Approaches (Part Eleven)

Vertical Navigation

One of the advantages of some GPS and multi-sensor FMS RNAV avionics is the advisory VNAV capability. Traditionally, the only way to get vertical path information during an approach was to use a ground-based precision NAVAID. Modern RNAV avionics can display an electronic vertical path that provides a constant-rate descent to minimums.


Since these systems are advisory and not primary guidance, the pilot must continuously ensure the aircraft remains at or above any published altitude constraint, including stepdown fix altitudes, using the primary barometric altimeter. The pilots, aircraft, and operator must be approved to use advisory VNAV inside the FAF on an instrument approach.

VNAV information appears on selected conventional nonprecision, GPS, and RNAV approaches (see “Types of Approaches” later in this chapter). It normally consists of two fixes (the FAF and the landing runway threshold), a FAF crossing altitude, a vertical descent angle (VDA), and may provide a visual descent point (VDP) [Figure 4-11A].

Figure 4-11A. VNAV information.

Figure 4-11A. VNAV information.

The VDA provides the pilot with advisory information not previously available on nonprecision approaches. It provides a means for the pilot to establish a stabilized descent from the FAF or step-down fix to the MDA. Stabilized descent is a key factor in the reduction of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) incidents. However, pilots should be aware that the published angle is for information only − it is strictly advisory in nature. There is no implicit additional obstacle protection below the MDA. Pilots must still respect any published stepdown fixes and the published MDA unless the visual cues stated 14 CFR §91.175 are present, and they can visually acquire andavoid both lit and unlit obstacles once below the MDA. The presence of a VDA does not guarantee obstacle protection in the visual segment and does not change any of therequirements for flying a nonprecision approach.

Pilots may use the published angle and estimated/actual groundspeed to find a target rate of descent from the rate of descent table published in the back of the U.S. Terminal Procedures Publication. This rate of descent can be flown with the Vertical Velocity Indicator (VVI) in order to use the VDA as an aid to flying a stabilized descent. No special equipment is required.


In rare cases, the LNAV minima may have a lower HAT than minima with a glide path, due to the location of the obstacles and the nonprecision MAP. This should serve as a clear indication to the pilot that obstacles exist below the MDA, which must be seen in order to ensure adequate clearance. In those cases, the glide path may be treated as a VDA and used to descend to the LNAV MDA, as long as all of the rules for a nonprecision approach are applied at the MDA.

When there are obstacles in the visual area that could cause an aircraft to destabilize the approach between the MDA and touchdown, the IAP will not show a vertical descent angle in the profile view. The charts currently include the following statement: “Descent Angle NA” or “Descent Angle NA-Obstacles” [Figure 4-11B ].

Figure 4-11B. Descent Angle N/A..

Figure 4-11B. Descent Angle N/A..

Like flying any other IAP, the pilot must see and avoid any obstacles in the visual segment during transition to landing. A constant-rate descent has many safety advantages over non-precision approaches that require multiple level-offs at stepdown fixes or manually calculating rates of descent. A stabilized approach can be maintained from the FAF to the landing when a constant-rate descent is used. Additionally, the use of an electronic vertical path produced by onboard avionics can serve to reduce CFIT, and minimize the effects of visual illusions on approach and landing. Some countries even mandate the use of continuous descent final approaches (CDFAs) on non-precision approaches.


Wide Area Augmentation System

The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) offers an opportunity for airports to gain ILS like approach capability without the purchase or installation of any ground-based navigation equipment at the airport. Today, WAAS is already being used at more than 900 runways across the United States to achieve minimums as low as 200 feet height above HAT/one-half mile visibility.

Benefits Of WAAS In The Airport Environment

WAAS is a navigation service using a combination of GPS satellites and the WAAS geostationary satellites to improve the navigational service provided by GPS. WAAS achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in 2003. The system is owned and operated by the FAA and provided free of direct user charges to users across the United States and most of Canada and Mexico.

WAAS improves the navigational system accuracy for en route, terminal, and approach operations over all the continental United States and significant portions of Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. This new navigational technology supports vertically-guided instrument approaches to all qualifying runways in the United States. Vertically-guided approaches reduce pilot workload and provide safety benefits compared to non-precision approaches. The WAAS enabled vertically guided approach procedures are called LPV, which stands for “localizer performance with vertical guidance,”and provide ILS equivalent approach minimums as low as 200 feet at qualifying airports. Actual minimums are based on an airport’s current infrastructure, as well as an evaluation of any existing obstructions. The FAA plans to publish 300 WAAS approach procedures per year to provide service to all qualifying instrument runways within the NAS.