Ask the CFI

Ask the CFI2021-02-04T21:49:57-06:00
The term ʺstabilized approachʺ often appears as something of a buzzword in articles and incident reports, as in, ʺThe pilot failed to establish a stabilized approach.ʺ I get the general idea, but when is an approach actually considered ʺstabilized?ʺ2021-02-04T21:53:16-06:00

The concept of a stabilized approach was first introduced by the airlines in the 1950s and has since that time become standard operating procedure for commercial operations. Stabilized approaches are equally important to general aviation and an understanding of a stabilized approach, including energy management concepts, is required by the Private Pilot Airplane Airman Certification Standards (ACS).

There are several obvious cues that indicate if our approach is stabilized or not. For example, if our airspeed is too fast, if we are descending too rapidly or we are having trouble staying aligned with the runway centerline, these are all signs that we will not be able to execute an ideal touchdown in the center of the first third of the runway.

The stabilized approach concept gives us a more specific set of criteria as well as a decision height for judging when we should execute a go‐around.

The best way to achieve a safe landing is when all of the following criteria are maintained from 1,000 feet height above touchdown (HAT) in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and from 500 feet HAT in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).

The airplane must be on the correct track. For VFR flights this means aligned with the correct runway centerline and for IFR this means no more than normal bracketing corrections. The airplane is in the proper landing configuration, which means gear extended and flaps and trim set as required. The airplane speed is consistently within the acceptable range specified in the approved operating manual and no excessive pitch changes are required. The rate of descent is less than 1,000 fpm and +/‐ 300 fpm deviation from target. Your power setting is appropriate for the landing configuration selected and is within the permissible power range for an approach specified in the approved operating manual.

The airplane is within the desired glide path profile (usually a 3 degree descent angle) and requires no more than normal bracketing corrections.

All appropriate briefings and checklists have been accomplished.

The runway is clear and at a towered airport, you are cleared to land.

An immediate go‐around is recommended if you are not stabilized by the appropriate altitude. You should not try to “salvage” the landing from an approach that is outside of any of these tolerances within 500 feet of the ground.
Many things can contribute to a destabilized approach such as maneuvering to avoid traffic or complying with last minute air traffic control (ATC) instructions as well as other distractions or poor flying technique. Pilots should always be prepared and willing to execute a go‐around if necessary and the stabilized approach criteria provide a common set of reliable standards we can all use to make that decision.

Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

When you are flying into or at an airport with a control tower and ATC says you are “cleared for the option” just exactly what are your options and what do you have to tell them?2021-02-04T21:47:07-06:00

“Cleared for the option” is a common phrase used at tower‐controlled airports and an option approach permits the pilot to do any of the following; a full stop landing, a touch‐and‐go, a stop‐and‐go, a low approach or a missed approach. Here is what they all mean.

  • A full stop landing means that you intend to land and exit the runway. You may want to taxi back for another take off or you might be taxiing to an FBO or a hangar.
  • A touch‐and‐go is a landing followed by an immediate takeoff without stopping or exiting the runway. You will be expected to touch down only briefly without slowing down and configure for takeoff on the go.
  • A stop‐and‐go is a landing which comes to a full stop on the runway and once you have configured your airplane for takeoff you can start your take off from where you stopped. The point of the stop and go is not to rush the procedures needed for takeoff and is appropriate for complex aircraft when you need a few extra seconds to reconfigure. It is also useful for night currency landings when you must come to a full stop but you don’t want to waste time taxiing back to the beginning of the runway. This takes a li􏰀le bit more time on the runway but is often safer and more efficient, assuming there is sufficient runway length.
  • A low approach would be a deliberately planned go around maneuver when you don’t intend to actually touch down on the runway.
  • A missed approach is a procedure used by instrument pilots when an approach cannot be completed to a full stop landing or during training when the pilot deliberately plans to fly the missed approach procedure. If you plan to fly the missed approach procedure you should let ATC know your intentions after passing the final approach fix (FAF) inbound at the latest. After reaching the decision height (for a precision approach) or the missed approach point (for a non‐precision approach) and you have initiated the missed approach procedure or alternative ATC instructions, you should let ATC know as soon as practical.

Whichever option you choose, let ATC know as soon as you can what you plan to do so they can plan for other traffic accordingly. It’s worth noting that if any approach to land isn’t working out perfectly you can and should make the decision to go‐around at any point in the pa􏰀ern. Just tell the controller you are going around and what you’d like to do next.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

What is the correct pattern altitude I should use when approaching an airport for landing?2021-02-04T21:43:30-06:00

The answer to this question is whatever is published in the Chart Supplement for any given airport, unless there is no specific traffic pa􏰀ern altitude (TPA) established for that airport. Contrary to popular belief, there is no standard 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) pa􏰁ern altitude that applies to all airports or all aircraft.
Some confusion may have arisen from the FAA advisory circular AC 90‐66B dated February 2019 in which the FAA recommended that “airplanes observe a 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) traffic pa􏰀ern altitude.” However, this document also acknowledges that airport owners and operators, in conjunction with the FAA, are responsible for establishing the traffic pa􏰀ern at any given airport. The AC encourages airport owners and operators to adopt the recommendations contained in the AC, but there is no rule that forces airports to update their traffic pa􏰀erns.
Pilots should be familiar with 14 CFR §91.103 ‐ Preflight Action, which requires pilots in command to become familiar with all available information concerning the flight before they fly. AC 90‐66B reminds pilots to check appropriate publications, such as the Chart Supplement, where they will find information about traffic pa􏰀ern altitudes for their intended destination airports.

A brief search of the Chart Supplement reveals that most airports (including Class D airports) do not actually specify any TPA, and when they do, they are generally not TPAs that align with the FAA’s recommended 1,000 feet AGL. Pilots flying out of Galt should know that the 10C published traffic pa􏰀ern altitude is 800 feet AGL. But did you know that Brookfield Capitol Drive (02C), Schaumburg Regional (06C) and Grayslake/Campbell (C81) are all other local airports with 800 foot AGL traffic pa􏰀erns, Bolingbrook’s Clow International (1C5) has a TPA of 830 feet AGL and the TPA at Harvard/Dacy (0C0) is only 600 feet AGL.

When there is no published TPA for an airport is when the FAA’s recommendations on pa􏰀ern altitudes should be followed. According to the AC, light aircraft should use 1,000 feet AGL, heavy and turbine‐powered aircraft should fly the pa􏰀ern at 500 feet above the established traffic pa􏰀ern altitude, and ultralights should operate no higher than 500 feet below the powered aircraft TPA.

If you use the flight planning tool ForeFlight, you might have noticed that for some airports there is a designation of “est.” after the pa􏰀ern altitude value and an arrow symbol you can click on for a drop down list. This means there is no published TPA and the list shows the various altitudes for different types of aircraft estimated by using the field elevation and applying the FAA’s recommendations.

There is one other situation when it is appropriate to fly at a different altitude in the pa􏰀ern and that is when you are performing an IFR circling approach. Many airports have instrument approaches to only one runway or an approach that is not aligned with any runway. For example, the only instrument approach procedure to Galt is the RNAV (GPS)‐B which is straight in for runway 27, but if the winds favor landing on runway 09 aircraft must “circle” the airport to get there. It is necessary for the circling altitude to be lower than the usual TPA, and in some cases it varies for different categories of aircraft. At Galt, the circling altitude is 1,480 feet MSL (605 feet AGL) for all aircraft categories. VFR traffic will most likely never see anyone do this except for instrument training flights.

One last recommendation from AC 90‐66B which applies at all airports. Once you have identified the correct TPA for your destination airport remember that this altitude must be established before entering the traffic pa􏰁ern and maintained until you are at least abeam the approach end of the landing runway.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

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