Visual Approaches


  • A visual approach is an approach conducted on an IFR flight plan which authorizes the pilot to proceed visually and clear of clouds to the airport
    • ATC: "[Callsign], fly [Instructions], vectors for visual approach to [Airport Name/Runway]"
  • Visual approaches reduce pilot/controller workload and expedite traffic by shortening flight paths to the airport
  • It is the pilot's responsibility to advise ATC as soon as possible if a visual approach is not desired

Visual Approach:

  • Advise ATC if you can no longer maintain the following requirements:
    1. Have either the airport or preceding aircraft in sight
      • If the preceding aircraft is not in sight the controller is responsible for separation
    2. Authorized under the control of the appropriate traffic control facility
      • ATC may authorize this type approach when it will be operationally beneficial
      • Can be requested by the pilot, or rejected in favor of a full IAP
      • Pilot assumes traffic separation & obstruction clearance when proceeding visually
    3. Reported weather at the airport must be ceiling at or above 1,000' and visibility at 3 SM or greater (VFR)
      • Cloud clearance requirements of 14 CFR 91.155 are not applicable, unless required by operation specifications
  • A visual approach is an IAP but has no missed approach segment, if a go-around is necessary for any reason, aircraft operating at controlled airports will be issued an appropriate advisory clearance/instruction by the tower
    • At uncontrolled airports, aircraft are expected to remain clear of clouds and complete a landing as soon as possible
    • If a landing cannot be accomplished, the aircraft is expected to remain clear of clouds and contact ATC as soon as possible for further clearance
    • Separation from other IFR aircraft will be maintained under these circumstances
  • Authorization to conduct a visual approach is an IFR authorization and does not alter IFR flight plan cancellation responsibility see AIM, Canceling IFR Flight Plan, Paragraph 5-1-15
  • Radar service is automatically terminated, without advising the pilot, when the aircraft is instructed to change to advisory frequency
  • ATC Service is terminated when told to contact advisory frequency in the case of non-controlled fields
  • NOT the same thing as a visual straight-in however may be flown as such if location permits
  • For specifics on approach criteria from an ATC standpoint read 5-4-22 (c)

Operating to an Airport Without Weather Reporting Service:

  • ATC will advise the pilot when weather is not available at the destination airport
  • ATC may initiate a visual approach provided there is a reasonable assurance that weather at the airport is a ceiling at or above 1,000' and visibility 3 miles or greater (e.g., area weather reports, PIREPs, etc.)

Operating to an Airport With an Operating Control Tower

  • Aircraft may be authorized to conduct a visual approach to one runway while other aircraft are conducting IFR or VFR approaches to another parallel, intersecting, or converging runway
  • When operating to airports with parallel runways separated by less than 2,500', the succeeding aircraft must report sighting the preceding aircraft unless standard separation is being provided by ATC
  • When operating to parallel runways separated by at least 2,500' but less than 4,300', controllers will clear/vector aircraft to the final at an angle not greater than 30° unless radar, vertical, or visual separation is provided during the turn-on
  • The purpose of the 30° intercept angle is to reduce the potential for overshoots of the final and to preclude side-by-side operations with one or both aircraft in a belly-up configuration during the turn-on
  • Once the aircraft are established within 30° of final, or on the final, these operations may be conducted simultaneously
  • When the parallel runways are separated by 4,300' or more, or intersecting/converging runways are in use, ATC may authorize a visual approach after advising all aircraft involved that other aircraft are conducting operations to the other runway
  • This may be accomplished through use of the ATIS

Separation Responsibilities

  • If the pilot has the airport in sight but cannot see the aircraft to be followed, ATC may clear the aircraft for a visual approach; however, ATC retains both separation and wake vortex separation responsibility
  • When visually following a preceding aircraft, acceptance of the visual approach clearance constitutes acceptance of pilot responsibility for maintaining a safe approach interval and adequate wake turbulence separation

Visual Straight-In

  • Used for simplicity or certain emergency situations
    • Generally, fly a basic 3° glide-slope
  • Fly checkpoints to touchdown
    • 10 NM = 3000' AGL
    • 9 NM = 2700' AGL
    • 8 NM = 2400' AGL
    • 7 NM = 2100' AGL
    • 6 NM = 1800' AGL
    • 5 NM = 1500' AGL
    • 4 NM = 1200' AGL
    • 3 NM = 900' AGL
    • 2 NM = 600' AGL
    • 1 NM = 300' AGL
  • Miles x fpmile (Glide-slope) + Field Elevation = Altitude to Fly (AGL)
    • 3° glide-slope = 300 fpmile = 3° down with the velocity vector
    • 2.5° glide-slope = 250 fpmile, etc...

Pilot Responsibilities:

  • If a visual approach is not desired, advises ATC
  • Complies with controller's instructions for vectors toward the airport of intended landing or to a visual position behind a preceding aircraft
  • The pilot must, at all times, have either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight. After being cleared for a visual approach, proceed to the airport in a normal manner or follow the preceding aircraft. Remain clear of clouds while conducting a visual approach
  • If the pilot accepts a visual approach clearance to visually follow a preceding aircraft, you are required to establish a safe landing interval behind the aircraft you were instructed to follow. You are responsible for wake turbulence separation
  • Advise ATC immediately if the pilot is unable to continue following the preceding aircraft, cannot remain clear of clouds, needs to climb, or loses sight of the airport
  • Be aware that radar service is automatically terminated, without being advised by ATC, when the pilot is instructed to change to advisory frequency
  • Be aware that there may be other traffic in the traffic pattern and the landing sequence may differ from the traffic sequence assigned by approach control or ARTCC


  • Do not clear an aircraft for a visual approach unless reported weather at the airport is ceiling at or above 1,000' and visibility is 3 miles or greater. When weather is not available for the destination airport, inform the pilot and do not initiate a visual approach to that airport unless there is reasonable assurance that descent and flight to the airport can be made visually
  • Issue visual approach clearance when the pilot reports sighting either the airport or a preceding aircraft which is to be followed
  • Provide separation except when visual separation is being applied by the pilot
  • Continue flight following and traffic information until the aircraft has landed or has been instructed to change to advisory frequency
  • Inform the pilot when the preceding aircraft is a heavy
  • When weather is available for the destination airport, do not initiate a vector for a visual approach unless the reported ceiling at the airport is 500' or more above the MVA and visibility is 3 miles or more. If vectoring weather minima are not available but weather at the airport is ceiling at or above 1,000' and visibility of 3 miles or greater, visual approaches may still be conducted
  • Informs the pilot conducting the visual approach of the aircraft class when pertinent traffic is known to be a heavy aircraft


  • To learn more about instrument procedures, be sure to check out the Instrument Procedures Handbook online or on paperback