Briefing the instrument approach is an absolute must for every instrument flight.
Why? Here are three reasons:
- Not only will you catch the mistakes you made setting up your avionics, but it will get you in the right mindset for the approach.
- There is a wealth of information on the approach plate. You will catch many things that may kill you like short runways at high altitudes.
- Briefing is also required for examinations, Part 121, 135 and military operators. If the pros do it, so should you.
Okay, so now we know “why” let’s get into the “how.”
Always load the avionics before you brief: The brief is an opportunity to double check your work. Follow the approach plate to set up avionics. It has all of the info you need to enter the approach into your systems.
Brief the approach in cruise: This technique will substantially reduce your workload as you start talking to Approach.
Brief the approach by following the approach plate: I guarantee you won’t forget anything if you follow the approach plate using the same flow every time.
Check out this graphic of an FAA chart. I included a Jeppesen chart example at the end of the article.
How to brief the approach by the numbers.
1. State the approach and runway
- I can’t tell you how many times my co-pilot and I have been on different approach charts. You need to vocalize the procedure and runway to confirm you have the right approach plate and it jives with ATIS and/or the approach ATC told you to expect.
- Some Part 121 and 135 operators require you brief the approach plate # and date. You don’t want to use an outdated chart or a chart different from your co-pilot.
2. State the Localizer frequency
- Double check you have the right localizer frequency entered into your radios as you brief the frequency.
3. State the approach course
- Double check you have the right approach course in your avionics.
4. State the runway length and airport elevation
These numbers are important for several reasons.
- Short runways should give you pause. You may need to put the aircraft down immediately and get on the breaks. For longer runways you can make the landing smooth.
- If the airport’s elevation is higher than 2,000′ you should also pause and think about performance. If you have to execute a missed approach your aircraft may climb poorly.
- Note the airport elevation and calculate the traffic pattern altitude. Add a 1000′ if you are a helicopter or small airplane. Add 1500′ if you are a large multi-engine aircraft for noise abatement. Knowing this number is important for visual approaches.
- For more advanced aircraft with heads up displays, state the touchdown zone elevation as well. The TDZE elevation will need to go into the heads up display system (HGS).
5. Plan View
The Plan view is an opportunity to review the overall plan.
- Double check you have the the VOR and/or ADF frequency in your avionics
- Make a note of the FAF. You need to know the name of the FAF and it’s position relative to other points. For aircraft with glass cockpits you need to quickly pick it out on the screen.
- Note your flight path in relation to the approach. I drew an ugly squiggly line to indicate you should think about how you will intercept the approach path. You don’t have to brief it, but at the very least make a note of your position relative to the approach course. This will get you ahead of the aircraft by anticipating how ATC will vector you onto the approach.
- Note the glide path angle. Brief it if it is anything other than 3 degrees. Some places have a steeper approach (3.5 to 4.0 degrees) or the approach lighting won’t be coincident with the glide path. Steeper approaches require better power management and planning.
- Note the Minimum Safe Altitude. These come into play more when you are in a poor radar environment where the controller clears you for the approach way out and kicks you loose. If you descend too early you will run into issues. Normally you won’t brief this number when ATC controls you the whole way (which is most of the time).
6. Profile View
The profile view has many important elements.
- State the FAF’s name.
- Brief the FAF’s altitude. The FAF’s altitude information is vital to understand if ATC is dropping you above or below the glide path. You do NOT want to chase the glide path.
- Knowing the FAF altitude will help you plan your descent and adjust as necessary.
- Note the point 3-5 NM from the FAF. In this case, HANAH is 3 NM from the FAF. Because 3-5 NM is a good time to configure before the FAF, I will configure the aircraft at HANAH and call for the landing checklist. You don’t have to brief this out loud, but you must make a note of when you will call for the landing checklist.
- Also note how far the FAF is from the runway threshold. Some FAF’s are 10NM out. You will want to wait to configure the aircraft. If the FAF is far out, include that information in the brief.
7. State the decision height (DH) or minimum descent altitude (MDA) and controlling RVR/Visibility
- Double check the DH/MDA is in your avionics.
- Make a note of the height above ground at minimums. You don’t need to brief it, but take a moment and think about the cloud height in relation to the DH/MDA. If the DH is 200′ and the clouds are 600′ then you will have 400′ to play with once you break out of the clouds.
- Visibility: Remember, you cannot land if the visibility is less than required for the approach. Visibility, not ceiling, is controlling.
- For example, most ILS’s require a 1/2 mile visibility. For a 1/2 mile vis, you should be able to see from the beginning of the approach lights to the end of the runway aiming point markings. Anything less, go missed. (Note: this will depend on the type of runway lighting systems and runway markings. I threw this example out there to get you thinking. Click here for an awesome article for runway lighting distances)
8. Brief the missed approach procedure (MAP).
- State the MAP altitude (4000’). You will need to dial in the missed approach altitude into the altitude alerter after you capture the glide path, so make sure you memorize the altitude.
- Use the visual depiction to brief the MAP or go to the top of the chart and read the written instructions. Your choice.
- I also added another squiggly arrow to indicate you should think about what type of entry you will use. In this case it is a parallel entry. If you always brief it, you will quickly become an expert on entering holding.
9. Runway Lighting and Notes
- You don’t have to include this in the brief, but you should make a note of the runway lighting and if its working. You need to know what you’ll see when you break out at minimums. You may also need to raise visibility requirements if it isn’t working (see the operator notes on the 28L approach chart above).
- In low visibility situations, knowing the lighting will help you gauge the visibility after you break out and whether you are legal to land.
- Only brief the notes if they are applicable. Most of the time they aren’t, but you need to always look at them anyway. For example, if the MALSR lights are working you don’t need to brief what you need to do if they aren’t working.
BONUS: Exit Plan and Taxi Plan
- Always brief your exit strategy off the runway. Know where you need to go before you need to go there!
Based on the above example this is what a full brief might sound like:
“All right, we are doing the ILS 28L into Portland, the localizer frequency is 110.5 which is the box. The approach course is 283 which is dialed in. We have 11,000 feet of runway and airport elevation is 23 feet. We are approaching from the north so I expect a right turn onto the approach course. The FAF is ADDUM at 2000.’ I will configure the aircraft around HANAH. We need 2400 RVR to do the approach which we have. The missed approach procedure is to fly straight ahead to 2100′ and then do a climbing left turn to 4000′ on the Newburg 360 radial to Newburg where we will hold. We will do a parallel entry into holding. Radar is required for this approach. The autopilot has to come off by 580 feet. After landing we will turn right on taxiway B3. Any questions?”
Here is what a bare bones brief might sound like:
“All right, we are doing the ILS 28L into Portland, the localizer frequency is 110.5 which is the box. The approach course is 283 which is dialed in. We have 11,000 feet of runway and airport elevation is 23 feet. The FAF is ADDUM at 2000.’ We need 2400 RVR to do the approach which we have. The missed approach procedure is to fly straight ahead to 2100′ and then do a climbing left turn to 4000′ on the Newburg 360 radial to Newburg where we will hold. After landing we will turn right on taxiway B3. Any questions?”
JEPPESEN Approach Chart Brief = all that changes is the order!
The meat of the brief remains the same, but the order in which you brief it changes with Jeppesen charts. My numbers are not the same as the numbers on the FAA chart, but I think you are smart enough to figure out you end up briefing the same elements.
Notice the Jeppesen charts puts all the information in order of importance and highlights super important things like the FAF and DA. You don’t have to dig around for the info as much.
So, that’s it. That’s how I like to brief approaches.
Everyone uses a little bit different of a technique. Develop your own through practice.
There is a wealth of information in the approach plate. The plate is a reminder for a myriad of little things that will ruin your day (ie runway length). It is also an opportunity to get ahead of the aircraft and anticipate ATC’s next move.
You should always brief the approach even if you are flying alone. Plan ahead and do it in cruise flight when the cockpit isn’t as busy. When you fly into unfamiliar airports, spend a little more time digesting all the information.
Did I leave anything out? If so, leave a comment below.
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