I have some questions about circle-to-land approaches.

If we have the runway in sight above MDA, do we need to continue to descend to MDA on downwind? Can we just keep fly like a traffic pattern until abeam aiming point and then start the descent?

Similarly, If during circle to land approach we lose the runway on downwind but we are above MDA, do we need go missed still toward to the runway? Since we are above MDA we should still have obstacle clearance....

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding your second question, we've sort-of covered this previously. Take a look at the answers here for more information on when you need to go missed during a circling approach. (We didn't specifically address what happens if you're above the MDA, but if you've already started the "circling" part and you lose the airport I'm pretty sure you have to fly the missed approach per the procedure) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 4:13

1 Answer 1


No, you do not need to descend all of the way to the MDA if you have the required visibility to continue. In fact, I would recommend against it since it puts you awfully close to the ground while you are maneuvering to align with the runway. Why do that if you don't have to?

MDA stands for Minimum Descent Altitude, and is just that. The minimum.

As far as going missed, you would fly the missed approach in the same way because while you may have obstacle clearance where you are now, the missed approach procedure assumes that you fly it the correct way, and in this case you just have some extra padding since you started out higher.

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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't agree more. I've always suggested to students that they circle at the TPA, if possible, only descending to the MDA if it's necessary. Circling approaches are probably the riskiest "normal" IFR operations out there that most pilots will encounter. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 5:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd guess MDA for a circling approach would be pretty near pattern height, if there are no other obstacles around, but not below. $\endgroup$
    – rheitzman
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ @rheitzman Actually, without obstacles the MDA is usually significantly below pattern altitude so that you can land even with low clouds. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 22:05

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