Flight Schools and Training Ratings, building hours, airmanship, CFI topics

Contact Approach Question

Old 02-09-2007, 08:25 PM
Gets Weekends Off
Thread Starter
multipilot's Avatar
Joined APC: Oct 2006
Posts: 776
Default Contact Approach Question

I understand the basic AIM definition of a contact approach, but has anyone here ever actually asked for one? I never have. To me, contact approaches don't seem practical. The only time I would think they might be practical is if the minimums for an approach are higher than 1 SM and actual flight visibility is less than minimums for that approach, but is at least 1 SM and you can maintain clear of clouds.

Any thoughts?
multipilot is offline  
Old 02-09-2007, 10:32 PM
Gets Weekends Off
mistarose's Avatar
Joined APC: Jan 2006
Position: Furloughed
Posts: 275
Default Contact Approaches

Here is a excerpt from an AOPA article talking about contact approaches:

One of the handiest approaches in the instrument pilot�s bag of tricks is the contact approach. It is a legal and useful shortcut, but there is a string attached. The contact approach allows a pilot to deviate from a published instrument approach procedure and proceed on his own initiative by navigating to the airport where the visibility is reported to be at least one mile. The pilot must have ground contact (hence the name) and remain clear of the clouds, but what is important is that he becomes responsible for his own terrain separation.

The controller is required to keep the flight clear of other IFR and special VFR aircraft and to allow the pilot back into the IFR system if ground contact cannot be maintained. ATC cannot suggest or even mention this approach to pilots. You must request it and thus take on the responsibility. A controller with radar coverage may give you a low altitude warning if he senses that the flight is about to contact terra firma, but that is your responsibility. In many cases a flight will be below radar coverage. This procedure is not recommended at night for obvious reasons.
Pilots like you and I probably see no benefit in leaving the comparatively safe instrument procedure for a contact approach, its basically the pilot telling the controller they are able to navigate safely to the airport visually without further clearance.

Here is another quote from a forum I found:

At many mountain airports, because of the very high terrain nearby, it is not possible to get down very low on the instrument approach. You can actually fly around near the airport VFR underneath the clouds while all the instrument traffic above you can’t get in. Using a contact approach, you could drop down under the ceiling if you find a convenient hole in the clouds some distance out from the runway and continue in under the clouds. Contact approaches are also useful if you find that you have descended down to a point where you have good ground reference and a mile visibility, but can’t see the end of the runway yet.
Here is another quote from the same forum, its always nice to get a variety of answers:

Basically, clearance for a 'contact' approach allows you to DEVIATE from a published instrument approach procedure. It is very commonly used in mountainous terrain. Simply, when you are flying the approach procedure, if you get in a position to visually make a safe approach to the runway, you may abandon the IFR approach profile and make your own terrain clearing approach to the landing runway.

Note: If you are flying an IFR approach procedure and you break out visually, you CANNOT just abandon the approach profile and land unless you also have a 'contact approach' clearance. In effect, you are cleared for two approaches.... the published one and your own visual one if you can break out prior to the MAP of the procedure. You must get an approach clearance of some type along with the 'contact' approach clearance.

In the real (and non-radar) world of IFR flying, you will often break out after an initial descent to your IAF. The contact approach clearance lets you just break off and use your own visual approach to the runway. Obviously, if the weather is above basic VFR minimums, you must also consider other traffic and the normal airport traffic pattern procedures.

I've many times been cleared for an approach (any I chose) 50 to 100 miles from an airport when flying in remote areas. As a matter of routine, we also request a 'contact' approach to give us the flexibility I've described above.
When asked if he/she would ask for a contact approach to an airport with an operable ILS, this pilot said:

Yes, I would, especially if I was approaching the airport from a direction opposite the inbound of the ILS final. Remember, we are usually talking about a NON-radar environment in most cases.

So, if the airport had an ILS to RWY 36 that required a lot of maneuvering to fly the complete approach, I would ask for a contact approach so that if at anytime while flying that procedure (let's say passing overhead to fly outbound) I was able to make visual contact, I could just descend off the approach profile and land visually. In other words, if I was two miles NORTH and beginning to proceed south to execute the whole approach procedure when I broke out visually in a position to allow safe maneuvering to land, I could do that.

Without a contact approach clearance, you are still expected to fly the complete procedure to the airport since you don't have a visual clearance (radar environment) or a contact clearance. Also, a contact clearance is helpful in a radar environment when the weather conditons don't meet the minimums for a visual clearance. For instance, let's say half of an airport is fogged in and the official weather is below VFR minimums (or IFR minimums) so ATC cannot issue a visual approach clearance. If you get a clearance for any approach at that airport, you may use your 'visual' contact to manuever to a landing on a runway that's not fogged in if you have a contact approach clearance. YES, even if the airport is calling the official weather below IFR minimums (assuming you are Part 91).
And last but not least, excerpt from the Instrument Procedures Handbook (FAA):

In chapter 5 page 41:

'If conditions permit, pilots can request a contact approach, which is then authorized by the controller. A contact approach cannot be initiated by ATC. This procedure may be used instead of the published procedure to expedite arrival, as long as the airport has a SIAP or special instrument approach procedure (special IAPs are approved by the FAA for individual operators, but are not published in Part 97 for public use), the reported ground visibility is at least 1 SM, and pilots are able to remain clear of clouds with at least one statute mile flight visibility throughout the approach. Some advantages of a contact approach are that it usually requires less time than the published instrument procedure, it allows pilots to retain the IFR clearance, and provides separation from IFR and SVFR traffic. On the other hand, obstruction clearances and VFR traffic avoidance becomes the pilot’s responsibility. Unless otherwise restricted, the pilot may find it necessary to descend, climb, or fly a circuitous route to the airport to maintain cloud clearance or terrain/obstruction clearance.
Hope this helps
mistarose is offline  
Old 02-15-2007, 10:59 AM
On Reserve
Joined APC: Apr 2006
Posts: 14

I sometimes fly into a Fly In community that is about 4 miles from an Uncontrolled field with a ILS. If weather is bad, I will fly the ILS then request the contact approach when I can see the ground and proceed to my airport. The key is to know the area well and know where all obstructions are. But it is a handy tool if you know where you are going.
willflyforfood is offline  
Old 02-22-2007, 09:37 AM
Gets Weekends Off
Joined APC: Jan 2007
Posts: 692

I heard US Air asking for one a few weeks ago at RSW.
sflpilot is offline  
Old 02-22-2007, 11:13 AM
On Reserve
Joined APC: Feb 2007
Position: C-402 Captain
Posts: 16

I have shot several contact approaches. The most frequent use is when on a downwind you can see the runway and know you can proceed visually from that point even though the ATIS is calling below VFR Mins (Either old ATIS or only half the field under cloud deck).
Joe84 is offline  
Old 02-23-2007, 08:11 PM
Gets Weekends Off
RedGuy's Avatar
Joined APC: Sep 2006
Position: Captain
Posts: 310

I shoot contact approaches all the time. It's not uncommon that the actual flight visability is far better than what's reported and you can easily find your way to the airport visually. You can easily save 5-15minutes off a flight by going right to the airport skipping the instrument approach and shooting a contact. How ever this can backfire if you don't get the airport in sight then you have to go around and shoot the approach anyway after already going to the airport. But most of the time if you ask ATC to swing you in close and the vis is +1sm you'll get the field.
RedGuy is offline  
Old 02-26-2007, 10:52 AM
Flying Farmer
Ewfflyer's Avatar
Joined APC: Jul 2006
Position: Turbo-props' and John Deere's
Posts: 3,160

Originally Posted by Joe84 View Post
I have shot several contact approaches. The most frequent use is when on a downwind you can see the runway and know you can proceed visually from that point even though the ATIS is calling below VFR Mins (Either old ATIS or only half the field under cloud deck).
This is exactly where I've used it. Usually the ATIS is over 30 min old, and the vis is improved, but since it's reported below VFR, you won't get a visual approach clearance. I will also mention my total agreement that you must be familiar with the airport you're going to. Saving 15 minutes in a place you have no idea what's around isn't worth it if you hit something etc....
Ewfflyer is offline  
Old 02-26-2007, 10:57 AM
Gets Weekends Off
iflyjets4food's Avatar
Joined APC: Jul 2005
Position: EMB 170/175 F.O.
Posts: 549

At my last job, our ops specs didn't allow us to do the contact approach. Gotta make sure you are legal to do the approach first.
iflyjets4food is offline  
Related Topics
Thread Starter
Last Post
Career Questions
05-06-2013 09:33 AM
02-09-2007 08:49 AM
11-28-2006 06:25 PM
04-11-2006 05:51 PM
02-28-2006 06:44 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread