Approaches (Part Eight)


Traditional Courses

An aircraft that has been cleared to a holding fix and subsequently “cleared…approach,” normally does not receive new routing. Even though clearance for the approach may have been issued prior to the aircraft reaching the holding fix, ATC would expect the pilot to proceed via the holding fix that was the last assigned route, and the feeder route associated with that fix, if a feeder route is published on the approach chart, to the IAF to commence the approach. When cleared for the approach, the published off-airway (feeder) routes that lead from the en route structure to the IAF are part of the approach clearance.


If a feeder route to an IAF begins at a fix located along the route of flight prior to reaching the holding fix, and clearance for an approach is issued, a pilot should commence the approach via the published feeder route. For example, the aircraft would not be expected to overfly the feeder route and return to it. The pilot is expected to commence the approach in a similar manner at the IAF, if the IAF for the procedure is located along the route of flight to the holding fix.

If a route of flight directly to the IAF is desired, it should be so stated by the controller with phraseology to include the words “direct,” “proceed direct,” or a similar phrase that the pilot can interpret without question. When a pilot is uncertain of the clearance, ATC should be queried immediately as to what route of flight is preferred.

The name of an instrument approach, as published, is used to identify the approach, even if a component of the approach aid is inoperative or unreliable. The controller will use the name of the approach as published, but must advise the aircraft at the time an approach clearance is issued that the inoperative or unreliable approach aid component is unusable. (Example: “Cleared ILS RWY 4, glideslope unusable.”)

Area Navigation Courses

RNAV (GPS) approach procedures introduce their own tracking issues because they are flown using an onboard navigation database. They may be flown as coupled approaches or flown manually. In either case, navigation system coding is based on procedure design, including waypoint (WP) sequencing for an approach and missed approach. The procedure design indicates whether the WP is a fly-over (FO) or fly-by (FB), and provides appropriate guidance for each. A FB WP requires the use of turn anticipation to avoid overshooting the next flight segment. A FO WP precludes any turn until the WP is over flown and is followed by either an intercept maneuver of the next flight segment or direct flight to the next WP.


Approach waypoints, except for the missed approach waypoint (MAWP) and the missed approach holding waypoint (MAHWP), are normally FB WPs. Notice that in the plan view in Figure 4-9, there are four FB WPs, but only the circled WP symbol at PRINO is a FO WP. If flying manually to a selected RNAV WP, pilots should anticipate the turn at a FB WP to ensure a smooth transition and avoid overshooting the next flight segment. Alternatively, for a FO WP, no turn is accomplished until the aircraft passes the WP.

Figure 4-9. Fly-by and fly-over waypoints.

Figure 4-9. Fly-by and fly-over waypoints.

There are circumstances when a WP may be coded into the database as both a FB WP and a FO WP, depending on how the WPs are sequenced during the approach procedure. For example, a WP that serves as an IAF may be coded as a FB WP for the approach and as a FO WP when it also serves as the MAWP for the missed approach procedure (MAP). This is just one reason why instrument approaches should be loaded in their entirety from the FMS and not manually built or modified.


Prescribed altitudes may be depicted in four different configurations: minimum, maximum, recommended, and mandatory. The U.S. Government distributes approach charts produced by the FAA. Altitudes are depicted on these charts in the profile view with an underscore or overscore, or both to identify them as minimum, maximum, or mandatory, respectively.

  • Minimum altitudes are depicted with the altitude value underscored. Aircraft are required to maintain altitude at or above the depicted value (e.g., 3000).
  • Maximum altitudes are depicted with the altitude value overscored. Aircraft are required to maintain altitude at or below the depicted value (e.g., 4800).
  • Mandatory altitudes are depicted with the altitude value both underscored and overscored. Aircraft are required to maintain altitude at the depicted value (e.g., 5500).
  • Recommended altitudes are depicted without anunderscore or overscore.

Note: Pilots are cautioned to adhere to altitudes as prescribed because, in certain instances, they may be used as the basis for vertical separation of aircraft by ATC. If a depicted altitude is specified in the ATC clearance, that altitude becomes mandatory as defined above.


Minimum Safe/Sector Altitude

Minimum Safe Altitudes are published for emergency use on IAP charts. MSAs provide 1,000 feet of clearance over all obstacles but do not necessarily assure acceptable navigation signal coverage. The MSA depiction on the plan view of an approach chart contains the identifier of the center point of the MSA, the applicable radius of the MSA, a depiction of the sector(s), and the minimum altitudes above mean sea level which provide obstacle clearance. For conventional navigation systems, the MSA is normally based on the primary omnidirectional facility on which the IAP is predicated, but may be based on the airport reference point (ARP) if no suitable facility is available. For RNAV approaches, the MSA is based on an RNAV waypoint. MSAs normally have a 25 NM radius; however, for conventional navigation systems, this radius may be expanded to 30 NM if necessary to encompass the airport landing surfaces.

Depicted on the Plan View of approach charts, a single sector altitude is normally established. However when it is necessary to obtain obstacle clearance, an MSA area may be further divided with up to four sectors.

Final Approach Fix Altitude

Another important altitude that should be briefed during an IAP briefing is the FAF altitude, designated by the cross on a non-precision approach, and the lightning bolt symbol designating the glideslope/glidepath intercept altitude on a precision approach. Adherence and cross-check of this altitude can have a direct effect on the success and safety of an approach.

Proper airspeed, altitude, and configuration, when crossing the FAF of a non-precision approach, are extremely important no matter what type of aircraft is being flown. The stabilized approach concept, implemented by the FAA within the SOPs of each air carrier, suggests that crossing the FAF at the published altitude is often a critical component of a successful non-precision approach, especially in a large turbojet aircraft.

The glideslope intercept altitude of a precision approach should also be included in the IAP briefing. Awareness of this altitude when intercepting the glideslope can ensure the flight crew that a “false glideslope” or other erroneous indication is not inadvertently followed. Many air carriers include a standard callout when the aircraft passes over the FAF of the non-precision approach underlying the ILS. The PM states the name of the fix and the charted glideslope altitude, thus allowing both pilots to cross-check their respective altimeters and verify the correct indications.