Approaches (Part Twenty)

Course Reversal

Some approach procedures do not permit straight-in approaches unless pilots are being radar vectored. In these situations, pilots are required to complete a procedure turn (PT) or other course reversal, generally within 10 NM of the PT fix, to establish the aircraft inbound on the intermediate or final approach segment.

If Category E airplanes are using the PT or there is a descent gradient problem, the PT distance available can be as much as 15 NM. During a procedure turn, a maximum speed of 200 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) should be observed from first crossing the course reversal IAF through the procedure turn maneuver to ensure containment within the obstruction clearance area. Unless a holding pattern or teardrop procedure is published, the point where pilots begin the turn and the type and rate of turn are optional. If above the procedure turn minimum altitude, pilots may begin descent as soon as they cross the IAF outbound.


A procedure turn is the maneuver prescribed to perform a course reversal to establish the aircraft inbound on an intermediate or final approach course. The procedure turn or hold-in-lieu-of procedure turn is a required maneuver when it is depicted on the approach chart. However, the procedure turn or the hold-in-lieu-of PT is not permitted when the symbol “No PT” is depicted on the initial segment being flown, when a RADAR VECTOR to the final approach course is provided, or when conducting a timed approach from a holding fix.

The altitude prescribed for the procedure turn is a minimum altitude until the aircraft is established on the inbound course. The maneuver must be completed within the distance specified in the profile view. This distance is usually 10 miles. This may be reduced to five miles where only Category A or helicopter aircraft are operated. This distance may be increased to as much as 15 miles to accommodate high performance aircraft.

The pilot may elect to use the procedure turn or hold-inlieu-of PT when it is not required by the procedure, but must first receive an amended clearance from ATC. When ATC is radar vectoring to the final approach course, or to the intermediate fix as may occur with RNAV standard instrument approach procedures, ATC may specify in the approach clearance “CLEARED STRAIGHT-IN (type) APPROACH” to ensure that the pilot understands that the procedure turn or hold-in-lieu-of PT is not to be flown. If the pilot is uncertain whether ATC intends for a procedure turn or a straight-in approach to be flown, the pilot will immediately request clarification from ATC.

On U.S. Government charts, a barbed arrow indicates the maneuvering side of the outbound course on which the procedure turn is made. Headings are provided for course reversal using the 45° type procedure turn. However, the point at which the turn may be commenced and the type and rate of turn is left to the discretion of the pilot (limited by the charted remain within XX NM distance). Some of the options are the 45° procedure turn, the racetrack pattern, the teardrop procedure turn, or the 80° procedure turn, or the 80° <–> 260° course reversal. Racetrack entries should be conducted on the maneuvering side where the majority of protected airspace resides. If an entry places the pilot on the non-maneuvering side of the PT, correction to intercept the outbound course ensures remaining within protected airspace.

Figure 4-32. Course reversal methods.

Figure 4-32. Course reversal methods. [click image to enlarge]


Some procedure turns are specified by procedural track. These turns must be flown exactly as depicted. These requirements are necessary to stay within the protected airspace and maintain adequate obstacle clearance. [Figure 4-32] A minimum of 1,000 feet of obstacle clearance is provided in the procedure turn primary area. [Figure 4-33] In the secondary area, 500 feet of obstacle clearance is provided at the inner edge, tapering uniformly to 0 feet at the outer edge.

Figure 4-33. Procedure turn obstacle clearance.

Figure 4-33. Procedure turn obstacle clearance. [click image to enlarge]

The primary and secondary areas determine obstacle clearance in both the entry and maneuvering zones. The use of entry and maneuvering zones provides further relief from obstacles. The entry zone is established to control the obstacle clearance prior to proceeding outbound from the procedure turn fix. The maneuvering zone is established to control obstacle clearance after proceeding outbound from the procedure turn fix.

Descent to the PT completion altitude from the PT fix altitude (when one has been published or assigned by ATC) must not begin until crossing over the PT fix or abeam and proceeding outbound. Some procedures contain a note in the chart profile view that says “Maintain (altitude) or above until established outbound for procedure turn.” Newer procedures simply depict an “at or above” altitude at the PT fix without a chart note. Both are there to ensure required obstacle clearance is provided in the procedure turn entry zone. Absence of a chart note or specified minimum altitude adjacent to the PT fix is an indication that descent to the procedure turn altitude can commence immediately upon crossing over the PT fix, regardless of the direction of flight. This is because the minimum altitudes in the PT entry zone and the PT maneuvering zone are the same.


A holding pattern-in-lieu-of procedure turn may be specified for course reversal in some procedures. In such cases, the holding pattern is established over an intermediate fix or a FAF. The holding pattern distance or time specified in the profile view must be observed. For a hold-in-lieu-of PT, the holding pattern direction must be flown as depicted and the specified leg length/timing must not be exceeded. Maximum holding airspeed limitations as set forth for all holding patterns apply. The holding pattern maneuver is completed when the aircraft is established on the inbound course after executing the appropriate entry. If cleared for the approach prior to returning to the holding fix and the aircraft is at the prescribed altitude, additional circuits of the holding pattern are not necessary nor expected by ATC. If pilots elect to make additional circuits to lose excessive altitude or to become better established on course, it is their responsibility to so advise ATC upon receipt of their approach clearance. Refer to the AIM section 5-4-9 for additional information on holding procedures.

Initial Approach Segment

The purposes of the initial approach segment are to provide a method for aligning the aircraft with the intermediate or final approach segment and to permit descent during the alignment. This is accomplished by using a DME arc, a course reversal, such as a procedure turn or holding pattern, or by following a terminal route that intersects the final approach course. The initial approach segment begins at an IAF and usually ends where it joins the intermediate approach segment or at an IF. The letters IAF on an approach chart indicate the location of an IAF and more than one may be available. Course, distance, and minimum altitudes are also provided for initial approach segments. A given procedure may have several initial approach segments. When more than one exists, each joins a common intermediate segment, although not necessarily at the same location.

Many RNAV approaches make use of a dual-purpose IF/ IAF associated with a hold-in-lieu-of PT (HILO) anchored at the Intermediate Fix. The HILO forms the Initial Approach Segment when course reversal is required.

When the PT is required, it is only necessary to enter the holding pattern to reverse course. The dual purpose fix functions as an IAF in that case. Once the aircraft has entered the hold and is returning to the fix on the inbound course, the dual-purpose fix becomes an IF, marking the beginning of the intermediate segment.

ATC may provide a vector to an IF at an angle of 90 degrees or less and specify “Cleared Straight-in (type) Approach”. In those cases, the radar vector is providing the initial approach segment and the pilot should not fly the PT without a clearance from ATC.

Occasionally, a chart may depict an IAF, although there is no initial approach segment for the procedure. This usually occurs at a point located within the en route structure where the intermediate segment begins. In this situation, the IAF signals the beginning of the intermediate segment.