This chapter discusses general planning and conduct of instrument approaches by professional pilots operating under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Parts 91, 121, 125, and 135. Operations specific to helicopters are covered in Chapter 7. The operations specifications (OpsSpecs), standard operating procedures (SOPs), and any other Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved documents for each commercial operator are the final authorities for individual authorizations and limitations as they relate to instrument approaches. While coverage of the various authorizations and approach limitations for all operators is beyond the scope of this chapter, an attempt is made to give examples from generic manuals where it is appropriate.


Depending on speed of the aircraft, availability of weather information, and the complexity of the approach procedure or special terrain avoidance procedures for the airport of intended landing, the inflight planning phase of an instrument approach can begin as far as 100-200 NM from the destination. Some of the approach planning should be accomplished during preflight. In general, there are five steps that most operators incorporate into their Flight Standards manuals for the inflight planning phase of an instrument approach:

  • Gathering weather information, field conditions, and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for the runway of intended landing.
  • Calculation of performance data, approach speeds, and thrust/power settings.
  • Flight deck navigation/communication and automation setup.
  • Instrument approach procedure (IAP) review and, for flight crews, IAP briefing.
  • Operational review and, for flight crews, operational briefing.

Although often modified to suit each individual operator, these five steps form the basic framework for the inflight-planning phase of an instrument approach. The extent of detail that a given operator includes in their SOPs varies from one operator to another; some may designate which pilot performs each of the above actions, the sequence, and the manner in which each action is performed. Others may leave much of the detail up to individual flight crews and only designate which tasks should be performed prior to commencing an approach. Flight crews of all levels, from single-pilot to multi-crewmember Part 91 operators, can benefit from the experience of commercial operators in developing techniques to fly standard instrument approach procedures (SIAPs).

Determining the suitability of a specific IAP can be a very complex task, since there are many factors that can limit the usability of a particular approach. There are several questions that pilots need to answer during preflight planning and prior to commencing an approach. Is the approach procedure authorized for the company, if Part 91K, 121, 125, or 135? Is the weather appropriate for the approach? Is the aircraft currently at a weight that will allow it the necessary performance for the approach and landing or go around/missed approach? Is the aircraft properly equipped for the approach? Is the flight crew qualified and current for the approach? Many of these types of issues must be considered during preflight planning and within the framework of each specific air carrier’s OpsSpecs, or Part 91.


Weather conditions at the field of intended landing dictate whether flight crews need to plan for an instrument approach and, in many cases, determine which approaches can be used, or if an approach can even be attempted. The gathering of weather information should be one of the first steps taken during the approach-planning phase. Although there are many possible types of weather information, the primary concerns for approach decision-making are wind speed, wind direction, ceiling, visibility, altimeter setting, temperature, and field conditions. It is also a good idea to check NOTAMs at this time in case there were any changes since preflight planning.

Wind speed and direction are factors because they often limit the type of approach that can be flown at a specific location. This typically is not a factor at airports with multiple precision approaches, but at airports with only a few or one approach procedure the wrong combination of wind and visibility can make all instrument approaches at an airport unavailable. As an example, consider the available approaches at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (KEAU) in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, shown in Figure 5-1. In the event that the visibility is reported as less than one mile, the only useable approach for Category C airplanes is the Instrument Landing System (ILS) to Runway 22. This leaves very few options for flight crews if the wind does not favor Runway 22; and, in cases where the wind restricts a landing on that runway altogether, even a circling approach cannot be flown because of the visibility.