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If AWOS Reports IFR Conditions When It's VFR, Can You Legally Fly?

If the weather report is incorrect, can you legally land? Read through the scenario, then tell us what you would do at the bottom of the article.


The Scenario

You're a non-instrument rated private pilot flying into Walnut Ridge, Arkansas (KARG), a non-towered airport. About 10 miles out you listen to the field's AWOS, which reports the following conditions:

KARG 231530Z AUTO 06005KT 1/2SM BKN023 BKN065 17/16 A3010 RMK AO2 RAE05 CIG017V023 P0000

You're caught off guard because the weather is relatively clear around you, with broken ceilings around 2,500' MSL and 10+ miles of visibility. Based on a reported ceiling of 2,300 feet AGL and a (presumed) incorrect visibility of 1/2 SM, you continue to KARG. As you approach the airport, you can clearly see that the conditions around the airport are VMC, with no unusual low hanging clouds. So it should be completely legal to land as a VFR pilot., but the updated AWOS continues to report IFR conditions. Maybe there's localized fog around the station, or maybe it's just broken entirely. You're not sure whether you can legally land at the airport. What would you do?


Each Airspace Has Its Own Cloud Clearance Requirements

The Walnut Ridge airport is in Class G airspace (below 700' AGL), with Class E airspace starting at 700'. That means your weather minimums during the day are very lenient: 1 SM visibility, clear of clouds. That's it. Since the AWOS reports 1/2 mile visibility (incorrectly), what now?

Clearly, you can maintain your weather minimums on final approach because the visibility is essentially clear below the clouds. There must be something wrong with the station. But is there any risk of not complying with an automated station's weather report?


What Do The Regulations Say?

CFR Part 91.155 covers the weather minimums for VFR flight in various types of airspace. There's a lot of them, and if you're not familiar try out our online course. There are a few extra regulatory notes toward the bottom of 91.155. Here's what they say...

(b) Class G Airspace. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section, the following operations may be conducted in Class G airspace below 1,200 feet above the surface:

(1) Helicopter. A helicopter may be operated clear of clouds in an airport traffic pattern within 1/2 mile of the runway or helipad of intended landing if the flight visibility is not less than 1/2 statute mile.

(2) Airplane, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft. If the visibility is less than 3 statute miles but not less than 1 statute mile during night hours and you are operating in an airport traffic pattern within 1/2 mile of the runway, you may operate an airplane, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft clear of clouds.

(c) Except as provided in 91.157 of this part (SVFR clearances), no person may take off or land an aircraft, or enter the traffic pattern of an airport, under VFR, within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport -

(1) Unless ground visibility at that airport is at least 3 statute miles; or

(2) If ground visibility is not reported at that airport, unless flight visibility during landing or takeoff, or while operating in the traffic pattern is at least 3 statute miles.

You don't fit any of those criteria because you're not in the traffic pattern. The surface area of this airport is in Class G airspace. The Class G airspace below 1,200' AGL minimums of 1 mile, clear of clouds still apply. So what about the definition of "flight visibility?"

Flight visibility means the average forward horizontal distance, from the cockpit of an aircraft in flight, at which prominent unlighted objects may be seen and identified by day and prominent lighted objects may be seen and identified by night.

Flight visibility is measured by you, the pilot, and applies to most airspace weather requirements. When you're flying enroute, you're supposed to be able to determine flight visibility well enough to comply with weather minimums. Flight visibility is not something an AWOS can give you, that ATC can report enroute, etc.


An SVFR Clearance Won't Help You

Special VFR clearances only apply to airports lying within class B, C, D, and E controlled airspace. At a bare minimum, the weather must be 1SM of visibility, clear of clouds for you to arrive/depart under SVFR at these airports.

ATC cannot issue the clearance when the reported visibility is under 1SM, no matter what you actually see with your own eyes. From SVFR regulation 91.157: "The determination of visibility by a pilot in accordance with paragraph (c)(2) of this section is not an official weather report or an official ground visibility report."


What Would You Do?

How would you handle a situation like this? Email us your decision at or tell us in the comments below.

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