Departing IFR from a Non-Towered Airport

Here’s a situation that often confuses new IFR pilots: How do you get a clearance and depart IFR from an airport that does not have an operating control tower?

The short video below describes the process, using a real IFR departure from Bremerton National Airport (KPWT) west of Seattle.

KPWT is a typical non-towered airport with Class E airspace to surface. Seattle Approach Control owns that airspace.

That surface-based airspace means that if the ceiling and visibility reported on the AWOS are not at least 1000 ft and 3 sm, you can’t take off unless you’ve received an IFR clearance or a special VFR clearance (see 14 CFR §91.155  Basic VFR weather minimums). And as the FAA’s Baginski Letter (2012) and the regulation note, “The determination of visibility by a pilot…is not an official weather report or an official ground visibility report.”

The video shows details such as checking the FAA Terminal Procedures Publication (in ForeFlight) for information about IFR departure procedures, including diverse vector areas, where applicable.

You can find more information about IFR departure procedures, including IFR releases and clearance void times and diverse vector areas, in AIM 5-2-7, AIM 5-2-9, and the Instrument Flying Handbook and Instrument Procedures Handbook.

For more information about contacting ATC when you’re on the ground at an non-towered airport, see FAA Completes ATC Phone Number Plan and the Chart Supplement here at BruceAir.

A similar situation obtains when you are approaching to land at an airport with Class E airspace to the surface. If the reported weather isn’t at least basic VFR, you can’t cancel IFR or special VFR until you’re on the ground (see Canceling IFR here at BruceAir). The video below shows that procedure after a short IFR flight from Boeing Field (KBFI) to Bremerton (KPWT).