Actually, the rules of airspace over the United States are those accepted around the world. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set the rules for the world, and most countries have adopted them, including the United States. Your sport-pilot certificate doesn’t authorize you to fly outside of the United States, but once you have a private-pilot certificate or higher you can do so and the rules will be the same in every country. So let’s take a look at how the sky is mapped.
Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flights are made by pilots who have earned an instrument rating on top of their private pilot or higher certificate. Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilots can’t fly under IFR rules, but IFR pilots can fly VFR rules if they wish.
IFR could be called assisted flying. The pilot gets information and directives from air traffic controllers who, using radar and other electronics, can “see” the aircraft—and hundreds of others—on their radar screens. An air traffic controller advises the pilot what to do to “maintain separation” or keep a safe distance away from other aircraft in the area. In addition, the IFR pilot is trained how to fly the aircraft using instruments inside the aircraft rather than visual references to the ground. Otherwise, how would commercial and business aircraft fly through clouds and land at airports during a rain or snow storm?
Even if you plan to always fly VFR you should learn about and take advantage of air traffic control or about using instruments. Many private pilots will become commercial pilots with instrument ratings. In other Flight Guides, I tell you more about getting tracking from air traffic control (ATC), called a flight watch. Your flight instructor will give you some instruction on using instruments for flight in emergencies.
Sometimes you’ll see references to MVFR, or marginal visual flight rules. These cover visibility that is close to the minimums for VFR flying. Things could get better—or worse. Remember that your personal limits should be more stringent than the FAA’s and you shouldn’t fly unless you are comfortable with the level of visibility where you are, where you are going, and the path you’re taking.