their pilots must operate under IFR in many countries.

Because a pilot must demonstrate skill in operating a whole cross-country flight entirely by reference to instruments, procedures and training are substantially more difficult than VFR instruction. Instrument pilots must carefully assess the weather, develop a detailed flight plan based on instrument departure, en route, and arrival procedures, and dispatch the trip.

The limits of VMC minima can be difficult for pilots without an instrument rating who are unable to legally fly by instrumental flight rules in regions where weather conditions might change rapidly and unexpectedly or when weather phenomena are very concentrated. For example, if a tiny cloud forms above the airport at a height of fewer than 1000 feet, the airport must accept only IFR flights using instrument approaches and departures. A VFR flight attempting to land there would ordinarily be denied clearance, forcing the pilot to either divert to another field with VMC or claim an emergency and override the denial of clearance, which might result in an investigation and potentially negative consequences for the pilot.


The decision to fly VFR versus IFR is based on several criteria, including the aircraft’s equipment, current and projected meteorological conditions, and the flight’s objectives.

Night Visual Flight Rules

These are the visual flying rules that allow a night flight to be completed primarily by visual reference. The alternative is to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR), which minimizes the need for visual reference to terrain and traffic.

To be qualified for obtaining an NVFR rating (at an approved training organization) in EASA countries you must have:

  • a total of 5 hours of night VFR flying (NVFR), including 3 hours of dual flying (with an instructor)
  • 5-night take-offs and landings
  • 1-night dual navigational flight by visual flight rules of at least 50 km and 1 hour

Many countries do not allow NVFR, therefore night flying must be done under IFR, which needs an instrument rating. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Bosnia & Herzegovina are among the countries that allow NVFR.


Special Visual Flight Rules

There are a set of aviation regulations that a pilot must follow to operate an aircraft. It’s a special situation regarding visual flight rules (VFR).

Flight under SVFR is only permitted in regulated airspace, and approval from air traffic control is always required (ATC).

SVFR flight is only permitted within the area of an airport’s controlled airspace that extends to the surface (Class B, C, or D), and it must be requested by the pilot and approved by the tower (some airports, primarily large Class B facilities, do not allow SVFR operation in their airspace at all). Although ground visibility must be more than one statute mile, most other VMC minimums, such as ceiling, are excluded.

This was a brief explanation of how pilots use flight regulations. However, each one provides a lot of information and details to assist pilots in navigating and flying safely.


  • United States. Federal Aviation Administration (1987). How to Become a Pilot: The Step-by-step Guide to Flying. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8069-8386-8.
  • “Instrument Flying Handbook” , Instrument Flight Rules (defined), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Federal Aviation Administration, 2008, pp. G–9
  • “Aeronautical Information Manual” , Instrument Flight Rules (defined), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Federal Aviation Administration, 2010-02-11, pp. PCG I−4
  • (Cover Photo)

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