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Contact Approaches

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See you in the Wasatch!
Jan 6, 2002
How often are these flown?

What is the benefit to a contact approach? Is it just to keep from flying the full approach? Aren't you generally vectored to the final app. course anyway?

Does it allow more traffic into an area/reduce seperation?

Let's say I'm flying into my home airport. The only approaches are all to runway 22. But I'm coming in from the West of the field, and I can see the ground, but cannot see the airport. I could request a contact approach because I know for a fact where I am and how to get to the airport (I've been flying in and out of here for about seven years now).

Under the above circumstances, I could not get the visual, because I cannot see the airport, and to take the ILS or GPS 22 would mean going about ten miles beyond the airport, and then the ten back to the airport. So it would really just be a way for someone who is really familiar with an airport to get in easily...

Of course, I've never done one, because we don't get more than five days of instrument weather a year here, and we've got mountains and whatnot all around us, but that's what it is designed to be used for.

What is the benefit of a contact approach?

It allows you to avoid flying an entire approach.

>>>>>Aren't you generally vectored to the final app. course anyway?

Uhhh, nope, not always. you're porobably only likely to get a contact approach at a place that doesn't have terminal radar services anyway. Good luck getting cleared for a contact approach from approach control when the Wx is below VFR and they're sequencing traffic for instrument approaches. If Wx is above VFR, then a visual approach makes more sense anyway.

Does it allow more traffic into an area/reduce seperation?

No, like I said, you're only likely to be flying one at a place that doesn't have terminal RADAR services. In such a place, ATC can only let one airplane in and out of the terminal area at a time anyway. A contact approach will get you on the ground faster than flying the full approach, so in that sense it could increase traffic capacity into an airport.

A word of caution about contact approaches: Use them very carefully. Use them only at an airport where you are very familliar with the terrain, landmarks and obstructions. Essentially, a contact approach is a clearence to scud-run from your present position to the airport with the Wx below VFR minimums. Be absolutely sure you know that you will be able to pick your way to the airport, avoiding all the obstacles, in the existing conditions.

The following is a rant that has been building for a while. It's a little off the topic, but it was triggered by the comment:

"Aren't you generally vectored to the final app. course anyway?"

My comments aren't directed at Eric, nessecarily.

Folks, *know* your non-radar procedures. That's the fundamental on which the system is built. Yes, many of you fly in an environment where you are almost always vectored for final .... that's great, it makes things a lot simpler. But know what to do when you're not getting vectors, know when you're non-radar, and know why you're doing it.

Here's what happened when a couple of guys found themselves in a non radar environment:


They died.

AOPA published an article on this accident in the last issue. It's obvious from the start that these guys didn't have a clue what to do without ATC telling them where to go. They wandered around aimlessly, they were confused about where they were, they couldn't read the approach plate and figure out the correct altitude, For god's sake, they went outbound on a procedure turn for 3 minutes, in a Lear, with the flaps up, with a tailwind, while descending almost 2000 feet (incorrectly) How far outside the protected area do you think they were when they finally turned back toward the airport? Never mind that they were already 1400 feet too low.

A few years ago, I was a passenger on an airplane (another Lear 35, coincidentally) on a black, rainy night going into a non radar airport in the middle of nowhere. Center told them "cleared for the approach, change to advisory approved" There was kind of an awkward pause, and the captain said to the FO, ummm, I guess we need to do a procedure turn, right? Then there was some discussion on how to do one ..... You can bet I was paying attention on that approach. They did fine once they got started, but the point is, when ATC tells you bye-bye, there shouldn't be any question in your mind what you're supposed to be doing next.

Don't get used to letting ATC fly the airplane for you. Know where you are. Know how to get to where you want to be without help. Know your non-radar procedures. The time to try to recall what your flight instructor told you about procedure turns is not right after ATC tells you to switch to advisory.

OK, I'm done ranting
Last edited:

Hardly a rant. Great peice of advice. VERY well said.
>>>> a contact approach sounds like it's a lot like a special vfr landing clearance.

from a practical standpoint, there's a lot of truth to that.

One important distinction is that an contact approach in an IFR procedure. You may fly a missed approach into clouds. You may not fly a missed approach frm a visual approach or a special VFR cllearence, you have to remain visual and get further clearence from ATC if things go badly on a visual
Another time a contact approach can be handy is when the weather is VFR, but there is still scud around, i.e., low clouds in the vicinity of the airport. Technically, unless you are in class B airspace, you would need to maintain 1000 above, 500 below, and 2000 feet horizontal distance from any clouds. Request and get cleared for a contact approach and you are legal to operate clear of those clouds, just like you can in class B airspace.
I know the AIM says that those cloud requirements are not required, but a lot of carriers have ops specs that still require them.
What you've been told about what a contact approach IS, is pretty close to accurate but I would still like to add something.

This is a dangerous and unnecessary manuever and should be avoided like the plague. Famous last words are "I know this airport like the palm of my hand ...... " then the tape runs out to the sound of crumbling metal.

Guys, if its VFR, fly and stay VFR. If its IMC, fly the published approach, whether it takes longer or not. Skud running will kill you sooner or later. A contact approach is legal skud running.

To the best of my knowledge, airlines do not approve contact approaches.

Fly Safe. The life you save will be your own.
A contact approach is very simple,
if you see the airport in IFR(IMC) conditions
you can accept a visual. YOUR OK!

The trick to this one is simple, if your 135,
and your OP's spec's must be specific whether
your allowed to do it or not; and you have to
trained and signed off for it.

If not, and you accept a contact approach,
and you do one; and a FED is waiting for you
at the the ramp, your SCREWED. But chances
are, unless he's/she's watching for you, or for
something else your already being watched
for, chances are your O.K.; most FED's don't
even know what a contact approach is anyway.

It is not allowed in any 121 or 125 OP's spec's

If your flying part 91, your OK, but do another
approach, it'll add to your flying skill's and will
keep you alive another day.

Always be safe...

Just remember, the FAA is there to prevent
an accident that has already happened...


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