View Full Version : what's a 'contact approach'?

2nd Nov 2004, 03:39

2nd Nov 2004, 05:01
An approach wherein an aircraft on an IFR flight plan, having an air traffic control authorization, operating clear of clouds with at least 1 mile flight visibility and a reasonable expectation of continuing to the destination airport in those conditions, may deviate from the instrument approach procedure and proceed to the destination airport by visual reference to the surface. This approach will only be authorized when requested by the pilot and the reported ground visibility at the destination airport is at least 1 statute mile.

Also see AIM 5-4-22 and 5-5-3 ( 2002 Reference )


2nd Nov 2004, 05:49
Some years ago as I was approaching LAX in a DC6B, a PSA Electra requested a contact approach from the approach controller.
He said NO, so this turkey leaves the frequency (unannounced) and calls LAX tower and requests again a contact approach.
Tower says OK and the Electra landed.

Listened in on ground control and the msg to the PSA L188 was...call the approach controller, then call the company, they both want to talk to you, right now.

The Captain received a sixty day license suspension from the FAA...I have no idea what the company did, but IMHO, he should have been fired on the spot.

2nd Nov 2004, 08:12
In the UK what used to be "Visual Contact Approach" is now a "Visual Approach".

2nd Nov 2004, 10:17
Good grief!

My current copy of the UK radiotelephony manual defines the word 'contact' as:

CONTACT Establish communications with ... (your details have been

As in 'Birdseed 123 contact Approach now on 119.72'

Does this mean that it has an entirely different meaning in other parts of the world? What words do they use when they wish to instruct a a pilot to 'establish communications with'?

The Odd One

Canada Goose
2nd Nov 2004, 16:25
As mentioned previously a contact approach is a 'break-away' from an IFR instrument approach (differs from a visual approach in that wx minima etc are different). I think it's also a procedure or expression used in N. America.

I remember briefly touching upon them on an IFR Written Test brush up course given by Aero Course in Canada. Our instructor was a C-130 RCAF SAR pilot and he was very weary of such procedures advising us against them. I guess one of the main hazards is inadvertently entering IMC again! To quote (para-phrasing) " I've had many a call out for look for aircraft that have last called a 'contact approach'".

Just as an aside, he said that whenever he gets an alert that an a/c is overdue the first places they start looking are those few miles in and around the departure and destination airfield as usually that's where the a/c will be !!

2nd Nov 2004, 17:14
We used to do contact approaches but nowadays you must have an approved training program and contact approaches must be listed in the ops specs before you can use them. They were helpful on occasion, kind of like special vfr for the IMC crowd. They are still used by part 91 folks and can be very helpful at airports without Instrument procedures.

2nd Nov 2004, 17:34
The Captain received a sixty day license suspension from the FAA...

What precisely was the charge? "Unsportsmanlike conduct"? "Bringing PSA into disrepute"? ;)

Astra driver
2nd Nov 2004, 17:42
I can recall requsting contact approaches while trying to get into Santa Monica, USA. The motivation being that the airport, being near the coast , frequently goes down or below mins; 660 ft msl, while it is cavu just 1/2 mile from the threshold, requesting a contact approach would enable me to remain IFR while ducking down visually to get in under the cloud deck, which would not have been possible following the published approach.

The intersting thing is that every time I requested it, I was denied. If I asked the appoach controller, I was told only the tower could authorize it, and if I waited till being switched to the tower I was told only approach could authorize.

In the end, I found it easier to cancel IFR before reaching the class D and request a "Special VFR" (1 mile and clear of clouds). while this would mean circling (In the clear) and waiting for the IFR guys, since they had priority. I would ultimately get in while everyone else went misssed.

I doubt I would try this method at another airport, since I feel it requires a high degree of familiarity with the airport and the surounding terain/obstructions.

2nd Nov 2004, 23:08
Thanx much all for input. I was wondering about the common practice of the said approach procedure after reading an accident report of an Allegheny flight (years back) that crashed short of runway at HVN. Turned out the hot-shot captain had a habit of disregarding MDA -- on an earlier sector to GON, he executed a missed 3 times from as low as 175 AGL (MDA 610) before being cleared for a the contact approach and sticking a landing. Obviously, he wasn’t as lucky on the last leg and plowed through some cottages at 29 AGL (MDA 380)…

2nd Nov 2004, 23:13
>What precisely was the charge? "Unsportsmanlike conduct"? "Bringing PSA into disrepute"?

Most US Ops Specs for FAR 121 operations do not allow Contact Approaches. The Ops specs must specifically list the approved types of approaches by exact name (VOR/DME, NDB/DME, etc.). We just had ASR and SRE approaches removed from our list of approved approaches, although with Captain emergency authority....

3rd Nov 2004, 01:08
Canada's AIP(Contact approach) stipulate that one must have at least 1 mile Vis,requested by the pilot,ATC will provide atc seperation and specific Missed app' instructions.Pilot responsible for adherence to 'noise'abatement and terrain avoidance....:ok:

3rd Nov 2004, 01:53

As I recall, the PIC was charged with 'careless and wreckless operation of an aircraft' and for leaving the assigned approach control frequecy without authorization.

This most definately is not a smart thing to do....:uhoh:

3rd Nov 2004, 18:02

As I recall, contact approaches at SMO were prohibited under the LOA with the TRACON, and the tower was unable to approve them on their own. Spent a lot of time in that tower and never, ever had one.

As a side note: I've thought this before when reading your posts... you're not one of the old WB (not Warner Bros, but rather, the boss' name) King Air and WestWind boys, are you? Your ability to get through a sentence in a coherent way makes me think you're not, but I gotta ask! ;)

PM me if you are!


Astra driver
3rd Nov 2004, 18:46

Thanks for clearing that up for me, I always wondered why they kept passing the buck. I'll send you a PM about warner bros.