VFR over-the-top (OTT) refers to flying over top of clouds in visual flight, rather than with reference to instruments. This is usually done for brief amount of time to avoid weather or turbulence.
Each nation has specific and often different rules that govern when a pilot is permitted to fly VFR OTT. Most countries have requirements that specify weather minima, aircraft equipment and pilot qualifications.
Pilots are required to adhere to VFR minima when climbing and descending over the clouds. Flight in cloud is not permitted.
The rules for flying VFR OTT vary greatly from country to country. Some rules, such as those contained in the US Federal Aviation Regulations, are quite simple to understand and easy to comply with. Others, such as the Canadian VFR OTT regulations contained in the Canadian Aviation Regulations, are much more complex and more difficult to comply with.
The US rules do not require the pilot to have an instrument rating nor require special equipment, but do place limitations on Student Pilots and on Sport Pilots to maintain visual reference with the surface. Other operations (such as commercial, turbine powered, and fractional ownership) include special limitations. (Note that 14 CFR 91.507 applies only to fractional operations; see 91.501.)
The Canadian rules specify that an aircraft may be operated in VFR OTT flight during the cruise portion of the flight during the day, at a vertical distance from clouds of at least 1000 feet. When the aircraft is operated between two cloud layers, the vertical distance between the layers must be at least 5000 feet. The flight visibility at the cruising altitude of the aircraft must be at least 5 miles and the weather at the destination aerodrome must be forecast to have a sky condition of scattered cloud or better, a ground visibility of 5 miles or greater with no forecast of precipitation, fog, thunderstorm or blowing snow, and that these conditions must be forecast to exist for one hour before to two hours after the estimated time of arrival when a terminal aerodrome forecast (TAF) is available or from one hour before to three hours after the estimated time of arrival if a TAF is not available.
In Germany VFR OTT (Flüge nach Sichtflugregeln über Wolkendecken) is allowed and regulated in §32 LuftVO. The requirements are:
- minimum height of 1,000 ft (305 m) above ground or water, minimum weather requirements for airspace E met
- pilot is capable of keeping the planned course
- approach and landing at destination in visual meteorological conditions (VMC)
- pilot possesses radiotelephony license
Additionally the aircraft must be equipped with a VOR receiver or basic RNAV equipment.
- Transport Canada (May 2010). "Aeronautical Information Manual RAC 2.7.4 VFR Over-the-Top". Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- Davisson, Budd (July 2001). "Over The Top: The Pros And Cons Of Flying VFR Above The Clouds". AOPA. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Sec. 61.89: General Limitations". Federal Aviation Regulations. Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 2014-11-23.
- "Sec. 61.315: What are the privileges and limits of my sport pilot certificate?". Federal Aviation Regulations. Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 2014-11-23.
- § 32 Flüge nach Sichtflugregeln über Wolkendecken
- § 4 air traffic control equipment for operations under visual flight rules
- Canadian VFR OTT rules – CAR 602.116
- US FAA VFR rules – FAR 91.155
- German VFR OTT Rules – §32 LuftVO