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How To Brief An Instrument Approach, In 10 Steps

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We've all flown with pilots that take either 10 minutes or 10 seconds to brief an approach. Both extremes make it difficult to remember the most important details. Here's what you need to cover...

Each of the following items should be read out loud between crew members, or to yourself if you're solo...

1) Introduce The Approach

Introduce the approach by verifying that you and any other crew members are looking at the same chart before continuing.


2) Verify/Set NAVAID Frequency And Approach Course

If you haven't already, tune and identify the NAVAID frequency. Verify that each crew member has set the correct inbound approach course.

Live from the Flight Deck

3) Read Airport: Runway Length, Elevations, Notes, And Lighting System

Briefly state the airport and touchdown zone elevation. If any of the notes apply to your flight, explain them orally. Quickly explain the lighting system to help you positively identify that you're aligned with the correct runway.


4) Verify/Set Communication Frequencies

Set the frequencies published on the chart into the standby position on your radios. This is an excellent time to ensure you've received the most current weather, and that you've set the correct altimeter setting.


5) Brief Configuration And Autopilot Usage

If you have an autopilot, brief how you plan to use it on the approach. If there are any unique aircraft configuration changes or requirements, state those as well.


6) Explain How You'll Join The Approach

Anticipate where you're likely to join the approach, and if any procedure turns are necessary.


7) Follow The Approach Profile To The Runway

This is where you need to be selective about what you brief. You might not need to explain each fix on the approach and each crossing altitude, but you should hit the highlights. On a long approach into a major airport, explaining each fix and crossing altitude might take an immense amount of time. The best time to cover each individual altitude is often times when you're on the approach, and crossing each individual fix.


8) Verify/Set Minimums

Move down the chart and verify which category of minimums you're using. Set the minimums into your avionics.


9) Brief VDP (When Flying A Non-Precision Approach)

When you reach VDP, you'll typically be able to follow a 3 degree glide path to the runway, which is the same glide path as most precision approaches. It's charted as a bold "V" on non-precision approaches.

How to calculate and use VDP.


10) Brief The Missed Approach Point And Procedure

Last but certainly not least, brief the missed approach point in terms of distance, timing, or location in relation to the runway. Explain what the missed approach procedure is, and how you'd like crew members to share workload.


One Last Thing...

If you fly an approach that has a unique risks or challenges, discuss them. Whether it's high terrain, a steep glide path, or parallel runways, there are plenty of things you should review before finishing your briefing.


There's a lot that goes into briefing an instrument approach well. The key is figuring out which information is most relevant, so you don't end up reading off every elevation figure, obstacle, and unrelated procedure on an approach chart.

How do you like to brief approaches? Tell us in the comments below.

Thinking about becoming a pilot? Get started with ATP Flight School, and find out how to start your aviation career here.

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