How late can a Charter fly VFR?

It’s quite dark outside and I’ve just heard a plane on approach to KADS. My area map (6 minutes delayed) showed the flight as TLX129, but it is not on the KADS arrivals page.

When I look at the tracker for flight TLX129, I see it’s a scheduled charter from KAUS to KADS, but it has flown without flight plan since December 2. The map now shows five distinct flight tracks KAUS/KADS.

I’m not a pilot and I’m trying to understand the situation. Can scheduled charter flights (see fly without filing flight plans? Can they fly at night without flight plans? Could they actually be fully IFR, but without a flight plan? I can’t imagine how a pilot navigates his plane in the dark to a destination in busy Dallas air space without using instrumentation. Can he fly full IFR and just not file a plan?

When TLX129 does file a flight plan, the flight duration runs anywhere from 0:20 to 1:15. Obviously, there’s a lot of laxity in reporting the departure time or the arrival time (or both). I just find this one a bit strange.

Yes, you can fly VFR at night; even commercially. Looking at the tracklog, TLX129 is cruising at 5500 and 3500 feet, which are appropriate VFR altitudes for his direction of flight.

Thanks, mduell. It’s all a learning experience for me. :smiley:

I suppose they must have an instrument fix on the airport. It must be rather hard to find a runway in a sea of city lights.

While it’s nice when there is a navaid on the field (or GPS in the cockpit), airports aren’t terribly difficult to spot at night. The alternating green and white beacon is quite distinct in the sea of lights; just like seeing other traffic, sometimes it’s easier to locate airports in the night than it is in the day.

Both part 91 (general aviation) and part 135 (commuter and on-demand aviation) can operate VFR, which does not require a flight plan. Even if a VFR flight plan were required, the information on that plan is not generally available to ATC thus would not show up in FlightAware (VFR flight plans are strictly for search and rescue). So the answers to your first two questions are yes and yes.

IFR flight requires a flight plan. The only excpetion to this is flight in uncontrolled, or class G, airspace. Except for airspace below 1200’ you only find class G out west and offshore. The only class G in the DFW area is below 1200’, so low that it is not of practical use for IFR flight. To answer your last question, “Can he fly full IFR and just not file a plan?”, in the DFW area the answer is no.

As for finding an airport at night in a big city, that’s something that pilots learn to do early in their training. After awhile you begin to figure out what to look for. The green/white beacons are generally easy to spot, and once those are found you can look for visual cues to find the runways. Being familiar with the area (as most part 135 pilots surely are) is also a tremendous help. Finally, just because you are flying VFR doesn’t mean you can’t use instruments to help you. GPS, INS, VOR, even a localizer, will all help you find the runway even if you’re flying VFR.

Some of this confusion may be regulation confusion – pilots must hold an instrument rating to operate a commercial flight at night, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be flying IFR.

Every so often here they give the airliners “The Freeway Visual” where if it is VFR the transports are allowed own navigation to the airport with ATC providing traffic separation. This is class charlie so all planes in the airspace are on two way comm. and under radar survelence.

Speeds up flow I guess.

“The Freeway Visual” and other visual approaches are IFR clearances that allow aircraft to conduct approaches visually but continue to operate under instrument flight rules.

…had to laugh, pretty much it is the “direct to” button on the GPS.

As dbaker said, visual approaches are still IFR clearances. I think you meant that the airliners can get a visual approach if it is VMC (visual meterological conditions), i.e.: if the weather’s good enough. And, yes, it speeds things up allowing the controllers to land more planes in the same period of time.

There is also a standard “visual approach” clearance which can be issued under IFR. There is no specific route nor an approach plate associated with it. A visual approach is issued to a plane that has either the airport in sight or another plane in sight that has already been cleared for a visual approach to the same airport. It is up to the pilot to get to the airport, and he has to keep the airport or the preceding plane in sight until landing. Visual approaches are standard practice when the weather is good and can allow the controllers to reduce the required separation. But it’s still an IFR clearance.

Then there’s contact approaches… :smiley:

Many 121 and 135 carriers can operate VFR at night and, in some cases, without a flight plan. Most jet aircraft do not operate VFR because they would be restricted to altitudes below FL180 which would make the “gas mileage” very poor indeed. It is common for aircarriers to cancel IFR flight plans prior to landing at smaller, uncontrolled airports. Some carriers that I have flown for were allowed to operate VFR without filing a FAA flight plan. This is because all a VFR flight plan really does is provide limited search and rescue for that aircraft. If the aircarrier has it’s own flight following program, then the FAA may allow them to operate without a flight plan.

Flying visually in and out of busy airspace VFR is generally faster since no arrival or departure proceedures required. A small charter company will welcome anything to lessen costs. The dallas area in particular flying VFR as opposed to IFR (visual/instrument) on a trip for instance in a small aircraft from Tulsa to Addison at 140kts will take 1hr and 40min if you are VFR. If you go IFR it could take 2hr and 15min. Now 35min does’ent sound like much but at 15 gallons/hour and 4+ dollars per gallon and say 6 flights per day could be a savings of 180-200 dollars a day which will probably pay one of these freight dog’s salery’s (it would when I was a freighter).

Good points, cldkikr. Thanks.

Telesis flys packages and used to fly checks lol, no passengers.( worked with them as a mech.)


I’m not a pilot and I’m trying to understand the situation. Can scheduled charter flights (see fly without filing flight plans? Can they fly at night without flight plans? Could they actually be fully IFR, but without a flight plan? I can’t imagine how a pilot navigates his plane in the dark to a destination in busy Dallas air space without using instrumentation. Can he fly full IFR and just not file a plan?

Toby, it sounds like you know quite a lot about airplanes, just to have found this website. Have you considered taking flying lessons? It’s never too late to learn how to fly airplanes. Although expensive, flying lessons surely would interest you, probably being one of the most exciting experiences in your life. Good luck![/quote]

stevizzy, my cousin is a licensed pilot (recreationally). His daughter graduated Emery-Riddle in Florida and pilots charters.

I love to fly, but preferably from a passenger seat next to a window. When I was an expat based overseas, I registered over 300 flights in under 5 years. Somehow, though, the ‘pilot bug’ never bit me.

In more basic terms, every pilot knows how to use his navigation equipment to get from place to place, even at night. The IFR flight plan is not needed just because it is nighttime. You are correct though, it is harder to find the airports sometimes, but it is still well within the capabilities of any private pilot.

Remember that the question was originally posted by a NON-pilot. :laughing:

Commercial iarcraft can fly VFR if the weather permits but there is also a requirement for “flight following” that is, the company dispatchs must know the position of it’s flights. This may be done in a number of ways, one of which is simply to operate on a VFR flight plan. An airplane can fly at altitudes and on random courses but must “close” the VFR flight plan in order to keep search and rescue from be dispatched. Alternatively, if a company has a company frequency within range of an aircraft, it can be used for flight following.

…and here I thought this topic was dead. (it was started in DECEMBER!) :slight_smile: