What is the difference between IFR and VFR?

As a student or an aspiring pilot, you probably would have heard about IFR and VFR from your peers or experienced pilots. You might wonder what both these terms really mean.


To fly any aircraft there are generally two sets of rules: VFR and IFR. IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules and VFR stands for Visual Flight rules. A pilot may decide to go for one of the set of rules on the basis of the weather conditions. On the whole there are many other aspects that influence the decision but in simple words it totally depends on the weather, whether a pilot fly VFR or IFR. Let’s take a look at these terms:

What is IFR?

IFR is a set of rules and regulations established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to administer flight under conditions where flight by outside visual reference is unsafe. IFR or VFR flight plan are terms used by pilots and controllers to indicate the type of flight plan an aircraft is flying. IFR flight flies with reference to flight deck instruments and navigation (by reference of electronic signals).

  • IFR means Navigating entirely on instruments, or under ATC control.

IFR is implemented when VFR is not in the picture i.e. when VFR conditions do not exist, then IFR is implemented. When any pilot flies under IFR, he is required to be under the direction of ATC (Air Traffic Control). They direct you regarding the aircraft direction course, speed, altitude, etc. IFR is imperative in weather with visibility lesser than 2 miles.

What is VFR?

VFR (Visual flight rules) are a set of rules and regulations established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) under which a pilot flies an aircraft in weather conditions (generally a clear climate where a pilot can see the aircraft’s route direction). When the weather is below VMC (visual meteorological conditions), a pilot has to use the IFR (the aircraft would be controlled through the instruments reference instead of visual reference).

  • VFR means Navigating by what’s outside.
  • VFR + instruments means (as mentioned above but utilizing navigation instruments ADF, GPS, etc.).

VFR (Visual Flight Rules) usually means that you are flying without definite control from ATC. You can maneuver freely in the sky considering you don’t breach any airspace. Moreover, in several airspaces you have to observe the ground also, as you are in control of observing other aircrafts to avoid any collision. VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions) have to be maintained to fly under VFR. This means that you have to keep a safe distance from the clouds (you can’t fly in the clouds). A pilot flying under VFR is required to observe outside the cockpit in order to navigate, avoid other aircrafts & obstacles and to control the aircraft’s altitude.

Thus, any aspiring pilot or an individual holding a PPL or CPL can add to their skills by applying for an instrument rating if he wishes to fly under IFR. Also, some of the FAA type rating courses require instrument rating as well as VFR.


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