Circling Maneuver


  • Circling is a maneuver conducted after an instrument approach but not a type of approach itself
  • It is accomplished any time the final approach course is not within 30° of the runway or when landing on a different runway from the approach being flown
  • May be flown for a variety of reasons to include training or operational requirement, for example, if the weather is not VFR and you have the equipment to fly an approach to an inactive runway to break through, and then circle
  • Can be a very dangerous maneuver requiring a lot of situational awareness
    • You will be low, you will be slow, and the weather may be bad
    • You may have little time depending on the weather minimums to orient yourself
Circling Instructions Example
Figure 1: Circling Instructions Example
Circling Instructions Example
Figure 1: Circling Instructions Example

Approach Plates:

  • It is always important to know where you are circling and to read the circling instructions, if published, in the Pilot Briefing and Procedure Notes section [Figure 1]
  • Circling minimums are published at the bottom of the plate with the straight-in minimums
  • In the case of a VOR-A (circling only) type of approach plate, only the circling minimums will be published as that approach does not serve any specific runway [Figure 2]
  • The airport diagram on the instrument approach plate will have an arrow showing your orientation to the airport as you approach the runway environment [Figure 3]

Approach Chart Airport Diagram
Figure 2: Published Circling Minimums
Approach Chart Airport Diagram
Figure 2: Published Circling Minimums
Approach Chart Airport Diagram
Figure 3: Approach Chart Airport Diagram


  • Once you've been switched to the approach control, you are ready to put in your request
    • Pilot: "[Agency], [Callsign], [Location], [Information], request"
    • Example: "Daytona Approach, Cessna One Seven Two Seven Victor, 10 miles to the west with information Charlie, request"
  • ATC will have you "standby" or tell you to "send your request"
    • Pilot: "[Callsign], request [Approach]"
    • Example: "One Seven Two Seven Victor request LOC 7L, circle runway 16"
  • ATC will tell you to expect what you requested or give you modified instructions
  • Once switched to tower you should reiterate your request to ensure they are aware of your intentions
    • Pilot: "[Tower], [Callsign], [Location], on the [Approach], request circle to land [Runway]"
    • Example: "Daytona Tower, Cessna One Seven Two Seven Victor, 3 miles to the west on the LOC 7L approach, request circle to land runway 16"
  • ATC will either approve you or if unable, request you continue on your current approach for the straight-in
    • ATC: "Cleared for [Approach], circle to land [Runway]"
    • Example: "Cleared for the LOC runway 7L approach, circle north to land runway 16"
  • If you forget, or you think you've heard contrary to the instructions you were expecting, read back for an added idiot check
    • Pilot: "Understand circling North?"

Circling Minimums:

  • Published minimums will provide a 300' obstacle clearance when pilots remain within the appropriate area of protection
    • Remember when you fly the approach, if you intend to circle to, descend to the circling MDA, not the straight-in MDAs (circling is typically higher than straight-in minimums)
    • If no circling minimums are published, then do not execute a circle to land; however, if authorized, by ATC, basic VFR (1000-3) is required
  • Pilots should remain at or above the circling MDA altitude until the aircraft is continuously in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal rate of descent using normal maneuvers
    • This will typically be just inside the 180/abeam for most circling minimums would have you low on downwind
Circling Approach
Figure 4: Circling Approach Area Radii
Approach Chart Airport Diagram
Figure 5: Circling Missed Approach
Approach Chart Airport Diagram
Figure 5: Circling Missed Approach

Missed Approach:

  • If visual reference with any identifiable part of the airport is lost while circling to land from an IAP, a missed approach (published or dictated by ATC) must be executed
  • Maintain distance limitations which are dependent on aircraft class [Figure 4]
  • Always make the initial climbing turn toward the landing runway and continue the turn until established on the missed approach course [Figure 5]


  • Maneuver the shortest path to the base or downwind leg, as appropriate, considering existing weather conditions
  • There are no restrictions from passing over the airport or other runways [Figure 6]
  • It should be recognized that circling maneuvers may be made while VFR or other flying is in progress at the airport
    • Standard left turns (flying in the same direction as the traffic) or specific instruction from the controller for maneuvering must be considered when circling to land with traffic
  • At airports without a control tower, it may be desirable to fly over the airport to observe wind and turn indicators and other traffic may be on the runway or flying in the vicinity of the airport
  • To learn more about instrument procedures, be sure to check out the Instrument Procedures Handbook online or on paperback

Circling Techniques
Figure 6: Circling Techniques