Visual approach

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Approach plate for the river visual 19 into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Pilots fly above the Potomac River until over the Rochambeau Memorial Bridge at which time they line up for their final approach.

A visual approach is an approach to a runway at an airport conducted under instrument flight rules (IFR) but where the pilot proceeds by visual reference and clear of clouds to the airport. The pilot must at all times have either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight. This approach must be authorized and under the control of the appropriate air traffic control (ATC) facility.[1] The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) definition adds that the visual approach can commence when "either part or all of an instrument approach is not completed", varying only slightly from the Federal Aviation Administration regulation and is essentially identical.[1]


The visual approach allows a pilot to fly to the runway without having to perform an instrument approach.[2] This can greatly reduce pilot and controller workload, and expedite traffic by shortening flight paths to the airport.[1] Taking a shorter route to the airport in lieu of flying a complicated instrument approach procedure (IAP) can increase pilot safety, as the critical tasks of approach and landing occur when pilots are most fatigued.[3][2] Controllers also benefit from visual approaches, for whom a visual approach is an essential tool in the effort to maximize traffic flow (especially at busy airports). Visual approaches dramatically reduce controller workload—ATC's IFR separation requirements are eliminated which relieves controllers of the burden.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Arrival Procedures: Visual Approach". Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 2010-11-10. pp. 5–4–23. 
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Horne (1988-08-01). "Instrument Insights Part 8 of 12: Tricks of the Trade". AOPA Pilot Magazine. 41 (8). Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  3. ^ Laboda, Amy (1999-01-05). "Out of the Pattern: The longest cross-countries". Flight Training Magazine. 
  4. ^ Thomas, Perry (1992-07-01). "Problems with Visual Approaches: The Visual Trap". Aviation Safety Reporting System (NASA).