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How To Fly A Surveillance Approach (ASR)

You'll fly a full instrument approach using zero navigational equipment. Here's how it works...

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What Is A Surveillance Approach (ASR)?

An ASR is a non-precision approach where Air Traffic Control provides lateral guidance to you using radar to monitor your position. ATC gives you a series of headings and corrections to align your final approach with the runway's extended centerline.

Just like other non-precision approaches, there's an MDA and usually step-down altitudes.

While there are only a few dozen ASR approaches available in the USA, they can be a vital resource during equipment failures and other emergencies if weather conditions don't allow for a visual approach. You'll find ASR approaches at a few civilian airports, and even more military/joint-use fields. ASR approaches use Terminal Radar, which means you can only get coordination for these approaches from an Approach Controller, not a Center or Tower Controller. You can think of the radar as a 360-degree azimuth, just like many other NAVAIDs. ATC will use your radar reported position to align your airplane with the approach course and descend you towards the runway.

There are also Precision Radar Approaches, which help you follow a glide path to even lower altitudes. But we'll save that topic for another article.

As you fly an ASR approach, ATC will instruct you to fly a series of headings, and they'll tell you when to descend to MDA (as well as intermediate altitudes along the approach if there are any). They'll cross-check your position with the lowest available IFR altitude along the approach. And, as you fly the approach, ATC will advise you of your aircraft's position each mile on final.

Like any approach, the goal is to be out of the clouds by MDA, but there's still a Missed Approach Point (MAP) just in case, and ATC will advise you of the MAP's location.

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Have A Radio? You're Good To Go!

The best part about ASR approaches is the lack of equipment requirements. All you need is a 2-way radio to communicate with ATC and functioning flight instruments. If you have a gyro failure, there are also options to conduct a no-gyro approach (which we'll save for another article).

Where Can You Find Your MDA?

The MDA for ASR approaches can be found in a few places:

  • FAA Terminal Procedures Publication (TPP): The standard packet of all instrument approaches for a certain area (look for "Radar Mins" in the table of contents)
  • Jeppesen EFB: Radar approaches are published as graphical charts under the "approaches" category
  • ForeFlight EFB: Radar approaches are published under "approaches" and the FAA TPP insert (non-graphical) is provided

Just like other instrument approaches, ASRs have MDAs varying between airplane category, runway in use, or if the approach will terminate in a circling maneuver. You'll see an MDA/visibility requirement, Height Above Airport (HAA)/Height Above Touchdown (HAT) number, and ceiling/visibility requirement.

Do you know what's even better? If you can't find these charts ATC will provide you with all the information you need. You basically just have to show up, and ATC gives you the rest. Have a pen and paper nearby (or EFB) to copy down the MDA and weather minimums information.

How To Fly An ASR + What To Expect Over The Radio

Radar approaches can be given to any aircraft on request when the approach control and airport have radar approach capabilities. They might be offered by ATC to pilots in distress or to expedite traffic, but you shouldn't expect to get an ASR clearance unless there's a specific ATC operational requirement or an unusual/emergency situation.

These approaches create a large workload for ATC, so if you want to practice one, find a time when the traffic is light and make your request early.

Here are a few things you'll likely hear on the radio when you fly an ASR approach:

"This Will Be A Surveillance Approach To (Airport Name) Runway XX"

"Missed Approach Point Is X Miles From Runway XX"

"Your Missed Approach Procedure Is ____"

"X Miles (Direction) Of (Airport Name)"

"Turn Right/Left Heading XXX" (Repeated To Maintain Centerline)

"Descend And Maintain XXXX Feet (Step-Down or MDA)"

"Tower Has Cleared You To Land Runway XX, Winds XXX at XX"

"Missed Approach Point, Go Around, Climb And Maintain XXXX, Turn Left/Right Heading XXX"

As you fly the approach, maintain a descent rate typical of other non-precision approaches for your airplane. Use callouts to acknowledge when you're approaching MDA. Just like other instrument approaches, you must have the runway environment in sight to leave MDA. If you don't spot the runway environment by the MAP, or lose sight of it as you descend, initiate an immediate missed approach.

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You'll Land Without Talking To Tower

One really interesting part about ASR approaches is that you're talking to an approach controller all the way to the ground. Because they're utilizing radar to control your approach, you won't be switched over to a tower frequency before landing.

The approach controller will relay your clearance to land from the tower and then you'll switch straight from approach control to ground control after landing.

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Have You Flown A Radar Approach?

You can't find radar approaches everywhere, but they're fairly straightforward and a good thing to practice if you ever get the chance. Where have you flown a radar 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 swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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