IFR Operations at Uncontrolled Airports

The procedures described here apply in the U.S. I don't profess to know the intricacies of such operations in other countries so I won't attempt to describe them.

So what is an uncontrolled airport? Simply put, it's an airport without an operating control tower. Takeoff, landing, and ground operations are at pilot's discretion and risk. Separation is provided by the pilot's eyes. Does that mean you can launch an IFR flight without any consideration of ATC? Absolutely not. Here's how it works:


To fly IFR in controlled airspace, a pilot MUST first receive a clearance from ATC. In real world operations, he has 3 choices:

  1. Launch VFR and pick up his clearance in the air.

    This is feasible (and common) when the weather is good. Note that until such time as the pilot is issued a clearance by the appropriate ATC facility, he MUST remain VFR and operate at VFR altitudes since he IS VFR, NOT IFR. If it is not possible to maintain VFR, potentially for an extended period of time, then this alternative is not viable and may not be used.

    This method of obtaining a clearance is particularly common in remote areas with poor ATC radar and radio coverage at low altitudes. The pilot launches VFR, climbs high enough to talk to Center and calls for a clearance.

  2. Contact ATC via radio on the ground and receive a clearance before departure.

    In this case, the pilot contacts the appropriate controlling facility (usually an approach control or an enroute center) via radio and requests his clearance. The clearance will be issued. Once any readback is completed and corrections made, ATC will issue instructions either to "HOLD FOR RELEASE" or "RELEASED AT THIS TIME, CLEARANCE VOID IF NOT OFF BY