Visual Approaches


  • Visual approaches are an IFR procedure conducted under IFR in visual meteorological conditions 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 Conditions:

  • Advise ATC if you can no longer maintain the following requirements:
    1. The airport or preceding aircraft in sight
      • If the preceding aircraft is not in sight, the controller is responsible for aircraft separation
    2. Authorized under the control of the appropriate traffic control facility
      • ATC may authorize this type of approach when is 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 a ceiling at or above 1,000' and visibility at 3 SM or greater (VMC)
      • Cloud clearance requirements of 14 CFR 91.155 are not applicable unless required by operation specifications
    4. When conducting visual approaches, pilots are encouraged to use other available navigational aids to assist in positive lateral and vertical alignment with the runway
  • A visual approach is not an IAP and therefore 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

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 Planning:

  • Used for simplicity or emergency situations
    • Generally, pilots desire to fly a 'standard' 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
  • Controller Responsibilities:

    • Do not clear an aircraft for a visual approach unless reported weather at the airport has a 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
    • For all aircraft, inform the pilot when the preceding aircraft is a heavy. Inform the pilot of a small aircraft when the preceding aircraft is a B757
      • Visual separation is prohibited behind super aircraft
    • 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


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