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VFR Minimums in Class D Airspace
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I've always had the assumption,maybe incorrectly,that in Class D airspace, once the ceiling is 1000' or above and visibility is 3 miles or greater,that the airport is operating VFR, and that's when they turn off the beacon. Under those conditions, when cleared into the Class D, do I:  a.)  I fly at the published pattern altitude,  b.) fly the pattern maintaining cloud clearance of 500' below, or c.) request a special VFR clearance and just remain clear of clouds?
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CFR 91.155(a) Class D: 500' below clouds for VFR. SVFR would allow you get closer, if it's available. (They can turn off the beacon under those conditions, but as far as I know they're not required to.)
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1217 Posts
The best answer is (c).  Flying the pattern below TPA risks violating 91.119 minimum altitudes, especially if there's a congested area below the pattern.  The "when necessary for takeoff/landing" exception in 91.119 applies only to the necessary climb to and descent from TPA, not to flying level in the rest of the pattern, so (a) would violate 91.155 and (b) would be legal only if there are no "congested areas" below the pattern.  And keep in mind that the FAA's definition of a "congested area" is very inclusive, some examples being a highway with "moderate" traffic and a collection of 6 houses in a 1/4-mile area.
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1217 Posts

Gary Drescher:
CFR 91.155(a) Class D: 500' below clouds for VFR. SVFR would allow you get closer, if it's available. (They can turn off the beacon under those conditions, but as far as I know they're not required to.)

The beacon being on or off is not dispositive of the weather being legally VFR or not.  It's been known for airport operators to forget to turn it on or off for weather or day/night conditions.  The only thing that matters in this context is the actual reported weather -- the fact that the beacon was off doesn't excuse violating 91.155 if you know (or should have known -- "I didn't check the AWOS" isn't a legal excuse if you have a working radio) the weather was below legal VFR mins.
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Thanks for the responses. That clears it up (no pun intended) for me. So, to be safe and legal, at most Class D airports with a 1000' TPA, it would require a ceiliing of at least 1500' and visibility of 3 miles to enter the pattern. Any lower ceiling would require a special VFR clearance,(which may not be allowed if there is any IFR traffic on an approach.) 
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1217 Posts

Thomas Braeunig:
Thanks for the responses. That clears it up (no pun intended) for me. So, to be safe and legal, at most Class D airports with a 1000' TPA, it would require a ceiliing of at least 1500' and visibility of 3 miles to enter the pattern. Any lower ceiling would require a special VFR clearance,(which may not be allowed if there is any IFR traffic on an approach.) 

Yup.  Same is true for Class C, too.  Slight difference for Class B, where VFR is legal with 3 miles and clear of clouds, so there you could be within 500 feet of the bases while VFR since ATC is already providing positive separation..
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Ronald Levy:
The best answer is (c).  Flying the pattern below TPA risks violating 91.119 minimum altitudes, especially if there's a congested area below the pattern.  The "when necessary for takeoff/landing" exception in 91.119 applies only to the necessary climb to and descent from TPA, not to flying level in the rest of the pattern, so (a) would violate 91.155 and (b) would be legal only if there are no "congested areas" below the pattern.  And keep in mind that the FAA's definition of a "congested area" is very inclusive, some examples being a highway with "moderate" traffic and a collection of 6 houses in a 1/4-mile area.

Are you sure 91.119 doesn't apply to flying in the pattern? May I ask your source, please? The reason I'm skeptical is that there are airports where the published TPA is well below 1000' AGL in what are undoubtedly congested areas (for instance, KCAR has a TPA of 800' AGL in an area that includes dense housing developments and shopping malls). So if 91.119 doesn't apply to the pattern, then isn't it illegal to fly the published TPA at such airports?