FAA Advises Pilots To Review Visual Approach Procedures

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In an "information for operators" advisory (PDF) released recently, the FAA reminded pilots that the conduct of visual approaches during marginal visual meteorological conditions requires "careful decision making." The controller must not clear a pilot for the visual approach unless the ceiling is reported at or better than 1,000 feet with three miles visibility, the FAA said; and in accepting a visual approach, it is the pilot's responsibility to have either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight and to remain "clear of clouds" at all times. Since even a thin "scattered" or "isolated" layer could prevent a pilot from remaining "clear of clouds," the pilot must advise ATC immediately if he or she is unable to continue following the preceding aircraft, cannot remain clear of clouds, needs to climb, or loses sight of the airport.

In any of these cases, a go-around would be necessary, the FAA said. The requirement to remain "clear of clouds" extends to this go-around, since visual approaches lack missed-approach segments. The FAA recommended that directors of operations, directors of safety, and pilots should review the guidance provided in the AIM regarding visual approaches. Pilots should be aware of the responsibilities of accepting and flying visual approaches, particularly during marginal VMC. The FAA said it was issuing the advisory due to several recent instances when pilots accepted and flew visual approaches in marginal VMC, "raising questions as to their compliance with regulations."