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When would you choose a Visual Approach over an IAP?

Obviously the conditions must be above the circling minima, AIUI. But how far above?

There is a good argument for always flying the IAP, unless almost CAVOK.

Or unless the pilot can’t fly in which case the IAP is flown – a common procedure in some airlines

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Serveral times at Zagreb LDZA I got vectors for visual approach from ATC while I was some 30-40 NM from airport (and in IMC) to speed up the traffic (airport itself was CAVOK).

LDZA LDVA, Croatia

Peter wrote:

There is a good argument for always flying the IAP, unless almost CAVOK.

From a “safety first” point of view certainly. The routes are programmed in the navigation system (not much margin for error there) and guarantee obstacle clearance. This is why your “airlines” (and commercial operators in general) usually mandate them by SOP. Not because their pilots can’t fly…

Personally I like doing visual approaches and request them as often as possible. My personal weather minimum – unless I am really familiar with the place – is that the cloud base must be above the highest obstacle on the approach chart. With some exceptions of course like for example Innsbruck where the highest obstacle in on top of a mountain but one can fly safely along the valley once clear of cloud.

EDDS - Stuttgart

I agree with what’s been said and also would add that if you are in the IFR system it actually causes less confusion and uncertainty if you just continue as planned, rather than diving down and joining the visual circuit.

Also, there is never any doubt that you are at the right runway if the needles are crossed at 200’!

Having said that, if the circuit is clear and I can see the runway, I do sometimes save myself the 10 nm out and 10nm back, and cut across to base.

EGKB Biggin Hill

One more thing to consider is passenger comfort. They are usually scared enough when flying on board small aircraft (which for most of them is everything fom glider to turboprop regional airliner). Staying on the IAP usually means standard turns only and no turns at all for the last 5NM. They like that. Flying a visual pattern – the way we pilots enjoy it – on the other hand means 30 degree banked turns close to the ground and at 1.5g when flying at jet speeds. They don’t usually like that.

Last Edited by what_next at 19 Jun 10:04
EDDS - Stuttgart

Peter wrote:

Obviously the conditions must be above the circling minima, AIUI. But how far above?

The only visibility requirement is that the RVR is at least 800 m. I can imagine situations (e.g. a thin fog layer) where it would make sense to do a visual approach in such low visibility

The big advantage with visual approaches is of course that you save flight time, particularly if you arrive from the upwind direction. I will generally request visual approaches unless the obstacle situation is tricky.

OTOH I’m a bit wary of ATC “intending” a visual approach unless the WX is essentially CAVOK. It has happened to me that I never got the field in sight in time so in the end had to do an IAP anyway, wasting even more time than if I’d gone for one from the beginning (and messing up the ATC’s plan).

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

I think in good weather conditions you will find more than a few places who dont take kindly to an IAP or even expect it to have been booked (for training purposes) as it hinders the orderly progress of circuit traffic.

I was sitting on the ground yesterday with the engine running in very hot weather for 10 minutes due to some [censored] who insisted on flying the IAP in CAVOK. I know people want to practise but unless you’re an AOC with strict SOPs, I don’t think it is reasonable to not fly a visual approach (and departure!) in good weather unless the aerodrome is deserted.

The other consequence of this is that I get very little approach/departure training myself as I tend to fly in nice weather (my aircraft is not a business tool for most of it) and I always choose the quickest way to depart/arrive. Maybe 20% of my IFR landings are IAPs and maybe 30% of my landings are under IFR even though about 80% of my flights are under IFR…

I think it helps at airports where there is a significant speed differential in the traffic. At EDDK, I’m normally arriving at right-angles to the runway, and it helps to be able to slot slow traffic in to a tight visual base rather than have it trundle slowly down the ILS from 10 miles. So if the cloud base is above the MVA, I offer a visual on first contact and they normally take up the offer.

On the other hand at Cambridge, a visual approach under IFR is of little benefit when it’s non-radar, as they still have to separate IFR departures from the arriving IFR on a visual. But cancelling IFR helps.

well, of course I understand, but “practice” is the keyword. And when you need practice (IAP, avionics, procedures) and you are flying on an IFR FPL (filed by aR ;-) then you cannot think about some guy in a Cessna waiting for 10 minutes. You know how much training it takes to fly IAPs in bad weather safely, and as a beginner you HAVE to practice the stuff, no matter how nice the weather is.

I feel for you, but we have to accept that. Once the guy is good at it he will gladly accept a Visual Approach or even cancel IFR to get on the ground quicker.

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