FAA Alerts Operators on Visual Approach Risks

 - August 26, 2021, 9:46 AM

The FAA is advising operators to remain aware of risks associated with visual approaches, noting that assessments have found such procedures a common contributing factor in incorrect airport surface approaches and landings as well as other excursion events.

In a recent Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO 21005), the FAA noted that air traffic control may clear pilots for visual approaches to expedite traffic. This can reduce pilot and controller workload and shorten flight paths to the airport. But “this expediency must be balanced with safety. It is the pilot’s responsibility…to advise ATC as soon as possible if a visual approach is not desired.”

After an increase in trends of Class B excursion events and wrong surface events, the agency conducted a risk assessment in 2017 and 2018. That assessments found “the risk of experiencing a Class B airspace excursion and/or a wrong surface event was greatly increased where visual approach clearances were accepted.”

The FAA advised operators to use visual approaches judiciously and consider requesting instrument approaches to reduce the likelihood of lining up on the wrong runway or on a taxiway. If a visual approach is used, the FAA said operators must strictly adhere to their standard operating procedures, use navigational aids associated with the assigned runway, and maintain a stabilized approach. If pilots believe compliance with specific instructions, requests, or clearances may reduce safety, then they should communicate “unable,” the FAA said.

Further, directors of operators, safety, and training, along with chief pilots, should ensure that training programs include scenario-based modules that emphasize risk-mitigation strategies and best practices included in SAFO 17001 (Pilot and Flightcrew Awareness and Class B Airspace Boundaries) and SAFO 17010 (Incorrect Airport Surface Approaches and Landings). They also should monitor visual approach trends, the FAA added.

NBAA highlighted the SAFO to its members, noting the importance that business aircraft pilots remain well-versed in visual approaches. “Business aviation flies a far higher number of our operations to non-towered airports, so it’s imperative that we be proactive about what that looks like,” said David Keys, chief pilot for Peace River Citrus Products and chair of NBAA’s small flight department subcommittee. He emphasized the need to practice visual approaches and maintain hand-flying skills in addition to having familiarity with flight deck automation.

NBAA also noted the release of the SAFO followed the July 26 Challenger 605 accident at Truckee-Tahoe Airport (TRK) that had raised speculation surrounding a visual approach. This accident is under investigation.