Review Provisional Policy on Missed Approach after Visual Approach

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Review Provisional Policy on Missed Approach after Visual Approach

49TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, 12-16 April 2010

WP No. 84

Review Provisional Policy on Missed Approach after Visual Approach

Presented by TOC


TOC has been tasked with reviewing the provisional policy on missed approach procedures for visual approaches which was adopted by IFATCA at the 2009 conference. This paper is the outcome of that review. It contains examples of published procedures presently in use around the world and concludes that the term “go-around” is better suited than “missed approach” when an aircraft on a visual approach does not land. This paper contains draft recommendations that TOC proposes replace the provisional policy.


1.1 At the 2009 IFATCA conference in Dubrovnik, Israel presented a working paper entitled “Study Go Around Procedures When on Visual Approach“ (working paper 94). In that paper it was concluded that the procedure an aircraft should follow during a go-around following a Visual Approach is often not clear to the ATC or the Pilot as several options for such a procedure exist.

1.2 The paper also concluded that while the best solution to the issue would be one global procedure, a global procedure would not be achievable as many local variables need to be considered. Instead it was suggested that ICAO should publish Standards for the requirements for such a procedure so that local authorities can develop procedures that are appropriate for the local situation.

1.3 One of the paper’s recommendations was adopted as provisional policy, pending further study. This paper reviews that provisional policy.



2.1.1 IFATCA Provisional Policy is:

“Missed approach procedures for visual approaches should be published in the AIP .”


2.2 ICAO

2.2.1 ICAO Doc 4444 Air Traffic Management, Chapter 1 – Definitions

“Visual Approach. An approach by an IFR flight when either part or all of an instrument approach procedure is not completed and the approach is executed in visual reference to terrain.”

“Missed approach procedure. The procedure to be followed if the approach cannot be continued.”

The ICAO definition for missed approach procedure does not explicitly state whether the approach is an instrument or visual approach.

2.2.2  ICAO Annex 4 Aeronautical Charts

“1.1 Definitions

Visual approach procedure. A series of predetermined manoeuvres by visual reference, from the initial approach fix, or where applicable, from the beginning of a defined arrival route to a point from which a landing can be completed and thereafter, if a landing is not completed, a go-around procedure can be carried-out.”

The term “go-around procedure” as used in this definition is not defined further by ICAO. A go-around is a manoeuvre performed by an aircraft when it fails to land; such a manoeuvre can be performed by both VFR and IFR aircraft. As it is used by ICAO in the context of a visual approach and it allows for visual as well as instrument based procedures, the term “go-around procedure” shall be used in preference to the “missed approach” throughout this paper.

2.2.3  ICAO Doc 8168 Aircraft Operations, Volume 2 Construction of Visual and Instrument Flight Procedures, Chapter 1 – Definitions

“Circling approach. An extension of an instrument approach procedure which provides for visual circling of the aerodrome prior to landing.”

2.3 IFALPA policy

2.3.1  At its meeting in October 2009, the IFALPA ATS Committee drafted a paper that will be presented to the IFALPA conference in Marrakech this year. In this paper, the ATS committee commented:


It is the opinion of the ATS Committee that there is ambiguity and a wide scope of interpretation amongst pilots and controllers about what to do when an aeroplane has to execute a go around out of a visual approach. The proposed policy has been developed with assistance from IFATCA and calls for a published procedure to be available for flight crews and controllers.”

2.3.2  The policy proposed by the ATS committee was developed following a joint session of TOC and the ATS committee:


IFALPA’s position is that every runway where a visual approach can be executed shall have a published procedure in the event of a go around.

IFALPA’s position is that every charted visual approach shall include a corresponding published procedure in the event of a go around.”

2.4 Examples of Published Procedures

2.4.1  Procedures that pilots are to follow when they are unable to land following a visual approach are specified for some airports in some countries. Two examples of these follow. The first from Wellington in New Zealand is not specific to any particular visual arrival or runway; the second from San Francisco is specific to the TIPP TOE visual arrival for runway 28L.

2.4.2  New Zealand AIP NZWN Arrival/Departure

“Visual Approach Procedures

IFR aircraft (CAT A, B, C) on a visual approach or visual arrival procedure that are unable to land are to enter the aerodrome traffic circuit unless otherwise advised by ATC. If MET conditions are below circling for the aircraft category, and at all times for CAT D, aircraft are to carry out the missed approach for the nominated instrument approach on the ATIS. Exception — CAT D aircraft that wish to remain in the aerodrome traffic circuit must request approval from ATC.”

This procedure meets the requirements of the local ATC in that aircraft will by default enter the circuit. It also contains a fallback position which is used when an aircraft is unable to enter the circuit for meteorological or operational reasons.

Aircraft that are unable to enter the circuit are required to advise ATC.

New Zealand AIP ENR 1.5

“4.20.4 Aircraft unable or no longer able to carry out this procedure must advise Approach Control or Tower immediately.”

2.4.3 An example of a go-around procedure in a charted visual approach from San Francisco:

United States of America AIP San Francisco TIPP TOE Visual RWY 28L

This specific case is however uncommon in the USA. The general case still leaves it to ATC to resolve the situation as the go-around occurs.

United States of America AIP ENR 1-55

“A visual approach is not an IAP [Instrument Approach Procedure] and therefore has no missed approach segment. If a go around is necessary for any reason, aircraft operating at controlled airports will be issued an appropriate advisory/clearance/instruction by the tower. At uncontrolled airports, aircraft are expected to remain clear of clouds and complete a landing as soon as possible. If a landing cannot be accomplished, the aircraft is expected to remain clear of clouds and contact ATC as soon as possible for further clearance. Separation from other IFR aircraft will be maintained under these circumstances..”

2.4.4 In these two examples of published procedures, the means by which the pilot determines what to do in a go-around differs. The Wellington example is located in the AIP under general information about the airport but is not repeated on any of the visual arrival plates. The San Francisco example is printed on the visual arrival plate. It would be preferable for the go-around procedure to appear on all visual arrival plates as this is directly used by the pilot throughout the approach. For airports where visual approaches can take place without following published arrival procedures, there may be no option but to specify the go-around procedure in the airport’s general information section of the AIP.

2.5 Types of Go-Around Procedures

2.5.1  A number of options are potentially available when an aircraft commences a go-around after flying a visual approach. These range from the aircraft entering the visual circuit to the aircraft flying an IFR missed approach procedure, with a procedure such as that seen at San Francisco sitting between the two. All of these options have advantages and disadvantages.

2.5.2  The visual circuit can be advantageous both to ATC and aircraft operation. It can be less restrictive in terms of airport capacity and can also mean that an aircraft which goes around has a shorter distance to fly to eventual touchdown. The circuit may not be available at many airports or for some categories of aircraft due to environmental, geographical or for traffic reasons. Also the standard operating procedures of some airlines do not permit their aircraft to operate in the visual circuit at certain airports. Finally, meteorological conditions may be suitable for a visual approach, but not suitable for visual flight in the circuit; such conditions include not just the presence of cloud in the circuit, but also turbulence and even wind shear.

2.5.3  A number of airports do not allow some or any aircraft to fly a visual circuit. There are many reasons for this, including noise abatement or other environmental issues, operational reasons such as multiple runways in use at the same time or simply the traffic density preventing a tower controller from sequencing an aircraft back onto final approach. For such airports a published visual go-around procedure may suffice, however presently aircraft at such airports are usually instructed to fly an instrument missed approach procedure or issued a radar vector following a go-around.

2.5.4  A published visual go-around procedure has many of the advantages of the visual circuit. Such a procedure may nevertheless still not be usable in certain meteorological conditions.

2.5.5  For many airports, the procedure an aircraft should follow after a go-around is not advised until the go-around actually takes place. As well as creating uncertainty in the minds of pilots and air traffic controllers, this is also a symptom of no particular plan being in place before the event. As such, the controller is often forced to find a safe solution at the last minute.

2.5.6  As covered in the preceding paragraphs, ultimately an aircraft may not be able to continue visually following a go-around. As a standard procedure for some airports or runways or as a fallback procedure for others, an instrument missed approach should be considered as an option. In order to fly such a procedure a pilot still has to navigate the aircraft visually until reaching a missed approach point or a track from which a missed approach can be made.

2.5.7  With the number of options available on a go-around, it is not surprising that there is some doubt as what procedure will be followed. Having a procedure published will remove the uncertainty and will also allow pilots to brief themselves ahead of time, rather than being presented with potentially surprising instructions at a time of high cockpit workload.

2.5.8  Some controllers might be concerned that a published go-around procedure reduces flexibility. Words in the AIP such as “or as directed by Air Traffic Control” allow ATC to vary the procedure to suit the traffic situation.

2.6 Other Visual Approach Scenarios

2.6.1  The scenario that this paper addresses is a go-around from final approach. However, two other scenarios have been raised as potential issues, these are:

  1. A loss of visual reference while circling to land following an instrument approach
  2. A loss of visual reference while carrying out a visual approach

2.6.2  ICAO has a prescribed procedure for the first situation. This procedure is described in ICAO Doc 8168 Aircraft Operations, Volume 1 Flight Procedures:

“7.4.1 If visual reference is lost while circling to land from an instrument approach, the missed approach specified for that particular procedure must be followed. The pilot will make an initial climbing turn toward the landing runway and overhead the aerodrome. At this point, the pilot will establish the aircraft climbing on the missed approach track.”

2.6.3  If we comply with the following from ICAO Doc 4444 Air Traffic Management, the second situation should in theory not occur.

“ An IFR flight may be cleared to execute a visual approach provided the pilot can maintain visual reference to the terrain and:

a)  the reported ceiling is at or above the approved initial approach level for the aircraft so cleared; or

b)  the pilot reports at the initial approach level or at any time during the instrument approach procedure that the meteorological conditions are such that with reasonable assurance a visual approach and landing can be completed.”

Notwithstanding this, aircraft do still inadvertently lose visual reference while flying a visual approach, particularly at night. As such a loss of visual reference could literally occur on any part of the visual approach, there is no single procedure which could be followed in every case.


3.1  The term “missed approach” is confusing when used in conjunction with the term “visual approach”. The term “go-around procedure” as used by ICAO is more appropriate as this allows for visual or instrument procedures.

3.2  There is ambiguity and a wide range of interpretations amongst pilots and controllers about what to do when an aircraft has to go-around following a visual approach.

3.3  Options available include entering the circuit, flying a visual go-around procedure, flying an instrument missed approach or leaving it to the controller to provide last minute instructions.

3.4  Leaving it to a controller to provide instructions at the time a go-around commences can create uncertainty and does not allow pilots to brief for their actions following a go- around.

3.5  A procedure that is suitable for one airport or one runway may not be suitable for other locations. There is no “one size fits all” procedure which will meet requirements at all airports.

3.6  Procedures that are to be followed after a go-around are rarely published in the AIP or on the approach plate.

3.7  There is no guarantee that an aircraft on a visual approach can always continue visually following a go-around.


It is recommended that:

4.1 IFATCA Provisional Policy on page 3 2 3 27 of the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual:

Missed approach procedures for visual approaches should be published in the AIP.

be deleted.

4.2  IFATCA policy is:

Each aerodrome at which visual approaches are undertaken shall have go- around procedures documented in the AIP.

and is included on page 3 2 3 27 of the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.

4.3  IFATCA policy is:

Any visual approach procedure that is shown on a visual approach chart in the AIP shall contain a go-around procedure.

and is included on page 3 2 3 27 of the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.

4.4  IFATCA policy is:

The inclusion of go-around procedures in the AIP should not preclude a controller from issuing alternative instructions to be used in the event of a go- around.

and is included on page 3 2 3 27 of the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

April 15, 2020   859   Jean-Francois Lepage    2010    

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