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Has VFR got easier or harder?

My first long trips were in 2003, into S France and S Spain. In 2004 I did Crete. In 2005 I did Santorini and that time I was a bit more clever about it, not listening to self proclaimed UK forum sky gods and their “the mountain waves will kill you” bollox, and flying straight from the UK to Italy (and avoiding the Swiss Class C which is just as notorious today).

Then in 2006 I got the IR and didn’t do long distance VFR anymore.

Now my son is doing his PPL, has a lot of experience of going places with me (Croatia is probably the furthest), is not interested in the burger run stuff, so I wonder what sort of world he will be flying in.

I seems clear there are big positives

  • navigation is much easier (I always used GPS 100% but the hardware software and mapdata options were clumsy)
  • the internet is everywhere so stuff like PNR/PPR (which has always existed, via fax!) is much easier
  • much better wx data is available, notably windy.com
  • satellite wx data is affordable and works (Golze ADL) even though for low level VFR you can get 4G fairly often
  • messaging (telegram & whatsapp) makes a lot of “organisation” easy

and some negatives

  • many French airports are lost to UK visitors (unless you do extra stops, which rules out day trips)
  • landing fees have gone up (but usually not much relative to the fuel burn getting there)
  • can’t con the pump man into a duty- or VAT-free invoice by pretending to be “commercial” (only at LYBE can you still get that)
  • much of Greece is expensive now (but few ever went there anyway, due to the fuel burn)
  • a few airports have become rather expensive (Biarritz?)
  • wx has become more convective

I think overall life is easier. Most “good” airports are still there.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Most of your points have nothing to do with VFR or IFR, but more with touring in general. I think we have had previous threads where we discussed whether flying/touring has become easier or more difficult. Yes, many airports have become much more expensive, but Biarritz not so much so.

If you really ask if VFR flying in particular has become easier, I would that it hasn‘t changed, with the exception that navigation tools have become much better, but airspace structure has also become a bit more complex.

Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

VFR is different:

  • involves a lot more “constant navigation” than IFR (a lot more stuff to avoid, plus ATC can screw you around much more easily)
  • needs a lot of notam checking (IFR doesn’t need enroute notams, unless you are using VORs etc enroute)
  • is a lot more wx dependent
  • does involve more stops (though that is more related to VFR flying being done more in shorter range planes)
  • routing often differs, due to airspace or terrain (altitude not reachable)

I think that VFR probably has not changed much in terms of where one can go and how to get there, and much of it has got a lot easier due to the internet because there is a lot more “briefing stuff” needed.

I would also fly a lot less in the UK, if I was VFR-only, due to the “no prisoners” CAA policy. But a new pilot will just have to get a really good warning app, audio warnings into the headset, and be really careful.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Many city airports which were easily accessible to GA have become prohibitively expensive, albeit over a twenty five year period. I remember fondly using the self serve AvGas pump at Dublin International, or parking at Linate for less than 30 EUR a month with no handling, or visiting Edinburgh or Aberdeen, etc etc. I even have Madrid Barajas in the log book, but the list of major European city airports that were accessible, and no longer are, for practical purposes, is very long.

Unfortunately, the USA model of having a fast tourer with easy access to 24/7 IFR city airports, only exists in Europe for corporate jets willing to pay €1000 handling charges.

European light GA will continue to migrate to the permit/UL scene using grass roots and grass airfields. The Cessna 180/185 may be the Darwinian survivor if you want access to airways from the grass strip and can’t afford the PC12.

Oxford (EGTK)

boscomantico wrote:

If you really ask if VFR flying in particular has become easier, I would that it hasn‘t changed, with the exception that navigation tools have become much better, but airspace structure has also become a bit more complex.

I would say that international VFR has become much easier since the introduction of common EU rules. There is no longer any need for books that detail the specifics of the regulations in every different country.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

That is true to some extent, although many many national particularities, be it in the form of regulation or just custom, persist. Especially in the ATS and aerodrome regulation side.

On the other hand, many things have been harmonized which have really limited relevance to practical flying, like whether VFR in a certain airspace requires 5 or 8 km of flight visibility.

Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

From where I am sitting in the center of Europe but outside the EU, there are some pros and cons.

Navigation is a completely new ballgame since the regular introduction of GPS as the primary navigational tool. Well, not only in aviation, most people also drive with GPS these days and some even use it when on foot or per bicycle. I would think GPS has been the biggest game changer in navigation since… well, ever.

Charting has become a much nicer job with EFB’s and automated updates. No more paper shuffling for hours. Downside to that however is that while doing the hated revisions, you had the chance to see what changed. I was much more current on change management than I am today.

Within the EU and Schengen area, customs/immigration obviously has become much easier or has disappeared. Not quite true for us in Switzerland, but it’s tolerable let’s say, even though the loss of a lot of customs clearance points around us has hurt VFR, as it mostly relies on small airfields.

VFR within, say, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and some surrounding areas is still very attractive due to a lot of airfields on one’s disposal and fairly good infrastructure.

On the down side:
- Prices have increased by massive factors. Fees, handling, maintenance, training, all of it. Some by factor 2-3, others by 10 or more.
- A lot of desirable airports are outpricing GA or get rid of it via PPR. Southern Europe gets less and less attractive and therefore goes the goal most people think they have when they start flying. This definitly is not a VFR specific problem however.
- Airspace has become more complex and airspace violation are much more common and much more prosecuted. The up side there: GPS helps.

In general I’d say tolerance towards GA has gone down yet again and many problems which when I started were simply inexistent show that GA will become more and more a total fringe and freak movement. Those who are interested only in short round trips or burgerflying will move off to UL’s or out altogether.

Would I start flying again today as a youngster? If the goal was only for recreational touring flying, the answer would have to be a honest no.

LSZH, Switzerland

boscomantico wrote:

On the other hand, many things have been harmonized which have really limited relevance to practical flying, like whether VFR in a certain airspace requires 5 or 8 km of flight visibility.

What about the old requirement in Germany of 2000’ AGL minimum altitude for cross-country VFR?

Or quadrantal vs. semicircular levels?

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

@Mooney_Driver wrote “Those who are interested only in short round trips or burgerflying will move off to UL’s or out altogether.”
Although IMO there is nothing wrong with short trips and I’ve never burger flown I would point out that from this part of Western France in 2019 people I know flew their ULMs to Berlin, Croatia, many places in Italy, Spain, Morocco and Senegal plus all over France. VFR certainly and it took a lot more time in the planning but modern EFBs and GPS equipment plus the ease of filing flight plans and getting weather forecasts has made everything so much easier.
With the costs of buying and updating certified aircraft rising rapidly, I too can see many emigrating to the ULM.
The kit build/plans built/experimental market may also benefit greatly, although I don’t get the RV fixation.
In 1958 Stelio Frati conceived the beautiful F15A Piccio. It had a 180ch lycoming similar to that used in the RV7. The performance is the same but the Piccio has 4 seats.
Ferry pilot Max Conrad, IIRC who had ferried more than 200 Pipers of various types from USA to Europe wrote that the F15A outclassed his Commanche 250 in every way.
Where things have improved are in designs like the MCR 4S which can do much of what other more powerful aircraft can do on a 115Ch Rotax, with the consequent reduction in fuel and runway lengths.
And of course we will always have the “orphelins” of the world which can be picked up cheap and flown to places where you can’t even see an airfield. (Search “Speed Jodel” on You Tube) but there are many more examples from the USA.
VFR getting more difficult? GA dying? Not in my eyes. Changing, maybe.

France

I should add that the type of flying I have listed above does not require expensive handling, landing and fuel fees. And you meet a great many very nice people if you put in a little effort.

France
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