Contact Approaches and Special VFR

I recently heard a friend talk about having to do a missed approach at an airfield due to reported low reported runway visibility though he could easily see it was VFR. That triggered the question in my mind, what about a contact approach, or special VFR?

My rusty knowledge from flight school wasn’t coming up with good answers in a hurry, so I popped over to for some clarity. Basically, from what I read here a contact approach will let you fly when the weather is reported worse than actual. From what I read here a special VFR approach will let a VFR only pilot file a flight plan for landing in weather worse than normal VFR minimums near an airport for a visual landing.

The key here is for a contact approach, you need one mile FLIGHT visibility. Who cares what the RVR is reported. If you have one mile visibility (aka contact) from the cockpit, you’re golden. For SVFR, you are using this as a last resort to get out of trouble in deteriorating weather without having to file IFR.

Keep in mind, I’m not a CFI, so talk to one to get the full story before using these tools in the air. And as always, don’t hesitate to declare an emergency if you’ve gotten yourself in deeper than you should have.


1 thought on “Contact Approaches and Special VFR

  1. I used to use SVFR in the Portland/Seattle area, as the weather often changed very rapidly and/or was way worse than reported or forecast. We were usually unable to pick up a pop up IFR in the 206 because of the shear volume of IFR traffic in the system already and icing. Instead they would issue us a SVFR clearance and basically give us vectors wherever we were going and all we had to do was remain clear of clouds and mountains.Only difference was we were still completely responsible for terrain and traffic avoidance.

    I routinely use a contact approach when there’s a lot of low clouds and skud and I can see the aircraft a few miles ahead of me, but there’s no way I can see the airport visually. So they can’t clear me for a visual approach, unless I have the aircraft in front of me in sight. Then I just follow that airplane until the runway is in sight. Controllers like it because it reduces their workload and relieves them of the required minimum spacing for an instrument approach—they can really pack them in there.

    At MAF EDRC I would try and fly around at 5,000’ AGL in the dry season…if I could still see the ground I was good to go, even though I had [seemingly] zero forward flight visibility


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