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I would like a clarification about requesting practice approaches.

I have seen pilots at uncontrolled airports shoot practice approaches such as VOR, SDF, etc. without needing approval; obviously.

Am I correct in thinking that a practice approach approval is only required to be explicitly requested when being controlled by ATC via flight following or approach/tower control?

I know this may seem like a silly question, so I will describe a scenario so that readers understand the context of why I am asking a little bit better:

A VFR flight passes through class C airspace, and contacts approach control prior to entering. On the other side of said class C airspace, a few miles out of the boundary line, there is a destination airport where the pilots would like to shoot a practice approach, which is a non-controlled airport outside of the boundaries of "ATC-contact-required" airspace. Do the pilots request a practice approach, or do they request to terminate radar service and then go ahead and shoot the approach?

Maybe the answer lies in the content of the approach depending on whether or not initial fixes or a missed approach segment would lead a flight into "ATC-contact-required" airspace.

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    $\begingroup$ if you are doing a "silent" practice approach outside of an area where you are required to be in contact with ATC, then you could interfere with another aircraft along the same exact route and altitude as someone who is conducting a practice or real approach under ATC. $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 27 '16 at 20:37
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Usually airports with approach controls will have it printed on the approach plate. Take for example the non-towered field Menominee-Marinette Twin County:

KMNM Approach Plate

The approach control frequency is highlighted in the chart. This is who you receive approach clearance from. KMNM is outside of KGRB (Green Bay) airspace by a good 40 miles, but KGRB approach control is responsible for the airport.

So the short answer is: Look at the approach plate for the responsible frequency/agency for the airport.

I think the other part of your question is more along the lines of "If I'm shooting an IFR approach, am I required to get clearance via ATC?" This I'm not 100% sure about but I would guess that the answer is "yes" since you don't want to interfere with traffic shooting real approaches.

The Aeronautical Information Manual has advice for conducting practice approaches in section 4-3-21 (Page 204):

(a) ...Practice instrument approaches are considered to be instrument approaches made by either a VFR aircraft not on an IFR flight plan or an aircraft on an IFR flight plan. To achieve this and thereby enhance air safety, it is Air Traffic’s policy to provide for separation of such operations at locations where approach control facilities are located and, as resources permit, at certain other locations served by ARTCCs or parent approach control facilities.

(Emphasis mine)

Furthermore, it goes on to say...

(b) Before practicing an instrument approach, pilots should inform the approach control facility or the tower of the type of practice approach they desire to make and how they intend to terminate it, ...
(c) At airports without a tower, pilots wishing to make practice instrument approaches should notify the facility having control jurisdiction of the desired approach as indicated on the approach chart.
(e) VFR aircraft practicing instrument approaches are not automatically authorized to execute the missed approach procedure.

But as I say in my comment, the AIM is a guideline, not a rule and I don't think there is anybody stopping somebody from doing an instrument approach without controller notification, however because ATC isn't providing traffic separation at that point, it could be considered negligent of the pilot to not request ATC clearance. Besides, a good portion of conducting practice approaches is talking to ATC.

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  • $\begingroup$ So weather aside, during VFR, VMC flight, the determining factor for needing permission to shoot a practice approach is whether or not an approach control is listed on the plate? Do plates without an approach control even exist? If having an approach control does mean that you have to get permission for VFR, VMC practice, then I know a lot of people who have been breaking the rules for a long time. Can anyone find an approach plate without an approach control listed? $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Apr 27 '16 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Aeronautical Information Manual Section 4-3-21 (page 207) has advice on doing practice approaches. Specifically (c): "At airports without a tower, pilots wishing to make practice instrument approaches should notify the facility having control jurisdiction of the desired approach as indicated on the approach chart." The AIM is not a FAR however, and while probably not breaking any FAR, its not advisable to conduct approaches without ATC. Aside from that, ATC comms are a good portion of a practice approach... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 27 '16 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ While the citation from the AIM is accurate, it doesn't reflect at least some real-world situations. In my experience, VFR aircraft don't request practice approaches to a non-towered airport from Approach - we just hash it out on the CTAF. Never heard of anyone being violated for that. $\endgroup$ – NathanG Apr 28 '16 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ @NathanG I agree, as I say the AIM is a guideline, not a law/rule. I didn't hint at a violation for going against it, I say that its required (by AIM) but as far as I can tell not by FAR's. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 28 '16 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ THere's always the threat that if you use poor judgment by ignoring something in the AIM, then you could be cited for 91.13 "Careless or reckless operation" $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 28 '16 at 13:47
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After reading this thread I opted to call Seattle Approach control and spoke to the operations. They told me, as long as you have a a transponder, have squawked VFR, and as long as you are staying in the vicinity of the airfield (10 miles) they can see you. You don't have to contact them . You are also required to transmit on the CTAF throughout your approach so the VFR traffic is aware of your whereabouts and intentions. It might be different in your area, so I recommend you contact your local approach control indicated on the approach plate to make sure they are ok with you shooting approaches under "VFR" conditions and that you will maintain a look out using a safety pilot.

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