When studying for the IFR Knowledge Test I ran across a couple of questions on contact and visual approaches. According to the AIM, Pilots operating in accordance with an IFR flight plan, provided they are clear of clouds and have at least 1 mile flight visibility and can reasonably expect to continue to the destination airport in those conditions, may request ATC authorization for a contact approach. and A visual approach is conducted on an IFR flight plan and authorizes a pilot to proceed visually and clear of clouds to the airport. The pilot must have either the airport or the preceding identified aircraft in sight. This approach must be authorized and controlled by the appropriate air traffic control facility. Reported weather at the airport must have a ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and visibility 3 miles or greater. ATC may authorize this type approach when it will be operationally beneficial. Visual approaches are an IFR procedure conducted under IFR in visual meteorological conditions. Cloud clearance requirements of 14 CFR Section 91.155 are not applicable,.
A visual approach makes a lot of sense to me. It’s a lot like Special VFR in many respects. The pilot may have better visibility and cloud clearance than the airport is reporting and can safely skip the full approach or the pilot can see landmarks that will get them to the airport. A contact approach on the other hand doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I went searching for why someone would ask for one and now I’m not perplexed.
I’ve issued a contact before at a class D airport…weather was 2 miles vis and 2800 ovc…a/c broke out of the clouds on the downwind vector i had issued, made him understand i couldn’t issue the visual, and he took a hint about a contact approach and was cleared for the contact approach.
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.
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….
This article gives an examples with pictures. And ATC is trying to clear us for the visual – but the sun is working against us. It’s hazy, and we can’t see the airport. Denver Approach calls out a Challenger in front of us – but we can’t see it, either. The sun shining through the haze is too thick. So now what?
A takeaway for us pilots is that when cleared for a visual to an uncontrolled field, we tie up that airport — and maybe other nearby airports — until we cancel IFR. That may seem bizarre on a CAVU day when the pattern could be full of VFR aircraft, but it’s true. So if you can cancel, do it. If you can’t contact ATC directly, try relaying through that aircraft behind you. And if you’re the aircraft behind waiting for the visual, call to the person in front and see if they’re willing to cancel, or just cancel yourself and proceed VFR. Jeff Van West