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VFR Flexibility

24th June 2016
Just back from an overnight trip to Quimper in Brittany and would like to share my thoughts on the flying.

Going out from our base at Nuthampstead, our first stop was Calais for lunch, refueling and non schengen customs. As we taxied to the terminal we were greeted by a pair of Spitfires parked outside. This could have been seen as a symbol of the UK voting to leave the EU if you are that way inclined.

The next leg was to Deauville. This was flown at 6000ft above lower scattered Cu, and all went smoothly. The last leg was to Quimper was with the same weather as above which deteriorated towards the end of the flight into more lower clouds but not causing any problems.

Looking at the MSLP chart the weather was better than I had imagined.

The return the next day was Quimper to Rouen and was initially flight planned via Autorouter at FL060. I got a look at the satellite picture at the hotel which had good wifi and also got the Metar and Taf.

The weather turned to be worse that i imagined from the MSLP chart, especially over the UK.

After refueling and with the airport wifi not working I didn’t like the look of the weather. The cloud base was scattered around 1500ft with broken above that and and overcast with no blue bits to be seen. A departing BA Embraer was soon lost in the murk. Now my thinking was, if I carry out this flight IFR, I am bound to be at a level where I am in and out of cloud for how long I don’t know. OK I can ask for higher and see if that gets me in the clear. The truth is I have a dread of being locked in to IFR to the point where I am carrying out ATC’s instructions instead of doing what I feel happy about. So I chickened out and filed VFR. After departure I was at 4000ft steering around some embedded Cu, very murky all around with poor vis. Ten minutes or so later my co-pilot spotted a bit of blue ahead so a climb was commenced which got us on top at just over 8500ft. So far so good. The clouds tops gradually got higher until eventually we ended up at FL100 to keep on top but still steering around some higher lumps ahead. The flexibility with VFR was that we told ATC what we were doing and didn’t have to ask for heading changes to avoid etc. ATC were unconcerned and only spoke when handing us off to the next info sector.

The route was flown exactly as the Autoroter IFR route. I got a weather report for Rouen from Paris info which told us of a 3000ft cloud base, towering Cu and Cb,s 10K vis. Now I was thinking about descent. At 45nm from Rouen I told Paris info I was commencing descent and they told me that nothing was seen ahead on radar. Cloud was solid from 10,000ft until about 8500ft where we came into a clear area with towering Cu all around but could easily steer around it. Landed, refueled and lunch, the next leg was Rouen-Nuthampstead. After departure we cruised at 6000ft above broken Cu up to the coast. From mid channel we could see the CuNim over English side. From Dover up to the Southend overhead was flown at 3000ft with huge rainfall towards Gatwick. North of Southend there was a solid wall of gray with rainfall and crackling on the radio which is a sure sign of electrical activity. Then lightning strikes ahead of us. We tried to get a zone transit from Stansted but the ATC guy was so busy with commercials he barely had time to draw breath. We turned south and went around the southern end of Stansted zone and got back to base in some light rain.

If we had had that weather in France there was no way I would file IFR and get funneled into a situation that would be nightmarish in a light aircraft. The commercial aircraft making approaches to Southend and Stansted were asking to hold off until the weather had moved off. So although flying IFR for a lot of pilots, represents the holy grail, I feel the flexibility of filing VFR has a lot to recommend it. Ok, VFR flight plans get lost etc but flying in France where they have a lot more space, you get a great service from the flight info sectors. It is comforting when they tell you “Radar indentified”.

Last Edited by Propman at 26 Jun 14:44
Propman
Nuthampstead , United Kingdom

Thank you for that interesting report. I know that situation where you say: “Weather isn’t good enough to file IFR”. :) But the flexibility of VFR in marginal weather is best enjoyed when you know that you have an IFR capable plane + pilot. Tomorrow we’ll try to go across France VFR, but with a plane that’s not IFR capable; so it will be serious VFR and landing if there’s a doubt.

Propman wrote:

At 45nm from Rouen I told Paris info I was commencing descent and they told me that nothing was seen ahead on radar.

Which radar that is? Traffic or weather? And do I assume correctly that this descent was through a “hole on service” (Loch vom Dienst as you say in German), i.e. a magical hole that appears in an otherwise solid cloud base just when you need to descend, guaranteeing you exactly the necessary distance from cloud to maintain VFR?

Rwy20 wrote:

And do I assume correctly that this descent was through a “hole on service” (Loch vom Dienst as you say in German), i.e. a magical hole that appears in an otherwise solid cloud base just when you need to descend, guaranteeing you exactly the necessary distance from cloud to maintain VFR?

I’d say that falls under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule…

EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom

As I’ve grown up now a bit flying IFR I figured that there isn’t a problem working with ATC in France. I just inform what I’m about to do and I basically get a sort of “very well” back. Same in Spain within the Barcelona TMA. Doesn’t feel restricted in any way.

But I can see that’s it maybe simply a question of the amount of traffic around that determines how it feels and what is possible.

Frequent travels around Europe

The freedom you have “To Avoid” very much depends on the airspace. Here I was on a heading “because of WX” near Paris:

We were at the max of our service ceiling and the controller got very nervous, asking how many more minutes we had to stay on that heading.

We saw airliners passing above and below us. It was clear that us flying there had serious impact on the inbound flow for CDG.
But flying into the CB was no option either

I recently flew through Serbia under IFR, with loads of CU buildups around. It wasn’t easy. They have loads of bif restricted areas and most of them seemed to be “active”. A couple of avoid requests the controller wasn’t able (or at least not willing) to accomodate. Don’t want to fly there when it gets really nasty with big CBs around…

Frankfurt (EDFE, EDFC, EDFZ), Germany

Well … My attitude is that I will do whatever is required to ensure the safety of the flight. And flying into a CB has a clear negative outcome. So I would certainly not hesitate to continue on an avoidance heading regardless where that will lead me. Other planes can turn just as well and after all ATC is all about coordination to avoid bad things from happening.

I also believe it is me as PIC who determines the actions to be taken to ensure the safety of a flight. Things can be discussed later on the ground but it is what my eyes see what counts.

Be assertive not shy :-)

Frequent travels around Europe

That’s the only attitude i can imagine is right. ATC has no power to send you into a CB.

lenthamen wrote:

We were at the max of our service ceiling

Just out of curiosity, what is the service ceiling of your DA40, and what engine is it equipped with?

LFPT, LFPN

Just out of curiosity, what is the service ceiling of your DA40, and what engine is it equipped with?

This was at FL170. Engine is a Centurion 2.0s.
POH speaks about a “demonstrated operating altitude of 5000m (16400ft)”.

The Centurion engine is certified up to 18K feet so I take that as a limit.

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