Contact Approach


  • A contact approach is an approach procedure that may be used by a pilot (with prior authorization from ATC) in lieu of conducting a standard or special IAP to an airport
    • An example where this becomes necessary is if the ground visibility is reported too low for a visual/VFR approach, but the flight visibility is clearly acceptable and the field is in sight
  • Pilots operating in accordance with an IFR flight plan, provided they meet the requirements, can reasonably expect to continue to the destination airport in those conditions, and may request ATC authorization for a contact approach
  • Controllers will never solicit the use of a contact approach
    • It is likely the tower is either in or receiving reports from sensors that the field is IFR
  • Not intended for use by a pilot on an IFR flight clearance to operate to an airport not having a published and functioning IAP nor is it intended for an aircraft to conduct an instrument approach to one airport and then, when "in the clear" discontinue that approach and proceed to another airport
  • Approved separation is applied between aircraft so cleared and between these aircraft and other IFR or special VFR traffic
  • Pilot assumes responsibility for obstruction clearance
  • If under radar services, they will terminate when the pilot is instructed to change to an advisory frequency
  • Provides approved separation between aircraft cleared for a contact approach and other IFR or special VFR aircraft
  • When using vertical separation, does not assign a fixed altitude, but clears the aircraft at or below an altitude which is at least 1000' below any IFR traffic, but not below MSA
  • Begins where the approach is approved and terminates automatically when told to contact tower
  • ATC will issue alternative instructions if, in their judgment, weather conditions may make completion of the approach impracticable


  1. The pilot has specifically requested the approach
  2. Clear of clouds
  3. 1 mile of flight visibility
    • ATC will not authorize unless they can ascertain reported ground visibility is at least 1 mile
  4. The airport has a standard or special IAP
  5. Has preceding traffic in sight if applicable
  6. The pilot has reasonable expectations to continue in above conditions

  • You must advise ATC the moment any of the above are not true

ATC: "Cleared contact approach at or above [Altitude], [Routing]. If not possible [Alternative Procedures] and advise"


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