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Author Topic: IFR Departure and Return Question  (Read 17512 times)
marineman
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« on: March 07, 2009, 01:04:33 PM »

Departed tower controlled airport on an IFR flightplan.  Weather was IMC.  Prior to being switched to departure control, tower informed me of convective weather approaching the airport.  While still VMC and with the airport in sight, I told the tower that I would like to return and land.  Was issued a landing clearance and landed uneventfully.

Although the airport was officially IFR, was it legal to return in VMC and land without receiving an approach clearance?  Note, I never switched to departure and was always "with" the tower.  The tower is not a radar facility and therefore couldn't issue a clearance for a contact approach if requested by me.  It wouldn't have made sense to ask for a special VFR clearance from the tower while operating on an IFR flightplan. Would have had to cancel IFR with the tower without having a special VFR clearance.  Finally, didn't want to switch to departure while continuing away from the airport and eventually becoming IMC with adverse weather inbound.

Comments and Opinions?  I can't see where any regs. were violated since it's not all that uncommon to have to return immediately to the departure airport for any number of reasons.  Of course, declaring an emergency will always get you off the hook.  Didn't do that in this case.  No reason to.

Thanks,

marineman
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sykocus
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2009, 04:28:14 PM »

As a controller what happened doesn't sound completely legal. You had already been given an IFR clearance so you were IFR as soon as you took off. It seems either an instrument approach or canceling the IFR and getting a SVFR clearance would be required to allow you to return. I'm sure the controller was trying to help you return as quickly as possible and didn't think though the possible ramifications at the time. I understand the dilemma, but should something have happened it would be hard for the controller to justify allowing you to return to the field visually when the reported conditions are IFR.

That's just my opinion. I'm curious what perspectives there are on it.
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marineman
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2009, 06:23:49 PM »

Thanks for your reply.  I was very close to the airport (in sight) when I told the tower controller that I would like to return and land.  Very quickly I received a landing clearance followed by my asking if I should squawk VFR or remain on my present code.  I never canceled IFR.  Was told to remain on the present code and landed uneventfully.  Just filed a NASA report, though.  I thought of canceling and asking for a Special VFR, but doing that would put me in "no man's land", i.e. operating VFR at a tower controlled airport that is IFR and hoping that the controller will issue me a Special VFR clearance.  Other than declaring an emergency I don't know of any other way to immediately return to the departure airport without wondering about the legalities.  It happened so quickly and sometimes the best decision won't always leave all the t's crossed and i's dotted.
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KSYR-pjr
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2009, 06:27:05 PM »

Although the airport was officially IFR, was it legal to return in VMC

This part of the question is unclear to me.  Did you return to the airport visually?  If so, what were the approximate visibility and ceiling?   As you know, IFR would be 3 miles or less visibility and/or 1,000 feet or less ceiling.  Were those the conditions at the airport when you returned?  
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Regards, Peter
ATC Feed:  Syracuse (KSYR), NY
marineman
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2009, 06:55:54 PM »

The visibility was less than 3 miles so it was IFR, but I was able to see the aiport and return visually.
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mikenftsmith
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2009, 09:08:43 PM »

Instead of worring if what the tower did was legal,I would be more worried that my pre flight prepartion did not catch the approaching convective activity near my time of departure.
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madHATR
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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2009, 09:30:12 PM »

A contact approach is actually not a "radar approach," and a tower controller could clear you for it... but you'd have to initiate it. Also, they'd have to keep you 1000' below IFR traffic but above the MSA without assigning a fixed altitude. (Clearance of clouds requirements and all that.) The big thing there is that the controller can't even suggest it.

As for SVFR, in your situation the tower controller would most likely approve it if they didn't have any conflicting IFR traffic. SVFR frightens a lot of controllers as it hovers in that "no man's land" you mentioned between a VFR operation and an IFR operation... but essentially it's VFR at less than VFR mins. They'd give you another "maintain at or below ..." instruction to ensure you were 500' away from any overflying IFR traffic and bring you back.

But yeah... they should have opted for one of these or done the completely inefficient thing and shipped you off to the radar facility to be vectored around for an instrument approach. However I completely agree with you about "sometimes the best decision won't always leave all the t's crossed and i's dotted." The point at the end of the day is that you got down and safe before the weather hit, even if they could have covered everyone's butt a little better.

My two cents! Love to hear any other ATC perspectives on the whole SVFR thing.

Contact Approaches: JO 7110.65S: 7-4-6, AIM: 5-4-24, 5-5-3
Special VFR: JO 7110.65S: 7-5-all, 14 CFR 91.157

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KSYR-pjr
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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2009, 09:31:33 PM »

Ah, okay, so it was IFR conditions, which I see now you stated in your original post.  Confusion has been put to bed.  Personally I don't have the answer to your question regarding legality, but as a fellow IFR GA pilot I have a couple of points to offer:  

1)  Unless the convective activity was within five miles of the airport (and as mike pointed out, your preflight planning would have shown this and most likely prevented you from departing in the first place) and conditions were deteriorating too fast, what would the harm have been of continuing the flight to departure and then requesting vectors to an approach back to the airport?   As IFR pilots we are always seeking out real instrument approaches to keep us proficient and it seemed there was one opportunity for an approach in real conditions.  I don't really see the same urgency in returning to the runway under your scenario while still with tower controller, unless of course there was some type of other emergency, which trumps other regulations and makes this subject moot.

2)  A question for controllers - I recall a Usenet exchange a few years back about the tower controller being authorized to clear an aircraft for an approach.  However I don't remember the outcome whether the tower controller has this authority.  Anyone?

In my opinion, marineman, you are always wise to file a NASA report anytime you might question the legality of a situation.  Nice move, there.  
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Regards, Peter
ATC Feed:  Syracuse (KSYR), NY
sykocus
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« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2009, 11:23:51 PM »

Thanks for your reply.  I was very close to the airport (in sight) when I told the tower controller that I would like to return and land.  Very quickly I received a landing clearance followed by my asking if I should squawk VFR or remain on my present code.  I never canceled IFR.  Was told to remain on the present code and landed uneventfully.  Just filed a NASA report, though.  I thought of canceling and asking for a Special VFR, but doing that would put me in "no man's land", i.e. operating VFR at a tower controlled airport that is IFR and hoping that the controller will issue me a Special VFR clearance.  Other than declaring an emergency I don't know of any other way to immediately return to the departure airport without wondering about the legalities.  It happened so quickly and sometimes the best decision won't always leave all the t's crossed and i's dotted.
IMO you were in no man's land: IFR but landing w/o an IFR approach or canceling IFR. You couldn't do the latter because the reported wx was IFR. You didn't want the former because you wanted to land quickly. SVFR would have been a compromise between the two. Don't get me wrong, I understand why you did what you did, but your closeness to the airport or amount of time you had been in the air doesn't have any bearing on the legality of what happened.



2)  A question for controllers - I recall a Usenet exchange a few years back about the tower controller being authorized to clear an aircraft for an approach.  However I don't remember the outcome whether the tower controller has this authority.  Anyone?

In the LOA's we have with all our towers it specifically states they must ask before clearing a/c for visual approaches, but they can always ask. I don't know about instrument approaches. There might be a tower out there somewhere that has that ability (without asking permission first), but it would seem strange to me.
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mkop
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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2009, 11:24:59 PM »

I'm confused. Even if you're flying IFR, you can still be cleared for a visual approach, which is essentially what you did, no? What was illegal?
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KSYR-pjr
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« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2009, 12:11:35 AM »

I'm confused. Even if you're flying IFR, you can still be cleared for a visual approach, which is essentially what you did, no? What was illegal?

From his listing of the fact here the tower did not clear him for a visual approach, instead the controller only cleared him to land.   The pilot never received an approach clearance at all, which is the question he is raising.
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Regards, Peter
ATC Feed:  Syracuse (KSYR), NY
djmodifyd
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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2009, 11:44:49 AM »

This seems to be hovering in the land of legality, which as a controller, you see this grey area often regarding all of the different rules.

And as mentioned, its not a strange thing for an aircraft to return all of a sudden and not get a new clearance, or SVFR or anything, because at that time it would usually be an emergency and emergency means essentially all rules are out the window until that aircraft gets on the ground and out of harms way.

BUT in this situation, since you were IFR in IFR conditions, staying in the pattern (which is sounds like what you did) would be illegal.  the only way to be in the pattern in these conditions would be special VFR, which you obviously did not get.  to be legal, that controller would have had to hand you off to departure, and departure would clear you to your destination airport (wherever you departed from and are now returning to).  YOU could have cancelled IFR and asked for SVFR back into the airport, which would have been no big deal (at least in my airport, because the tower is certified for radar operations....so we can easily see other traffic and insure the extra separation required for SVFR ops)

You would then have to be vectored for some sort of instrument approach, or YOU would have to ask for a contact approach.

It doesn't sound to me like you did anything wrong, because all you did is tell ATC you wanted to return, and the controllers did it incorrectly.  you COULD have asked for SVFR or a contact, but you most definitely do not HAVE to. 

So, long story short, you needed to either:
1.  goto departure (since this tower is not radar certified) and get cleared back to your airport and vectored for an approach
2.  ask for a contact approach
3.  cancel ifr and ask for SVFR.

that is all i can think of for now...but im almost positive you are in the clear and did nothing wrong, but as someone else said you can always file a NASA report to feel better about it.

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djmodifyd
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« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2009, 11:47:05 AM »

I'm confused. Even if you're flying IFR, you can still be cleared for a visual approach, which is essentially what you did, no? What was illegal?

no, he could not have been cleared for a visual approach.
a visual approach is a VFR PROCEDURE for an IFR aircraft. 

a visual approach can only be using in VFR conditions, to an ifr aircraft.

an aircraft CANNOT be cleared for the visual approach in IFR conditions, even IF the pilot see's the airport.  the only choices would be a contact approach or an instrument approach.
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djmodifyd
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« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2009, 11:52:52 AM »

Ah, okay, so it was IFR conditions, which I see now you stated in your original post.  Confusion has been put to bed.  Personally I don't have the answer to your question regarding legality, but as a fellow IFR GA pilot I have a couple of points to offer:  

1)  Unless the convective activity was within five miles of the airport (and as mike pointed out, your preflight planning would have shown this and most likely prevented you from departing in the first place) and conditions were deteriorating too fast, what would the harm have been of continuing the flight to departure and then requesting vectors to an approach back to the airport?   As IFR pilots we are always seeking out real instrument approaches to keep us proficient and it seemed there was one opportunity for an approach in real conditions.  I don't really see the same urgency in returning to the runway under your scenario while still with tower controller, unless of course there was some type of other emergency, which trumps other regulations and makes this subject moot.

2)  A question for controllers - I recall a Usenet exchange a few years back about the tower controller being authorized to clear an aircraft for an approach.  However I don't remember the outcome whether the tower controller has this authority.  Anyone?

In my opinion, marineman, you are always wise to file a NASA report anytime you might question the legality of a situation.  Nice move, there.  

Im not sure about other facilities....but in my facility it would be possible...but it usually would not happen.

If im working local (tower) and an aircraft wants a different runway then initially cleared for (IFR aircraft shooting a visual approach in VFR weather) I can re-clear them for a visual approach to a different runway and clear them to land...but if they wanted to go out and do an ILS or RNV or some other instrument approach, i would put them on an initial vector and altitude and then hand them off to arrival/departure.  I would do this because at my airport, the tower only "owns" airspace in a 5 mile diamter around the airport, and, well, that is what the radar contollers downstairs are for.

i hope this makes sense....
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madHATR
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« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2009, 01:58:13 AM »

 A question for controllers - I recall a Usenet exchange a few years back about the tower controller being authorized to clear an aircraft for an approach.  However I don't remember the outcome whether the tower controller has this authority.  Anyone?[/b]

In my opinion, marineman, you are always wise to file a NASA report anytime you might question the legality of a situation.  Nice move, there.  

Towers can't actually clear aircraft for any kind of instrument approach (unless they're radar qualified approach control towers, like what dj was talking about.) but a visual doesn't count as one... it's actually an IFR procedure that must be performed in VMC. (500' above the MVA with vis of 3 or greater is the exact requirement to be vectored to it.) However, JO 7110.65 7-4-3 says we (tower guys) can't clear someone for one unless we have an LOA with our IFR facility.

In truth, I don't think it's actually expressly stated anywhere that we are unauthorized to clear someone for an instrument approach... but we can't because without the radar qualification/equipment we wouldn't be able to provide separation, or ensure the safety of the aircraft conducting the approach.

Contacts are a little different, because they aren't instrument OR a visual approach per se... but like SVFR, we can approve that because there are ways we can separate the aircraft from traffic and/or work with the IFR facility to ensure we don't have a SVFR/Contact Approach vs. IFR conflict.

So to close... Wink

Can towers clear someone for the approach? Yes, depending on the approach, the qualifications of the facility/controllers, and the situation.
If you're flying IFR can you still be cleared for a visual approach? Yes, as a matter of fact you have to be. Remember there's a difference between "IFR" and "IMC." If the weather is IMC (1000 and 3) you can't be vectored for a visual approach, even though you're on an IFR flight plan.
Was that the case here? No. Vis was 2 if I'm not mistaken.

As was stated earlier, the controller should have suggested SVFR or shipped him back to radar. Or marineman could have asked for a contact.

I am curious though, dj... when performing radar functions in the tower... what kind of equipment is that on?
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