On very poor visibility, the pilot approaches under ILS procedure. Usually they are requested to call the TOWER, when visual with the runway, to receive the landing clearance. However, on ILS Cat 2 or 3, it happens quite close to the runway, then the pilots will not have enough time, to switch on the Tower´s frequency to receive the clearance. Then the Approach Control may say: "The tower clears you to land."

My questions are:

  1. Does the tower CLEAR the landing, or only inform the runway is clear?
  2. Is it the pilot´s decision to land or not?
  3. Where can I read this specific document or phraseology?
  • $\begingroup$ You call tower when you are visual with the runway if you are doing a visual approach. I don't think it extends to instrument approaches; instead on instrument approach you switch to tower when you are established, which means you are aligned with the specified navaids (usually ILS, but may be MLS, augmented GPS and for Cat I even VOR+DME or NDB). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 11 '15 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon That is not correct. With distress traffic or in cases where a clearance can only be issued by ATC not by AFIS for example, the clearance is relayed. IFR clearances at uncontrolled airfields in Germany are always relayed, e.g. "Langen Radar clears you to ZZZZ via ABCDE... blah" in lieu of "You are cleared to"... $\endgroup$ Aug 11 '15 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ Some airports will use Approach to issue Landing (and even Lineup/Takeoff) clearances when LVO are in use. Sometimes we get handed over to tower "for taxi clearance" on arrival, then on departure we are swiched to App frq before even lining up on the rwy. If you think about it, on LVO the tower sees the runway about as much as the App controler. $\endgroup$
    – Radu094
    Aug 11 '15 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon during surveillance assisted approaches, clearance to land is relayed by either approach or final control. You then tune up tower on the roll out. $\endgroup$ Aug 11 '15 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ So I was completely wrong. I've deleted the comment. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Aug 12 '15 at 9:55

Around here we'll typically get our handoff right at the FAF (they seem to know exactly when you're busiest and hit you with more workload right then :-) ). The landing clearance comes afterwards. Sometimes immediately after communications is established, sometimes not until down near DH (depending on other traffic, etc).


Calling the "airport in sight" is an optional call by the pilots and only affects your approach clearance, not your landing clearance. Prior to any instrument landing you will receive an approach clearance. A clearance for an ILS approach is the same whether you are flying to category I, II or III minimums. If you report "airport in sight" to the approach controller they may issue you a "visual approach" instead.

Once you are established on final approach you will be handed off to the tower and they will issue the landing clearance. In IMC you will receive a landing clearance well before you can see the runway and there is no reason to call the controller when you see the airport. They will know you can see the runway when you land on it.

Note that the handoff to tower occurs around the final approach fix or when established on the approach, not when you have visual contact with the airport.


You are typically (I hesitate to say always, as I have no evidence for this) cleared to land, and are not requested to call visual with the runway. This is because, as you state, there is not time to call visual with the runway and request clearance: by the time you see the runway you could be at 370m (Cat II) or 0-300m (Cat III) from the end of the runway and less than 200 feet above it: there is not necessarily enough time to call the tower and receive clearance before you would have to miss the approach.

In fact, for a (theoretical, as I do not believe any exist) cat IIIc approach, you do not necessarily even see the runway before your wheels touch it, as there is no required Runway Visual Range specified. In such a case, it would not be possible to call the runway visual.

If the tower clears you "to land", you have permission to go ahead and put your wheels on the runway. There's no ambiguity in the clearance, if you're cleared to land then you're cleared to land. Of course, that never obliges you to land, you're still the pilot in command.

  • $\begingroup$ Because, remember, runway visual range is in metres. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 11 '15 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ A good point, I'm confusing my decision heights and my Runway Visual Range's (ie mixing up the horizontal and vertical components). The point stands, however, that you are cleared to land rather than cleared until runway visual, due to insufficient time to report and receive clearance. And it's theoretical because you can't taxi, true, but that doesn't say you couldn't land one aircraft if needs be (eg in an emergency) and leave it parked on the runway. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Aug 11 '15 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Cat IIIc is theoretical, but I also said that in Cat IIIb you may not see the runway before the wheels touch the ground either, because Cat IIIb has DH=0 and that is absolutely not theoretical. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 11 '15 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec : What does the Runway Visual Range of 150 ft for Cat III b mean? I thought that mean't you'd see the runway from at least 150 feet away? $\endgroup$ Aug 11 '15 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ @curious_cat, well, effectively it means you can see 150 ft of the runway ahead of you. At normal 3°, which is 5%, glide slope it 150 ft corresponds to height of mere 7.5 ft and you can't do anything in that height. The point of the 150 ft is that you are able to turn off and taxi! $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 11 '15 at 19:09

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