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Circling Approaches


Instrument Flying Handbook Menu >IFR Flight >Radar Approaches  >Circling Approaches

Landing minimums are listed on the approach chart under “CIRCLING.” Circling minimums apply when it is necessary to circle the airport or maneuver for landing, or when no straight-in minimums are specified on the approach chart. [Figure 10-11]

Figure 10-11. Circling approach area radii.

The circling minimums published on the instrument approach chart provide a minimum of 300 feet of obstacle clearance in the circling area. During a circling approach, you should maintain visual contact with the runway of intended landing and fly no lower than the circling minimums until you are in position to make a final descent for a landing. Remember— circling minimums are just that—minimums. If the ceiling allows it, fly at an altitude that more nearly approximates your VFR traffic pattern altitude. This will make any maneuvering safer and bring your view of the landing runway into a more normal perspective.

Figure 10-12 shows patterns that can be used for circling approaches. Pattern “A” can be flown when your final approach course intersects the runway centerline at less than a 90° angle, and you sight the runway early enough to establish a base leg. If you sight the runway too late to fly pattern “A,” you can circle as shown in “B.” You can fly pattern “C” if it is desirable to land opposite the direction of the final approach, and the runway is sighted in time for a turn to downwind leg. If the runway is sighted too late for a turn to downwind, you can fly pattern “D.” Regardless of the pattern flown, the pilot must maneuver the aircraft so as to remain within the designated circling area. Refer to section A (“Terms and Landing Minima Data”) in the front of each TPP, for a description of circling approach categories.

Figure 10-12. Circling approaches.

Sound judgment and knowledge of your capabilities and the performance of your aircraft are the criteria for determining
the pattern to be flown in each instance, since you must consider all factors: airport design, ceiling and visibility, wind direction and velocity, final approach course alignment, distance from the final approach fix to the runway, and ATC instructions.


Side-Step Maneuver
IAP Minimums


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