Maintain VFR at or Above 8000

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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A couple of questions about this scenario...

The other day, I went flying with a CFI who filed an IFR flight plan with the same airport as the departure and destination with a couple of touch and goes along the way. There was scattered convective activity along the way. On the way back, after punching in and out of clouds for more than 2 hours, the controller advises us of some thunderstorm activity at 2 oclock and says "maintain VFR at or above 8000." CFI replied, that it was our understanding that we were IFR. The controller asked if we were IFR qualified. CFI said something like, pilot and aircraft is IFR qualified, and we thought we were still on an IFR flight plan. (We were also level at IFR altitude the whole time) The controller said something like if you think you're on an IFR flight plan, then proceed.

Clearly there was a mixup, but I'm curious to hear from the controller side. How did this mixup occur? Was it after the landing that we switched to tower, then back to approach/departure (maybe a different controller that didn't get the memo)? We never changed our squawk code.

It seemed that for a while we were being treated as flight following, but after the initial shock, I found it humorous .... "if you think you're IFR, then proceed." LOL. So from the controller's point of view, is there any functional difference between IFR and VFR on flight following? You just keeping the blips from touching?
 

NovemberEcho

Epic Member
Dec 8, 2010
4,388
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Long Island
A couple of questions about this scenario...

The other day, I went flying with a CFI who filed an IFR flight plan with the same airport as the departure and destination with a couple of touch and goes along the way. There was scattered convective activity along the way. On the way back, after punching in and out of clouds for more than 2 hours, the controller advises us of some thunderstorm activity at 2 oclock and says "maintain VFR at or above 8000." CFI replied, that it was our understanding that we were IFR. The controller asked if we were IFR qualified. CFI said something like, pilot and aircraft is IFR qualified, and we thought we were still on an IFR flight plan. (We were also level at IFR altitude the whole time) The controller said something like if you think you're on an IFR flight plan, then proceed.

Clearly there was a mixup, but I'm curious to hear from the controller side. How did this mixup occur? Was it after the landing that we switched to tower, then back to approach/departure (maybe a different controller that didn't get the memo)? We never changed our squawk code.

It seemed that for a while we were being treated as flight following, but after the initial shock, I found it humorous .... "if you think you're IFR, then proceed." LOL. So from the controller's point of view, is there any functional difference between IFR and VFR on flight following? You just keeping the blips from touching?
id have made a call to the TRACON after that one. When you’re IFR you’re expecting positive separation to be supplied by ATC. When you’re VFR we are more an advisor and are relying on you to maintain separation.
 

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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6
id have made a call to the TRACON after that one. When you’re IFR you’re expecting positive separation to be supplied by ATC. When you’re VFR we are more an advisor and are relying on you to maintain separation.
I don't want to get anyone in trouble, so the names and places (and altitude) have been changed to protect the identity of the victims. LOL.

After thinking about it, I don't think there was much risk. When we were in VMC which was about 80% of the time, we are heads up scanning for traffic as required. And during the times we are in the clouds, I only expect other IFR traffic, which are receiving positive separation. So the only danger would be another aircraft at same altitude who also thinks they are on an IFR flight plan but isn't.... Plus we were level at IFR altitude, which I think provided additional margin of safety.
 

Gooky2

Rookie
Aug 19, 2016
43
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A couple of questions:

1. You filed an IFR flight plan, did you receive an IFR clearance on the ground or in the air?

2. No one in the two hours of flying asked you why you were flying at an IFR altitude and not at a VFR one?

Somewhere along the line you got tagged as VFR and not IFR. A mistake was obviously made.
 

TimShady

Senior Analyst
Mar 12, 2009
887
5
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32
Chicago
When you say you did touch and go’s along the way, did you stay in the pattern at any of the airports? If so, after departing the pattern there is room for confusion on whether you are now VFR and need to be recleared. I think this was a debate at my last facility but it’s been several years since I’ve worked approach so I can’t remember.
 

atcbrownie

Trusted Contributor
Jun 14, 2008
661
9
18
Warrenton Va
I have seen something similar happen when a callsign ends in V. For example N236V. The V in the callsign can throw off a busy controller and make them think the aircraft is vfr.
 

mbalunda

Epic Member
Jan 31, 2009
2,867
15
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The simplest answer is someone entered your Altitude as /VFR, and from then on out was assumed you were only receiving fight following. I'll occasionally get VFR ac traveling at IFR altitudes and I'd generally not question it unless they were traffic with an ifr AC.
 

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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A couple of questions:

1. You filed an IFR flight plan, did you receive an IFR clearance on the ground or in the air?

2. No one in the two hours of flying asked you why you were flying at an IFR altitude and not at a VFR one?

Somewhere along the line you got tagged as VFR and not IFR. A mistake was obviously made.
1. IFR clearance was received on ground frequency at our departure airport.
2. We were IFR for about 300 miles and even were "cleared" for an RNAV approach at our first stop. It was supposed to be a touch and go, but we had to stop taxi back and take off, and were off within 2 or 3 minutes. After that is when the mixup occurred. The stop was in our IFR flight plan, and we even had copied down instructions for departure before we were cleared for the approach. When we switched back to departure, we said something like "N1234 1700 climbing to 3000". I think this is when we got tagged as VFR, even though we were on the same transponder code. (I was doing the flying while the CFI was doing the radio, so, unless I missed it, I think we never changed squawk code the entire 4 hour round trip).
 

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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When you say you did touch and go’s along the way, did you stay in the pattern at any of the airports? If so, after departing the pattern there is room for confusion on whether you are now VFR and need to be recleared. I think this was a debate at my last facility but it’s been several years since I’ve worked approach so I can’t remember.
We had planned to do a touch and go, but had to land, and taxi back, then took off. We didn't do any pattern work. Just took off and contacted departure when instructed by the tower. I thought that maybe the extra few minutes of delay on the ground when we had to taxi back caused the issue, because maybe approach was expecting us back within 2 minutes. Maybe the tower cancelled us when we landed?

This is probably an important detail that I left out. We were going to do a touch and go, but had an electrical/mechanical issue, so we asked for full stop landing at last minute on final, then on the ground asked to taxi to nearest FBO, but we corrected the issue while still taxing then ask and were cleared to turn around and take off. Is it possible that tower canceled our IFR flight plan because we had asked to taxi to FBO? Even though, we called back within 60 seconds and asked for take-off? We were back in the air within 2 or 3 minutes it was a very long runway and we just took off from where we were (intersection take-off).
 

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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If you got cleared back off climbing to 3k, how did you end up at 8k?
We eventually got cleared up to our cruising altitude, and we were at that altitude for a while. We were flying for about an hour before the "Maintain VFR at or about 8000" incident.
 
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jdatc624

Senior Member
Dec 30, 2010
161
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Center/center/tracon
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We eventually got cleared up to our cruising altitude, and we were at that altitude for a while. We were flying for about an hour before the "Maintain VFR at or about 8000" incident.
So you must have still showed IFR then after your landing if they cleared you up to 8k. I know you are pruposfully vague about where it occurred, but I wonder if your flight plan got dropped out of the NAS and then during a coordination from one approach control to another something got missed....
 

NovemberEcho

Epic Member
Dec 8, 2010
4,388
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Long Island
So you must have still showed IFR then after your landing if they cleared you up to 8k. I know you are pruposfully vague about where it occurred, but I wonder if your flight plan got dropped out of the NAS and then during a coordination from one approach control to another something got missed....
thats my guess. Flight plan dropped out after one of the T+G’s but the facility he was doing approaches with never lost the tag and receiving facility didn’t have any info on him, or the first facility screwed up an FDiO entry somehow.
 

Devil07

Rookie
Jul 14, 2018
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thats my guess. Flight plan dropped out after one of the T+G’s but the facility he was doing approaches with never lost the tag and receiving facility didn’t have any info on him, or the first facility screwed up an FDiO entry somehow.
I'm curious, what is the mechanism by which tower cancels an IFR flight plan automatically. Is it usually done upon landing by controller on "tower" frequency or is it usually done by "ground" controller once aircraft contacts ground frequency? If its the latter, then that would explain it, because of the unexpected mechanical issue, we did not do a touch & go, instead we exited and momentarily were on Ground frequency when we got it fixed while taxing and turned around and took off.
 

Stinger

Epic Member
May 24, 2009
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I'm curious, what is the mechanism by which tower cancels an IFR flight plan automatically. Is it usually done upon landing by controller on "tower" frequency or is it usually done by "ground" controller once aircraft contacts ground frequency? If its the latter, then that would explain it, because of the unexpected mechanical issue, we did not do a touch & go, instead we exited and momentarily were on Ground frequency when we got it fixed while taxing and turned around and took off.
There is no mechanism to cancel the IFR flight plan at a towered airport other than you landing.
A controller watches you land, and that is it. No computer entry or phone call or anything.