French VFR rules are similar to the UK but with a few significant differences.
VFR cruising levels
The rules on terrain clearance generally were re-vamped at the beginning of 2007 and are dealt with more-fully in another article here
When flying at 3000’ or more above surface level during the en-route stage of flight, the semi-circular rule should be used to select the cruising altitude or flight level, as follows:
From transition altitude, Flight Levels should be flown using an altimeter setting of 1013.25 hPa / mb.
Track 0°—179° FL 35, 55, 75, etc
Track 180°—359° FL 45, 65, 85, etc
Below transition altitude, same principle but using the local QNH to fly the appropriate altitude measured in feet (3500', etc).
In France, transition altitude is effectively 3000 feet above surface (ground or sea) level in uncontrolled airspace.
In controlled airspace, transition altitude varies from place to place and from time to time, as notified—current transition altitude may be obtained from the recorded aerodrome ATIS or directly from an Air Traffic Controller.
In the absence of a notified transition altitude, use 3000’ above the surface.
VFR On Top
Aircraft with serviceable radio and radio navigation equipment may conduct daytime VFR flights above cloud—non-radio aircraft must remain within sight of the surface.
This rule does not allow a non-IR pilot to climb and descend through cloud which must therefore be sufficiently ‘broken’ to maintain VFR in all phases of flight.
VFR ‘on top’ was legal in the UK some years ago, but is not presently allowed.
Update When this article was originally published in April 2008, it was assumed that holders of a UK-issued JAR PPL (with no Instrument Rating) would be able to exercise the privilege of 'VFR on top'.
However, we have now received expert advice from a long-serving member of the UK Civil Aviation Authority who states that this is not the case.
Essentially, the holder of a UK-issued PPL or BCPL, including a UK-issued JAA licence, must comply with the conditions of the licence (ANO Schedule 8) as well as observing the airspace regulations of the country in which the flight takes place (i.e. observe the rules of both aviation authorities),
An interesting 'wrinkle' is that the holder of a UK-issued licence, which includes a valid IMC rating, may fly 'VFR on top' in France—even though the IMC rating is not valid for IFR flight in France.
The IMC rating also removes the requirement to fly 'in sight of the surface', which precludes 'VFR on top' unless the surface can be seen.
Holders of UK-issued commercial licences are not so restricted.
Many thanks to Mike Grierson (CAA expert) for reviewing this update and providing some useful amendments to improve clarity.
VFR Flight in Airways
Unlike the UK, VFR flights are allowed in airways which are classified as either Class E airspace (generally up to FL115) or Class D airspace (generally above FL115).
Radio communication is compulsory in class D airspace but not in Class E (except for Night VFR) though the semi-circular rule must be operated when flying along or crossing a Class E airway.
Night VFR is permitted subject to the following limitations:
* The pilot must hold a valid IFR licence (Instrument Rating) or Night VFR licence (Night Rating).
* The aircraft must be equipped for night flying (this can be verified by reference to the Flight Manual).
* The departure/destination airfields should be equipped and available for night flying ('VFR Nuit' will be specified on the airfield chart)
* Cloud base must be at least 1500 feet above surface (local flights) or planned cruising level (non-local) and visibility must be at least 5 kilometres (local) rising to 8 kilometres (non-local)—all night VFR flights should be within sight of the surface
* Apart from take-off, landing and alternative ‘official’ instructions, local VFR night flights should be conducted at a height at least 1000 feet above the nearest object within 8 kilometres—this is raised to 1500’ for non-local flights and 2000’ over areas where terrain reaches an altitude of 5000’
* Flight plans are mandatory for Night VFR except for those defined as ‘local’— for example, flight plans would not be required for flights taking off and landing at the same aerodromes or operating between two aerodromes for which the approach is provided by the same air traffic control service.
In each case, flights would also need to remain within the same controlled airspace.
In the absence of controlled airspace, local flights are defined as those operating within 12 kilometres (6.5 nm) of the departure aerodrome
Flight plans should be filed at least 30 minutes before the night flight—i.e. the FPL could be filed shortly before take-off so long as this is 30 minutes before ‘official night’.
NB There is no obvious indication on VFR charts or VFR Airfield charts which aerodromes operate under the same air traffic control service and this seems to be a matter of ‘local knowledge’ among French Flying Instructors.
If in doubt, ask the control tower before departures or file a flight plan anyway.
In the interests of accuracy, please check 'the 'French Air Traffic Rules' link, on the sidebar of this blog, for up-to-date information..
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of (former) Aéro-club de Limoges Flying Instructor Georges Thety for checking this article prior to original publication (in April 2008).