Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By Heather McNevin
FAAST Team Lead Safety Rep 

When do you cancel IFR?


September 1, 2020

When do you cancel IFR? How do you make that determination? Lets examine a little about what your IFR clearance actually does for you. It means you have a cylinder of protected airspace around you where no other IFR traffic should be. What about VFR traffic? They are still allowed in your “personal bubble.” IFR and VFR traffic are altitude separated by 500 feet vertically. At least, as long as the VFR pilot is actually following the rules (and its shocking how often they don’t!) and assuming they are on a good altimeter so their altitude is accurate. It also assumes you, as the IFR pilot, are in level flight. As we approach our destination, we descend through IFR and VFR altitudes. Others that depart the airport could be climbing through those same altitudes. This shows we can’t really rely on altitude separation into or out of an airport. With your IFR clearance, you are likely (though not always) in radar. Radar depends on your altitude and the equipment on the ground being functional. For this discussion, we will use radar and ADS-B lumped together in the general term of radar (since there are equipment and coverage issues for both types of surveillance methods). This highlights how the transition areas offer a higher risk of traffic conflictions, including VFR / IFR conflicts.

Statistically, when are we (pilots) likely to have an accident or mishap? On landing! If you have never read AOPAs Nall Report, I highly recommend it. If you cancel IFR on the way in because you perceive it to be easiest for both you and the controller, and then you wind up crashing into a tree a quarter mile short of the runway, ask yourself if anyone will know to look for you in a timely manner. How long will it be before someone begins to wonder where you are? How long will it take to initiate a search for you? It can take hours to mobilize searches in some of the remote areas of Northern Minnesota. What if you are injured? All of this risk can be mitigated by keeping your IFR until you land. If you don’t close your IFR in 30 mins or less, the controller will initiate search procedures for you. Once you are safe on the ground, you can promptly close your IFR and you’ve maintained the highest safety margins possible for your flight.

I hope now, if you still choose to cancel airborne, you have a better idea of the risk you are adding and have considered ways to mitigate it. These could include being in contact with Unicom/FBO or having someone follow your flight online. Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience.


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