Missed Approach


  • When a landing cannot be accomplished, following an instrument approach, pilots execute the missed approach procedure
  • Typically this will be accomplished at the missed approach point but may be executed earlier for other reasons such as:
    • Training
    • Instrument failure
    • Other emergency
  • When executing a missed approach, advise ATC and, comply with the missed approach instructions for the procedure being used, or with an alternate missed approach procedure specified by ATC
  • When approach has been missed, request clearance for specific action; i.e., to alternative airport, another approach, etc.
Published Missed Approach Instructions
Figure 1: Published Missed Approach Instructions

Missed Approach Responsibilities:

  • Pilot:
    • Executes a missed approach when one of the following conditions exist:
      • Arrival at the Missed Approach Point (MAP) or the Decision Height (DH) and visual reference to the runway environment is insufficient to complete the landing
      • Determines that a safe approach or landing is not possible (see subparagraph 5-4-21h)
      • Instructed to do so by ATC
    • Advises ATC that a missed approach will be made. Include the reason for the missed approach unless the missed approach is initiated by ATC
    • Complies with the missed approach instructions for the IAP being executed from the MAP, unless other missed approach instructions are specified by ATC
    • If executing a missed approach prior to reaching the MAP, fly the lateral navigation path of the instrument procedure to the MAP. Climb to the altitude specified in the missed approach procedure, except when a maximum altitude is specified between the final approach fix (FAF) and the MAP. In that case, comply with the maximum altitude restriction. Note, this may require a continued descent on the final approach
    • Following a missed approach, requests clearance for specific action; i.e., another approach, hold for improved conditions, proceed to an alternate airport, etc.
  • Controller:
    • Issues an approved alternate missed approach procedure if it is desired that the pilot execute a procedure other than as depicted on the instrument approach chart
    • May vector a radar identified aircraft executing a missed approach when operationally advantageous to the pilot or the controller
    • In response to the pilot's stated intentions, issues a clearance to an alternate airport, to a holding fix, or for reentry into the approach sequence, as traffic conditions permit

Missed Approach Criteria:

  • Pilots shall go missed if any of the following criteria are met:
    1. Upon arrival at the Missed Approach Point (MAP) or Decision Height (DH), visual reference to the runway environment is insufficient to complete the landing
    2. A safe approach or landing is not possible
    3. ATC instructs you to
    4. When the aircraft is being operated below MDA

Missed Approach Instructions:

  • Missed approach instructions can come from two sources:
    • Formal, as published on the instrument approach chart
    • Verbally, given from ATC
  • Instrument Approach Chart:
    • Instructions are visually depicted on the profile view section of the approach plate while amplifying instructions will appear in the Pilot Briefing and Procedure Notes section [Figure 1]
    • A dashed line on the plan view further helps the pilot visualize where they are going and where they are to hold
  • Air Traffic Control:
    • ATC will issue their own instructions if it better service their purpose, or yours
    • ATC: "[Callsign], upon reaching [Location], [Instructions]"
    • Example: "One Seven Two Seven Victor, upon reaching 5 DME, turn left heading 010 and climb to 5,500', vectors ILS 17"

Rate of Climb Table
Figure 2: Rate of Climb Table

Obstacle Protection

  • Obstacle protection for missed approach is predicated on the missed approach being initiated at the decision altitude/height (DA/H) or at the missed approach point and not lower than minimum descent altitude (MDA)
  • If the aircraft initiates a missed approach at a point other than the missed approach point (see paragraph 5−4−5b), from below MDA or DA (H), or while conducting a circling maneuver, obstacle clearance is not necessarily provided by following the published missed approach procedure, nor is separation assured from other air traffic in the vicinity
    • A climb gradient of at least 200'/Nautical Mile (NM) is required, except for Copter approaches, where a climb of at least 400'/NM is required, unless a higher climb gradient is published in the Pilot Briefing and Procedure Notes section of the approach procedure chart
      • Pilots must pre-plan to ensure that the aircraft can meet the climb gradient (expressed in feet per nautical mile) required by the procedure in the event of a missed approach, and be aware that flying at a higher than anticipated ground speed increases the climb rate requirement (feet per minute)
      • Instructions on calculating the climb rate required (feet per minute) against the climb gradient (feet per nautical mile) can be found on the performance calculations page
    • When higher than standard climb gradients are specified, the end point of the non-standard climb will be specified at either an altitude or a fix
    • Reasonable buffers against obstacles are provided for normal maneuvers however, no consideration is given to an abnormally early turn
      • Therefore, when an early missed approach is executed, pilots should, unless otherwise cleared by ATC, fly the IAP as specified on the approach plate to the missed approach point at or above the MDA or DH before executing a turning maneuver
  • Pilots must ensure that they have climbed to a safe altitude prior to proceeding off the published missed approach, especially in non-radar environments, as abandoning the missed approach prior to reaching the published altitude may not provide adequate terrain clearance
    • This may be accomplished by referencing the Minimum Safe Altitude depiction which displays minimum safe altitudes within 25 NM of the point it is referenced off of (usually the local NAVAID) [Figure 3]

Minimum Safe Altitude
Figure 3: Minimum Safe Altitude

Alternate Procedures

  • Some locations may have a pre-planned alternate missed approach procedure for use in the event the primary NAVAID used for the missed approach procedure is unavailable
  • To avoid confusion, the alternate missed approach instructions are not published on the chart
    • However, the alternate missed approach holding pattern will be depicted on the instrument approach chart for pilot situational awareness and to assist ATC by not having to issue detailed holding instructions
  • The alternate missed approach may be based on NAVAIDs not used in the approach procedure or the primary missed approach
  • When the alternate missed approach procedure is implemented by a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), it becomes a mandatory part of the procedure
    • The NOTAM will specify both the textual instructions and any additional equipment requirements necessary to complete the procedure
  • Pilots may reject an ATC clearance for an alternate missed approach that requires equipment not necessary for the published approach procedure when the alternate missed approach is issued after beginning the approach
    • However, when the alternate missed approach is issued prior to beginning the approach the pilot must either:
      • Accept the entire procedure (including the alternate missed approach);
      • Request a different approach procedure, or;
      • Coordinate with ATC for alternative action to be taken, i.e., proceed to an alternate airport, etc.


  • A clearance for an instrument approach procedure includes a clearance to fly the published missed approach procedure, unless otherwise instructed by ATC
  • The published missed approach procedure provides obstacle clearance only when the missed approach is conducted on the missed approach segment from or above the missed approach point, and assumes a climb rate of 200 feet/NM or higher, as published
  • In the event a balked (rejected) landing occurs at a position other than the published missed approach point, the pilot should contact ATC as soon as possible to obtain an amended clearance
    • If unable to contact ATC for any reason, the pilot should attempt to re-intercept a published segment of the missed approach and comply with route and altitude instructions
    • If unable to contact ATC, and in the pilot's judgment it is no longer appropriate to fly the published missed approach procedure, then consider either maintaining visual conditions if practicable and reattempt a landing, or a circle-climb over the airport
  • Should a missed approach become necessary when operating to an airport that is not served by an operating control tower, continuous contact with an air traffic facility may not be possible
    • In this case, the pilot should execute the appropriate go-around/missed approach procedure without delay and contact ATC when able to do so
    • Prior to initiating an instrument approach procedure, the pilot should assess the actions to be taken in the event of a balked (rejected) landing beyond the missed approach point or below the MDA or DA (H) considering the anticipated weather conditions and available aircraft performance
  • 14 CFR 91.175(e) authorizes the pilot to fly an appropriate missed approach procedure that ensures obstruction clearance, but it does not necessarily consider separation from other air traffic
  • The pilot must consider other factors such as the aircraft's geographical location with respect to the prescribed missed approach point, direction of flight, and/or minimum turning altitudes in the prescribed missed approach procedure
    • The pilot must also consider aircraft performance, visual climb restrictions, charted obstacles, published obstacle departure procedure, takeoff visual climb requirements as expressed by nonstandard takeoff minima, other traffic expected to be in the vicinity, or other factors not specifically expressed by the approach procedures

  • If executing a missed approach prior to reaching the MAP, fly the lateral navigation path of the IAP to the MAP and climb to missed approach altitude, unless the IAP establishes a maximum altitude
  • A missed approach assumes you were at the MAP at MDA/DH to guarantee obstacle clearance
  • If you have to go missed for any reason not at the missed approach point, then turn toward the missed approach point and execute the missed approach
    • You should always be thinking about how to execute the missed approach while circling so it is not a surprise if you enter IMC
    • The missed approach is executed for the runway the approach started on, not the runway you were circling to
    • The initial turn on a missed approach will always be toward the landing runway until established on a segment of the missed approach
    Circling and Missed Approach Obstruction Clearance Areas
    Figure 1: Circling and Missed Approach
    Obstruction Clearance Areas
  • Always request a follow on action after going missed
  • Communicate why you are going missed
  • A controller may issue modified instructions, which supersede the published instructions
  • Stick to the published approach until ATC tells you otherwise
  • If executing instructions different from those on the procedure as dictated by approach, call on the go" or "executing climb out" to reduce confusion
  • Remember an MDA is a MINIMUM, you are not allowed to sink below it, period, not even by a foot
    • Decision altitude, on the other hand, has a built in buffer to allow for missed at that altitude, to sink down as power is brought in, and climb out begins
  • If you think your approach may result in a missed, put a "DRAFT" on request:
    • Destination
    • Route
    • Altitude
    • Fuel State
    • Time En-route


  1. Add power, and rotate gradually, accelerating to climbout speed, and check for positive rate of climb
  2. Clean up the aircraft as appropriate for aircraft flown (refer to your Pilot Information Manual for appropriate configurations)
  3. Climb out at appropriate speed
    • For MAP procedures that have a speed restriction below 200 KCAS, while turning to the MAP heading to keep a small radius, leave the gear and flaps down and fly on-speed AoA at 5° nose-up until established on the radial, OR fly HALF flaps until on the radial


If Tower: "[Place] tower, [Callsign], missed approach [Reason]"
If Departure: "[Place] departure, [Callsign] missed approach off of [Location] climbing through [Altitude] for [Altitude] with request"
"DRAFT:" "[Callsign] would like to put a clearance on request to [Destination] via [Route], [Altitude], fuel [Fuel State in Time], Time [Time En-route]"

Circling Missed Approach
Figure 2: AIM, Figure 5-4-29. Missed Approach

Circle-to-Land (Circling Maneuver):

  • a circle-to-land is a maneuver performed at the end of an instrument approach to land on a runway different from the runway which you flew the instrument approach to
  • If visual reference is lost while circling-to-land from an instrument approach, the missed approach specified for that particular procedure must be followed (unless an alternate missed approach procedure is specified by ATC)
  • To become established on the prescribed missed approach course, the pilot should make an initial climbing turn toward the landing runway and continue the turn until established on the missed approach course
  • Inasmuch as the circling maneuver may be accomplished in more than one direction, different patterns will be required to become established on the prescribed missed approach course, depending on the aircraft position at the time visual reference is lost
  • Adherence to the procedure will help assure that an aircraft will remain laterally within the circling and missed approach obstruction clearance areas
  • Refer to paragraph h concerning vertical obstruction clearance when starting a missed approach at other than the MAP [Figure 1]

Lost Communications (NORDO) Missed Approach:

  • If marginal weather conditions exist at destination (and possibly low on fuel after a long flight) file a flight plan or DRAFT with the controller in case of missed approach prior to commencing the approach
  • In case of lost communication during the approach and subsequently you take a missed approach due to weather considerations:
    • Squawk 7600
    • Follow the published missed approach instructions to ensure adequate obstruction clearance
  • Route:
    • Proceed to the alternate IAF as filed and commence an approach
  • Altitude:
    • The EXPECTED altitude, if given one, after filing a DRAFT or;
    • Your option of the highest of the two emergency safe altitudes depicted on the destination and alternate approach procedure charts if fields are within 200 NM or each other or
    • At flight level 18,000'
    • If destination altimeter is 29.92 inches or higher, fly FL180
    • If destination altimeter is less than 29.92, fly FL190

Missed Approach Instructions:

  • In the absence of missed approach instructions, it is implied that you will fly the published missed approach instructions
    • This will often be the case when flying a real approach, when training, ATC will likely give you different instructions to set you up for your next approach
  • ATC will give you altitude, heading, frequency, and supplementary information as required
    • ATC: "Missed approach instructions, climb [Altitude], turn left [Heading] and contact departure [Frequency]. Be advised [Traffic...]"

Pilots may execute a missed approach at their own discretion at any time when under IFR

Common Errors:

  • Failure to have essential knowledge of the information on the instrument approach chart
  • Incorrect communication procedures or noncompliance with ATC clearances or instruction
  • Failure to accomplish checklist items
  • Faulty basic instrument flying techniques


  • If a missed approach is required, advise ATC and include the reason (unless initiated by ATC). Comply with the missed approach instructions for the instrument approach procedure being executed, unless otherwise directed by ATC
  • To learn more about instrument procedures, be sure to check out the Instrument Procedures Handbook online or on paperback