Approaches (Part Five)

Instrument Approach Charts

Beginning in February 2000, the FAA began issuing the current format for instrument approach charts. This chart was developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT), Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and is commonly referred to as the Pilot Briefing Information format. The FAA chart format is presented in a logical order, facilitating pilot briefing of the procedures. [Figure 4-3]

Figure 4-3. Instrument approach chart.

Figure 4-3. Instrument approach chart. [click image to enlarge]


Approach Chart Naming Conventions

Individual FAA charts are identified on both the top and bottom of the page by their procedure name (based on the NAVAIDs required for the final approach), runway served, and airport location. The identifier for the airport is also listed immediately after the airport name. [Figure 4-4]

Figure 4-4. Procedure identification.

Figure 4-4. Procedure identification.

There are several types of approach procedures that may cause some confusion for flight crews unfamiliar with the naming conventions. Although specific information about each type of approach is covered later in this chapter, listed below are a few procedure names that can cause confusion.

Straight-In Procedures

When two or more straight-in approaches with the same type of guidance exist for a runway, a letter suffix is added to the title of the approach so that it can be more easily identified. These approach charts start with the letter Z and continue in reverse alphabetical order. For example, consider the (RNAV) (GPS) Z RWY 13C and RNAV (RNP) Y RWY 13C approaches at Chicago Midway International Airport. [Figure 4-5] Although these two approaches can be flown with a global positioning system (GPS) to the same runway, they are significantly different (e.g., one is a Required Navigation Performance (RNP) Authorization Required (AR) formally known as SPECIAL AIRCRAFT & AIRCREW AUTHORIZATION REQUIRED (SAAAR);” one has circling minimums and the other does not; the minimums are different; and the missed approaches are not the same). The approach procedure labeled Z has lower landing minimums than Y (some older charts may not reflect this).

Figure 4-5. Multiple approaches.

Figure 4-5. Multiple approaches. [click image to enlarge]

In this example, the LNAV MDA for the RNAV (GPS) Z RWY 13C has the lowest minimums of either approach due to the differences in the final approach required obstacle clearance (ROC) evaluation. This convention also eliminates any confusion with approach procedures labeled A and B, where only circling minimums are published. The designation of two area navigation (RNAV) procedures to the same runway can occur when it is desirable to accommodate panel mounted GPS receivers and flight management systems (FMSs), both with and without vertical navigation (VNAV). It is also important to note that only one of each type of approach for a runway, including ILS, VHF omnidirectional range (VOR), and non-directional beacon (NDB) can be coded into a database.


Circling-Only Procedures

Approaches that do not have straight-in landing minimums are identified by the type of approach followed by a letter. Examples in Figure 4-6 show four procedure titles at the same airport that have only circling minimums.

Figure 4-6. Procedures with circling landing minima.

Figure 4-6. Procedures with circling landing minima.

As can be seen from the example, the first approach of this type created at the airport is labeled with the letter A, and the lettering continues in alphabetical order. Typically, circling only approaches are designed for one of the following reasons:

  • The final approach course alignment with the runway centerline exceeds 30°.
  • The descent gradient is greater than 400 ft/NM from the FAF to the threshold crossing height (TCH). When this maximum gradient is exceeded, the circling only approach procedure may be designed to meet the gradient criteria limits. This does not preclude a straight-in landing if a normal descent and landing can be made in accordance with the applicable CFRs.
  • A runway is not clearly defined on the airfield.


The communication strip provided near the top of FAA approach charts gives flight crews the frequencies that they can expect to be assigned during the approach. The frequencies are listed in the logical order of use from arrival to touchdown. Having this information immediately available during the approach reduces the chances of a loss of contact between ATC and flight crews during this critical phase of flight.

It is important for flight crews to understand their responsibilities with regard to communications in the various approach environments. There are numerous differences in communication responsibilities when operating into and out of airports without ATC towers as compared to airports with control towers. Today’s pilots face an increasing range of ATC environments and conflicting traffic dangers, making approach briefing and preplanning more critical. Individual company operating manuals and SOPs dictate the duties for each crewmember.


FAA AC 120-71, Standard Operating Procedures for Flight Deck Crewmembers, contains the following concerning ATC communications: SOPs should state who (Pilot Flying (PF), Pilot Monitoring (PM), Flight Engineer (FE/SO)) handles the radios for each phase of flight, as follows:

  • PF makes input to aircraft/autopilot and/or verbally states clearances while PM confirms input is what he or she read back to ATC.
  • Any confusion in the flight deck is immediately cleared up by requesting ATC confirmation.
  • If any crewmember is off the flight deck, all ATC instructions are briefed upon his or her return. Or, if any crewmember is off the flight deck, all ATC instructions are written down until his or her return and then passed to that crewmember upon return. Similarly, if a crewmember is off ATC frequency when making a precision approach (PA) announcement or when talking on company frequency, all ATC instructions are briefed upon his or her return.
  • Company policy should address use of speakers, headsets, boom microphone, and/or hand-held microphone.
  • SOPs should state the altitude awareness company policy on confirming assigned altitude.

Example: The PM acknowledges ATC altitude clearance. If the aircraft is on the autopilot, then the PF makes input into the autopilot/altitude alerter. PF points to the input while stating the assigned altitude as he or she understands it. The PM then points to the input stating aloud what he or she understands the ATC clearance to be confirming that the input and clearance match. If the aircraft is being handflown, then the PM makes the input into the altitude alerter/ autopilot, then points to the input and states clearance. PF then points to the alerter stating aloud what he or she understands the ATC clearance to be confirming that the alerter and clearance match.

Example: If there is no altitude alerter in the aircraft, then both pilots write down the clearance, confirm that they have the same altitude, and then cross off the previously assigned altitude.