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Thu, Mar 23, 2023

NTSB Issues Supplemental Circling Approach Guidance

Performing in the Round

Between 2008 and 2023, ten accidents involving aircraft operating under FAR Part 91 and FAR Part 135 occurred during circling maneuvers following both IFR and VFR approaches. Compelled by this disproportionately high incidence of mishaps, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has made public augmented guidance germane to circling maneuvers—which it encourages aviators of all experience levels to review and reflect upon.

The NTSB cites the following challenges:

  • Circling approaches are riskier than straight-in approaches on account of they require maneuvering at low altitude and low airspeed during the approach’s final segment, thereby increasing the opportunity for loss of aircraft control or collision with terrain. Subject risks are heightened when circling approaches are conducted under marginal or reduced visibility conditions.
  • While circling approaches may be advantageous due to wind conditions or necessary to accommodate traffic flow at airports, pilots occasionally fail to adequately evaluate the risks inherent circling maneuvers prior to commencing such—a scenario apt to occasion un-stabilized approaches
  • Circling approaches often preclude pilots’ observation of and adherence to stabilized approach criteria. Approaches should be stabilized by 1,000-feet Height Above Touchdown (HAT) in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), and by 500-feet HAT in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).
  • When circling approaches are conducted in IMC, transitioning from instruments to ground references can cause the illusion of high speed if the aircraft’s flight instruments are improperly monitored.

The NTSB sets forth the following guidance:

  • Fully understand the risks inherent circling approaches and utilize sound judgment upon undertaking such.
  • Consider personal experience, limitations and aircraft performance when planning circling approaches. Prevailing weather and runway conditions; runway orientation; obstacles; aircraft attitude, altitude, airspeed, and configuration, should also be borne perpetually in mind.
  • Understand that ATC issuance of a circling approach may be declined. The Pilot In Command (PIC) of an aircraft may request alternate approach procedures or divert to an airport conducive to straight-in operations. Pilots are encouraged to make ATC aware of their concerns or reservations and to decline any instructions or clearances they are uncomfortable performing.
  • Acquire recurring, scenario-based training in realistic environments that includes circling approaches. Practicing such approaches routinely will increase pilot proficiency and diminish apprehension vis-à-vis circling maneuvers.
  • Prior to commencing a circling approach, pilots are encouraged to conduct a comprehensive briefing specifying when the circling maneuver will commence, descent altitudes and fixes, airspeeds, aircraft configuration, and go-around (or missed approach) criteria and procedures.
  • Pilots conducting circling approaches are reminded to remain at or above published circline minima until the aircraft is in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal descent rate using normal maneuvers.
  • For purpose of ensuring stabilized approach criteria are met while conducting circling approaches, pilots must continuously monitor aircraft altitude—even under VMC conditions.

Parties interested in additional information pertaining to best practices instrument flying are invited to reference:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Instrument Procedures Handbook, FAA-H-8083-16B, Chapter 4, “Approaches”—which discusses the risks involved with circling approaches and the circumstances in which they might be performed.
  • The FAA’s Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 4, “Arrival Procedures”—which reminds pilots of the rules and procedures pertaining to circling approaches and the risks and factors meriting consideration before accepting such approaches.
  • NTSB Safety Alert SA-077, “Stabilized Approaches Lead to Safe Landings”—which presents guidelines for maintaining stabilized approaches and reminds pilots to eschew attempts to salvage un-stabilized approaches.
  • NTSB Safety Alert SA-023, “Pilots Manage Risks to Ensure Safety”—which outlines the importance of conducting risk management and recognizing personal skill-level and proficiency.
FMI: www.ntsb.gov


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