What You Don’t Know About Special VFR (FAR Part 91.157) Will Hurt You

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Every so often, the weather at an air show is less than the required waiver minimums of 1,000 foot ceilings and/or three nautical miles of visibility. In those situations, some performers have offered to accept a special VFR clearance and fly non-aerobatic maneuvers to keep the crowd entertained while waiting for the weather to improve. The show must go on, right? 

Wrong. When the ceiling is below 1,000 feet and/or the visibility is less than three miles, an air show pilot cannot perform. Period. Not even if the inspector in charge on site says that you can.  Anybody who tells you otherwise does not know what he/she is talking about. 

Special VFR flight requires an ATC clearance which means a control tower is essentially a requirement. Pilots must maintain clear of clouds. The pilot must be instrument rated and the aircraft must be equipped for instrument flight, including an artificial horizon and a direction gyro. A compass and/or GPS are not sufficient. The complete list of equipment can be found in FAR 91.205(d). 

No FAA flight standards inspector has the authority to waive these requirements and — by definition — once the weather goes below 1000’/3NM, the event’s air show waiver is not in effect. Flying under those conditions without meeting the requirements of 91.157 is a violation.   

But there is more to it than just the flying regulations. The air boss has no authority under these circumstances and, more importantly, his or her liability insurance may not be valid. Moreover, the air meet liability insurance may no longer apply as soon as the weather falls below minimums and the air show waiver is no longer in effect.  

No matter what anybody tells you and no matter how eager you are to put on a show for the assembled crowd, you cannot fly at an air show if the ceiling drops below 1,000 feet and/or if the visibility decreases to less than three miles.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.