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How To Fly a Charted Visual Approach


What's a charted visual approach? It's one of the most challenging and fun things you'll do as an instrument pilot. Here's how they work.

Why Do Charted Visual Flight Procedures (CVFPs) Exist?

You can find charted visual approaches at towered airports around the country. They're established for environmental considerations, noise abatement procedures, and for the overall safety/efficiency of air traffic operations.

While they're primarily designed for jet aircraft, you'll find piston aircraft flying CVFPs too. Instead of using NAVAIDs like a localizer or VOR, each visual chart depicts local landmarks, courses, and recommended altitudes for an approach to a specific runway.

Visual Approaches vs. CVFPs

According to the FAA, CVFPs differ from normal visual approaches because they require a pilot to have a charted landmark, rather than the airport, in-sight (AIM 5-4-22/23). A CVFP might also have higher weather minimums than a visual approach. Air Traffic Control will not issue clearances for CVFPs when the weather is less than the published minimum, they'll put you on an approach instead.

These weather minimums are displayed on the CVFP plate, similar to an instrument approach.

Clearance and Weather Minimums

To fly a CVFP, pilots must have a charted visual landmark or the preceding aircraft in sight. According to the FAA's Instrument Procedures Handbook, "ATC will only clear pilots for a CVFP if the reported ceiling at the airport of intended landing is at least 500 feet above the MVA/MIA, and the visibility is 3 SM or more, unless higher minimums are published for the particular CVFP."

If you accept a CVFP clearance following traffic, you become responsible for maintaining safe altitude, separation from preceding traffic, and wake turbulence separation. Just like other visual approaches, you must advise ATC that you're unable to continue a charted visual approach if you lose contact with the preceding aircraft or the required landmarks along the approach.

Flying A Missed Approach

CVFPs are not instrument approaches and, like regular visual approaches, do not have a published missed approach procedure. Your missed approach should be planned to pattern altitude, and further instructions coming from the tower. When you review the approach, brief your planned altitude and direction in the event of a missed approach.

Example 1: Roaring Fork Visual Runway 15, Aspen (KASE)

As you can see, the Roaring Fork Visual to Runway 15 in Aspen has a few different inbound directions. Four initial landmarks are mountains, with the Red Table VOR, rivers, and valleys for the other landmarks. As stated in the notes, the procedure is not authorized at night.

Example 2: Expressway Visual Runway 31, New York LaGuardia (KLGA)

The white tanks correspond with the DIALS waypoint, at which point you follow the Long Island Expressway on a downwind leg to Runway 31. A low-level turn is made around Citi Field Stadium just before the short final approach to Runway 31. On clear weather days with winds from the northwest, you'll find airlines and corporate aircraft flying this unique approach.

Example 3: River Visual Runway 19, Washington DC (KDCA)

The River Visual to Runway 19 in at Washington's Reagan Airport is one of the best-known CVFPs out there. The procedure is relatively straightforward: follow the river inbound! The risk lies in penetrating one of the prohibited areas found just on the eastern edge of the Potomac, surrounding the White House, Capitol, and Washington Mall.

Here's a video of the river visual approaching Runway 19...

Have you flown a charted visual approach? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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