The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about safety, including loss of control (LOC), powerplant failure, and controlled flight into terrain.
Stay safe! This series will show you how you can incorporate safety into every flight.
You may think of stabilized approaches in terms of instrument flying in large airplanes, but they’re equally important to pilots who fly smaller GA airplanes using visual flight rules (VFR). Consider the following to maintain a stable approach:
- Maintain a constant speed and a constant descent rate that will safely put you in the best position to land with the least amount of work to do when you get there.
- Memorize your speeds and configuration data so you won’t have to check the Pilot’s Operating Handbook in the midst of a busy landing.
- If you’re not stable at 500 feet, 1,000 feet when flying instrument flight rules (IFR) — go around. Go-arounds are your best defense against landing accidents.
What is a De-Stabilized Approach?
Excessive speed, excessive altitude, and the necessity for maneuvering can all contribute to a de-stabilized approach.
If following traffic or complying with air traffic control (ATC) instructions will destabilize your flight, it’s time to exercise your pilot in command responsibility. Say the word “unable” and then establish a new plan.
For mission-oriented pilots, it’s hard to say “unable.” But, there’s no shame in missing an approach or going around and living to make another flight. If you can’t make the approach, just say so.
So when do I go around?
- If you’re at or below 500 feet in VFR conditions and the approach isn’t stable, it’s time to go around.
- If the runway is out of service, or there’s traffic on it, it’s time to go around.
Whatever the situation, the earlier you make the decision to go around, the easier it will be.
Once you’ve decided to go around, stick to that decision. Changing your mind after you’ve started the maneuver is bound to be de-stabilizing, and you’re too close to the ground for that.
Handling a Missed Approach
When executing a missed approach or going around, you’re already close to the ground, so your first priority is to maintain aircraft control:
- Arrest your descent, apply power to maintain altitude or climb as appropriate, and configure the airplane for climb or level flight.
- With the aircraft under control, it’s time to navigate. For VFR, continue to the runway threshold while climbing to pattern altitude, then maneuver to remain in or reenter the pattern and follow ATC instructions as appropriate. For IFR, continue to the missed approach point and then either fly the missed approach procedure or follow ATC instructions.
- Communicate your intentions, either through a call to ATC, or a call on the common traffic advisory frequency.
- Be sure to plan for a go-around on every approach. Know when you’ll make the decision and execute the go-around at that point.
- Don’t second guess yourself. This is the time to stand by your decision.
An important part of maintaining a stabilized approach on landing is learning to manage distractions — especially while maneuvering close to the ground. Consider these tips to help keep you distraction-free:
- Maintain a sterile cockpit while in departure, approach, and landing flight segments and while maneuvering.
- Make sure your aircraft is stable before copying ATC instructions, changing charts, reviewing approach, and other tasks.
- Keep your passenger busy by asking him or her to help you scan for traffic.
Finally, fly regularly with a flight instructor who will challenge you to review what you know, explore new horizons, and to always do your best.
Be sure to document your achievement in the Wings Proficiency Program. It’s a great way to stay on top of your game and keep your flight review current.
Did you know?
Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is an average of one fatal accident involving LOC every four days.
This Fly Safe factsheet will give you what you need to know about Stabilized Approaches.
You can find more information in this Skybrary article on Stabilized Approach.
AOPA says, “Just Say No” to requests that put you in an unstablized position.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.
The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.