From a communications standpoint, executing an instrument approach to an airport that is not served by an ATC tower requires more attention and care than making a visual approach to that airport. Pilots are expected to self-announce their arrival into the vicinity of the airport no later than 10 NM from the field. Depending on the weather, as well as the amount and type of conflicting traffic that exists in the area, an approach to an airport without an operating ATC tower will increase the difficulty of the transition to visual flight. In many cases, a flight arriving via an instrument approach will need to mix in with visual flight rules (VFR) traffic operating in the vicinity of the field. For this reason, many companies require that flight crews make contact with the arrival airport CTAF or company operations personnel via a secondary radio over 25 NM from the field in order to receive traffic advisories. In addition, pilots should attempt to listen to the CTAF well in advance of their arrival in order to determine the VFR traffic situation.

Since separation cannot be provided by ATC between IFR and VFR traffic when operating in areas where there is no radar coverage, pilots are expected to make radio announcements on the CTAF. These announcements allow other aircraft operating in the vicinity to plan their departures and arrivals with a minimum of conflicts. In addition, it is very important for crews to maintain a listening watch on the CTAF to increase their awareness of the current traffic situation. Flights inbound on an instrument approach to a field without a control tower should make several self-announced radio calls during the approach:

  • Initial call within 5-10 minutes of the aircraft’s arrival at the IAF. This call should give the aircraft’s location as well as the crew’s approach intentions.
  • Departing the IAF, stating the approach that is being initiated.
  • Procedure turn (or equivalent) inbound.
  • FAF inbound, stating intended landing runway and maneuvering direction if circling.
  • Short final, giving traffic on the surface notification of imminent landing.

When operating on an IFR flight plan at an airport without a functioning control tower, pilots must initiate cancellation of the IFR flight plan with ATC or an AFSS. Remote communications outlets (RCOs) or ground communications outlets (GCOs), if available, can be used to contact an ARTCC or an AFSS after landing. If a frequency is not available on the ground, the pilot has the option to cancel IFR while in flight if VFR conditions can be maintained while in contact with ARTCC, as long as those conditions can be maintained until landing. Additionally, pilots can relay a message through another aircraft or contact flight service via telephone.