What are the primary risks of circling approaches and can they be adequately managed to lead to a safe procedure? The NTSB just finished its meeting and analysis of the Challenger crash at Truckee. There are lots of risks and no magic here. The NTSB recommendations on this will probably follow established guidance from many other groups.
Start with careful consideration of the straight-in approaches and practice getting stabilized; developing standardized pitch, power, and attitude settings to achieve your desired performance. If you are a light plane driver, AvWeb has an excellent (historic) recommendations HERE “pre-brief carefully, determine sensible targets and fly a known stabilized profile!” IFR magazine offers their advice HERE. The NTSB safety series covers this same material nicely HERE.
Once the straight-in is comfortable and consistent, the circling approach adds the challenge of managing proper power application (level-off) with the low-level maneuvering flight. Numerous badly managed approaches have resulted in accidents that put the focus back on the high-risk nature of circling approaches. Most airlines prohibit circling approaches for that reason.
But his high workload maneuver is still a requirement for an IPC under CFR 61.57(d) and on type ratings and recurrents. The FAA requires the IPC demonstration of the circling maneuver to be flown in an airplane or high-fidelity simulator (for good reason).
AATDs can be utilized for the majority of the IPC as specified in the Letter of Authorization issued for the device. However, the circling approach, the landing Task, and the multiengine airplane Tasks must be accomplished in an aircraft or FFS (Level B, C, or D). A BATD cannot be used for any part of the IPC. IFR ACS
See the (historic) NTSB recommendations HERE (summarized below).
What can you do?
✈️ Fully understand the risks involved with performing a circling approach and use sound judgment if deciding to perform this approach.
✈️ Consider your personal experience and limitations and the performance capabilities of your aircraft when planning the execution of the circling approach. Weather, runway configuration, and your aircraft’s current position, altitude, and airspeed should also be considered.
✈️ Understand that if ATC issues you a clearance for a circling approach, you can request a different approach or divert to an airport with more capable approach facilities. It is always better to make ATC aware of your concerns rather than to attempt an approach you might not be comfortable performing.
✈️ Acquire recurring, scenario-based training in realistic environments that includes circling approaches. Practicing these approaches routinely will increase your proficiency and make you more comfortable performing them when needed.
✈️ If you decide to perform a circling approach, conduct a comprehensive briefing that specifies when the circling approach will begin, descent altitudes and locations, airspeeds, aircraft configuration, and go-around (or missed approach) criteria and procedures.
✈️ When conducting a circling approach, remain at or above the circling altitude until the aircraft is continuously in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal rate using normal maneuvers.
✈️ To ensure the stabilized approach criteria are met while conducting a circling approach, it is imperative that pilots continuously monitor the airplane’s altitude even when flying in VMC.
Good advice for every instrument-rated pilot, continuous knowledge review added to continuous skill practice is the price of admission for all IFR flying; fly safe out there (and often)!
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