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.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 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

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.

  • $\begingroup$ 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
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ 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
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @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
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 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

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.


You are not required to request a practice approach. You are, on the other hand, required to follow the proper technique for flying in whatever airspace in which you happen to find yourself.

For instance:

  • In Class E or G airspace with an operating control tower, you have to receive clearance to land. In addition, if you have an operating radio, you must receive clearance to approach within 4 miles of the airport below 2500 feet AGL.
  • In Class A, B, C, or D airspace, you must maintain two-way radio communication with ATC and comply with ATC’s instructions and clearances. If ATC authorizes you to self-vector for a straight in approach, you can maneuver however you wish as long as it’s done safely. Otherwise, you will have to request an approach (practice or not). Also, requesting the practice approach will make ATC’s job of aircraft separation easier and safer. They can anticipate your actions.
  • In Class E or G airspace without an operating control tower, you do not have to request a practice IAP approach. On the other hand, you will have to request an actual approach if IMC conditions prevail unless you are NORDO. When performing an IAP approach, you will have to make proper radio calls in a manner that a VFR pilot at a pilot-controlled airport would clearly understand. Give your position as a distance and direction heading inbound (presumably) to the airport with an altitude. Make your intentions of an approach and landing clear. Many VFR pilots will not understand the verbiage and nomenclature used for IFR procedures and reporting points.
  • $\begingroup$ I don't believe there are any Class E/G towered airports; by definition a towered airport must be Class D or better. Do you have any examples otherwise? $\endgroup$ – randomhead Feb 10 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead, You are assuming that towers have to be permanent. You are also backward-defining Class D airports. Class D airports have to have a tower. A towered airport does not have to be Class D or better. A Class D tower can be full time or par-time operable. When the tower is not in operation, the airspace becomes either Class E or Class G. This will be noted on sectional charts and detailed in US Chart Supplements. True Class E and G airports can have temporary towers for special activity such as air shows. These occurrences will be NOTAMed.The regs for it will be in Part 91.126 & 91.127 $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 11 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ Good point about temporary towers. I still believe a temporarily towered airport will become Class D; see for example page 18 of the 2019 Oshkosh NOTAM which mentions "the Oshkosh Class D airspace." Do you have an example of an airport remaining Class E even when a tower is operational? $\endgroup$ – randomhead Feb 12 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead - Thanks for the KOSH info. Although, I am unsure how this pertains to temp towers. KOSH isn’t NOTAMed as temp Class D. It is currently listed as a permanent part-time Class D in the US Chart Supplement, I am not sure if and when it went from being a full-time Class G. But, the temp towers I am talking about don’t have to be permanent physical structures. Just a temp ATC presence. This would not change the fields Class status in the supplement. It would be NOTAMed to inform pilots to treat it like a Class D lite due to the presence of control. I will keep an I out for such a NOTAM. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 12 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead - See the info provided in the following links about temporary control towers. KJYO Leesburg is an example of an airport with a tower that is not a Class B, C, or D. boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/regulations/… . leesburgva.gov/departments/airport/… $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 12 at 6:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.