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When can you descend on a STAR?

I’m a bit embarrassed asking this, but having flown most of my hours VFR, I would like to have your opinion on the following question:

What phraseology are you expecting from ATC so that you can follow a STAR and descend to the minimum platform altitudes as you see fit?

I would expect something like: “Clear ILS approach RWY XX via XXXXX arrival.”

The reason I’m asking is on a recent flight, I was instructed to “intercept the STAR and maintain 4000 feet,” followed later by an instruction to “descend to 3000 feet” and “clear ILS approach.”

Nothing weird here, crystal clear instructions, but that got me in a situation where I had to intercept the ILS at 3000 feet. The ILS has an initial altitude of 2500 feet. So that leaves minimal margin for error as I had to intercept both the LOC and GS at the same time.

ESME, ESMS

Usually you’ll get progressive descent instructions or „descend via (according to) the ABCDE STAR/ARRIVAL/TRANSITION (and profile)“ = you abide to all constraints on the chart.

Live ATC could give you an idea..

Airline/Mentor/Safety/Instructor - Pilot
Based Austria | Operating Worldwide

So that leaves minimal margin for error as I had to intercept both the LOC and GS at the same time

If you are cleared to an altitude above platform altitude the correct ATC phraseology should be when established descend with the glide slope.

Oxford (EGTK)

Dimme wrote:

What phraseology are you expecting from ATC so that you can follow a STAR and descend to the minimum platform altitudes as you see fit?

I would expect something like: “Clear ILS approach RWY XX via XXXXX arrival.”

That would clear you for the entire approach – not just down to the platform altitude.

The reason I’m asking is on a recent flight, I was instructed to “intercept the STAR and maintain 4000 feet,” followed later by an instruction to “descend to 3000 feet” and “clear ILS approach.”

Nothing weird here, crystal clear instructions, but that got me in a situation where I had to intercept the ILS at 3000 feet. The ILS has an initial altitude of 2500 feet. So that leaves minimal margin for error as I had to intercept both the LOC and GS at the same time.

If you’re cleared for the approach, you can immediately descend to the platform altitude (subject to any other minimum altitudes). You don’t have to stay at the previously assigned altitude to intercept the ILS.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

RobertL18C wrote:

If you are cleared to an altitude above platform altitude the correct ATC phraseology should be when established descend with the glide slope.

That’s not the correct phraseology according to SERA. It should be: MAINTAIN (altitude) UNTIL GLIDE PATH INTERCEPTION.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

All very country dependent.

I have never heard the above one.

If you’re cleared for the approach, you can immediately descend to the platform altitude (subject to any other minimum altitudes). You don’t have to stay at the previously assigned altitude to intercept the ILS.

That is correct in “classical IFR” but I am sure many countries don’t operate that, especially the UK where a directive went out to ATC some years (10?) ago to always be explicit on altitudes all the way down to the platform.

Same with “cleared for the [xxx] approach”. That is also, in “classical IFR”, a permission to immediately descend to the IAP platform, and fly the IAP.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

The US do allow one a “cruise clearance”, you can fly any altitude bellow you (without going up) on descent and any approach

Last Edited by Ibra at 07 Jun 20:08
Paris/Essex, United Kingdom

I don’t know if it’s correct phraseology but I usually get “Follow STAR xxxx” and in addition either specific altitudes while flying assigned STAR or “Descend according published altitudes“. Then in one point in the time it’s followed by “Clear for ILS/RNP/VOR (Z/Y/…) approach RW xx, report when established (on localizer/on final track)”.

LDZA LDVA, Croatia

Airborne_Again wrote:

If you’re cleared for the approach, you can immediately descend to the platform altitude

Do you have a reference for that?

According to a Swedish ATCO: “Clear Approach” ger inte automatiskt klart att sjunka vidare, om det inte är en visuellinflygning. (“Clear Approach” does not give automatic clearance to descend unless it is a visual approach.)

From the comments here, it seems the most common thing is for the ATC to be explicit about the altitudes.

Last Edited by Dimme at 07 Jun 21:08
ESME, ESMS

‘Cleared for the approach’ does mean exactly that.
Unless explicitly noted otherwise in the plate, or by ATC once cleared for the approach, the descent to platform is at pilot discretion. Same as beacon outbound on a procedure. You are not expected to descend below it otherwise you are off profile.
Working backward…….what else can cleared for the approach mean.
Also if being vectored to the ILS, and passing through the loc because no further instuctions are received, well that’s what you do, (follow the last instruction) unless you want to call and clarify.
If, regardless of intercept angle or point, you get ‘cleared for the ILS’ You just get on with it.
I was given my 1st intercept at 3k the other week and it did catch me out a little, but as long as the GS is alive, the indicator is decending for intercept and the DME checks-out, you’re good to go.
Just remember to double check it at FAF as you go by.

Last Edited by GA_Pete at 07 Jun 22:46
United Kingdom
25 Posts
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