Aviation In Canada

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Unrestricted Approach Clearance Revisited

A reader asked a good question yesterday. His post read as follows, in case you didn't see it:

The first time I encountered this "cleared for an approach" was coming into Kingston Ontario (to meet another reader of this blog, David M). It was severe clear, and I was on a IFR clearance mostly because it's easier with cross border flights than trying to switch to a FSS frequency to open a VFR flight plan, and then begging for Rochester for flight following. At the time they cleared me for any approach, they also turned me over to the FSS frequency for the field. I had the field in sight from 30 miles out, and I told the FSS station that I was going to enter the pattern and land visually.

The only answer I have found is this, that technically, he has done something wrong. Is it a big deal? No. Years ago, visual and contact approaches were allowed when in receipt of a clearance, "for an approach." I'm still not sure of the background, but that had changed and the way it stands now is that visuals and contacts are only allowed if specifically approved by ATC. The exchange, for example, could go something like this:

ATC: "Alpha Bravo Charlie, cleared to the Sumspot airport for an approach."
Pilot: "Alpha Bravo Charlie cleared to the Sumspot airport for an approach. Requesting the contact approach."
ATC: "Alpha Bravo Charlie, the contact approach is approved."

In the situation above, where he was talking to radio when he decided he wanted to fly visually, he should have asked FSS for a clearance for a visual approach, or cancelled IFR so he could proceed on his own. The funny thing about this is that communication is often incomplete. In my experience, a pilot often tells FSS that he wants to do a visual or contact approach, and the FSS simply acknowledges this as a change of intent on the part of the pilot, leading the pilot to believe that he has received approval for the visual approach.

In either the case just mentioned or Paul's case, I find it hard to believe that it would cause a problem. The fact that the pilot is in receipt of an unrestricted approach clearances means that there is no other traffic around to conflict with, and therefore ATC is unlikely to have an issue with a pilot doing a visual or contact approach anyway. In actual fact, as pilots already recognize in such situations, ATC knows that the pilot is likely to land sooner on a visual approach than doing an instrument procedure anyway, so it is to ATC's benefit as much as it is to the pilot's. Why, then, is this rule in effect? I have no idea. We've tried to change it in the past in Moncton Center, but have had no luck in convincing those above us who obviously have the "bigger picture" and say that it's not acceptable.