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 in-flight 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 in-flight planning phase of an instrument approach:

  • Gathering weather information, field conditions, and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for the airport 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.
Aircraft instrument procedure

Although often modified to suit each individual operator, these five steps form the basic framework for the in-flight 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 91, subpart K, 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 OpSpecs, or Part 91.