Pilot’s Roles And Responsibilities
During Visual Approaches
February 1, 2011 - Recently, there have been several
instances of pilots accepting and flying Visual
Approaches in marginal Visual Meteorological Conditions
(VMC), raising questions as to their compliance with
regulations. Operators and pilots should review and
become familiar with the “pilot’s responsibilities”
sections of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) in
regards to the conduct of Visual Approaches.
According to the AIM, a Visual Approach authorizes a
pilot flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) to
proceed visually to the airport while remaining “clear
of clouds.” Clearance for the approach is predicated
upon the pilot having either the airport or the
preceding identified aircraft in sight and the airport
reporting a ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and a
visibility of 3 miles or greater. (AIM 5-4-22a)
subset of the Visual Approach is the Charted Visual
Flight Procedure (CVFP), such as the depicted River
Visual Rwy 19 at Ronald Reagan Washington National
Airport (DCA) in the above picture (for a clear view
click on picture).
differ from normal Visual Approaches in that they require a
pilot to have a charted landmark, rather than the airport, in
sight (AIM 5-4-22/23). A CVFP may also have higher minimum
weather requirements than a Visual Approach, which the pilot
must comply with in conducting the CVFP; it should be noted that
Air Traffic Control (ATC) will not issue clearances for CVFPs,
when the weather is less than the published minimum. These
minimums are displayed on the CVFP plate (3500ft/3mi in the case
of the River Visual Rwy 19).
the fact that both types of Visual Approaches are conducted in
VMC, they are considered IFR procedures. As such, the pilot must
comply with all applicable IFR rules when conducting them. If
the pilot wishes to fly under VFR after receiving clearance for
the Visual Approach, it is the pilot’s responsibility to notify
ATC and cancel the IFR flight plan (AIM 5-4-22g).
The conduct of Visual Approaches during marginal VMC requires careful decision making by the pilot. Again according to the AIM, it is the controller’s responsibility not to clear a pilot for the Visual Approach unless the reported weather is at or better than 1000ft/3mi (AIM 5-5-11b).
In accepting a visual approach, it is the pilot’s responsibility to have either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight and to remain “clear of clouds” at all times (AIM 5-5-11a). Considering that even a thin “scattered” or “isolated” layer could prevent a pilot from remaining “clear of clouds,” it becomes apparent that a pilot may well be given a Visual Approach, that he is incapable of accepting or completing.
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