When cleared for a visual approach, do airline pilots still use the localiser/glideslope or GPS or even the autopilot, or is it strictly a "visual" approach?


Yes, the localiser, ILS glideslope, and/or GPS-generated glidepath are still used as a reference during the visual approach. Sometimes the visual glideslope indicators (like VASI or PAPI) are either inoperative or not available. (Interestingly, the visual indicators and instrument-generated glidepaths are sometimes not coincident.)

Pilots sometimes choose to leave the autopilot engaged during such an approach. Some Charted Visual Flight Procedures (like the FMS Bridge Visual 28R at SFO) lend themselves to leaving the autopilot engaged for almost the entire approach. In addition, some operators may stipulate that autopilot use is mandatory.

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    $\begingroup$ Having retired 15 years ago at the age of 60, I'm old, outmoded, obsolete and more. However, permit me to express an opinion. Hand flying an airplane is fun, and hand flying approaches is one of the most satisfying activities I experienced. Personally I can't imagine foregoing that pleasure when I didn't have to. Also, an operator stipulating the use of autopilot is contributing to the non-currency of their pilots. I was never so good at instrument flying as I was when flying 6 to 8 legs a day in Metroliners that had no autopilots in Pacific Northwest weather. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Mar 7 '15 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ I completely agree, @Terry. I hand fly as much as possible (my employer has no such restrictions, just "recommendations")! I just wanted to keep my opinions out of the answer. The River Visual into DCA is always a treat. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 '15 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ I hand flew every approach except the few cat II I had the chance to fly (a/p required for us). I also tried to do a raw data approach once a trip (with the other guy looking at f/d guidance). Made PCs a breeze. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Mar 11 '15 at 1:37

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