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How To Go Missed From A Circling Approach

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Landing from a circling approach can be challenging for a few reasons. The ceilings might be low and the visibility can be just as bad. On top of that, it's a maneuver that most of us don't practice very often.

When you combine all three, you've got an approach where things can go bad in a hurry. So what happens if you have to go missed from a circling approach?

Review: The Protection From Circling Minimums

First off, let's look at how protected you are on a circling approach to landing, because things have changed in the past few years.

On any circling approach, you're guaranteed at least 300 feet of obstacle clearance within the protected area. And with approaches developed or revised after 2012, the protected area has been expanded.

Here's what the protected area looks like for new or revised approaches:

The protected areas for circling approaches now use a connection of arcs from the end of each runway, as opposed to the fixed-radius distances that were used before.

And the protected areas now account for the impact of wind on a circle, bank angle limits, and higher true airspeeds at high altitude airports. So overall, they give you a higher margin of safety.

So how do you know if your approach has these new expanded circling minimums? You'll see it in the circling minimums line. It's a black box with a "C" in the middle.

Scenario 1: You Never Get The Airport In-Sight

Ok, so let's start with an easy scenario: You're descending on the final approach course of the instrument approach you've been cleared for. You plan to circle for another runway once you get the airport in-sight at or before MDA. If you never break out of the clouds, you'll level off at MDA, and you'll perform a missed approach at the missed approach point...just like any other instrument approach.

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Scenario 2: You Lose Sight Of The Airport While Circling

Around MDA, you get the airport in-sight and initiate a circling approach to another runway. At this point, you're likely flying with a full-scale deflection from the approach course since you're no longer following a published segment of the approach.

As you're flying the circling maneuver, you re-enter the clouds and lose sight of the airport. According to FAR 91.175(e)(2), you're required to perform an immediate missed approach.

The goal is now to get yourself back on a published segment of the approach (the missed approach course).

Step 1: Climb

The first step is to add go-around power and climb right away. Climbing is the most important first step you can make.

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Step 2: Turn Towards Your Landing Runway

Next, the FAA recommends that you make an immediate turn in the direction of your landing runway. You're turning towards the landing runway to intercept the missed approach course, but you have to be careful in what direction you turn.

Always turn in the direction of the landing runway, even if the fastest way to rejoin the missed approach appears to be turning in the other direction.

By turning toward the runway, you help assure that your aircraft stays within the lateral boundaries of the circling and missed approach obstruction clearance areas as you climb and rejoin the missed approach procedure.

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Keep in mind, turning towards the airport/runway may result in more degrees of turn than just aiming towards the direction of the missed approach. When you brief, remind yourself to always climb and turn toward the runway if you go missed.

Step 3: Re-Intercept The Missed Approach Gradually

If the NAVAID for your approach is located at the airport, you're probably flying pretty close to it. The sensitivity of your instruments will be high. In most cases, a 30-degree intercept angle (or possibly slightly less) works well. Be patient and let the course come alive.

A 45-50 degree approach intercept may blow you right through the missed approach course.

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Step 4: Communicate Your Missed Approach With ATC

Now that all of that's done, it's time to talk to ATC. Keep in mind, since you've been cleared for the approach, ATC will protect the airspace around you until they hear that you've landed or gone missed. There's no rush to contact ATC.

Your primary focus should be flying the airplane. Power up, climb, turn towards the airport, reconfigure your airplane, and establish yourself on the missed approach course. Once all of that is done, call ATC and let them know you've gone missed.

This goes for any instrument approach, but especially circling approaches where you may be maneuvering in a confined area to re-intercept a published segment.

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Have You Flown A Circling Approach?

Have you ever gone missed from a circling approach? Leave us a comment below and tell us about your experience with circling approaches.

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 swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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