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In order to request and receive a clearance to conduct a "Contact Approach" the airport, among other requirements, must have a published instrument approach (IAP) and be reporting at least 1 mile visibility.

If the visibility being reported for this airport (Lake Tahoe -TVL) is 2 miles, and thus below minimums for any IAP, would it be legal to conduct a "Contact Approach?"

(The two IAPs shown below are the only published approaches and the plates have been trimmed for brevity.)

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Here are the requirements for a contact approach from the AIM 5-4-25:

Pilots operating in accordance with an IFR flight plan, provided they are clear of clouds and have at least 1 mile flight visibility and can reasonably expect to continue to the destination airport in those conditions, may request ATC authorization for a contact approach.

If all those things are true then you can request a contact approach (ATC can't offer it). But ATC has requirements to meet too:

Controllers may authorize a contact approach provided:

  1. The contact approach is specifically requested by the pilot. ATC cannot initiate this approach. EXAMPLE− Request contact approach.
  2. The reported ground visibility at the destination airport is at least 1 statute mile.
  3. The contact approach will be made to an airport having a standard or special instrument approach procedure.
  4. Approved separation is applied between aircraft so cleared and between these aircraft and other IFR or special VFR aircraft.

If those things are also true then ATC can authorize it but there's no guarantee that they actually will.

In the example you gave, it looks to me like all the requirements are indeed met (although you didn't say whether the two-mile visibility is flight, ground, or both), so a contact approach would be legal. There's no requirement to comply with the minimums for a published approach during a contact approach.

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  • $\begingroup$ in my example, the "reported" visibility is 2 miles as per #2 in your second quote. Also, for simplicity, flight vis is also 2 miles. The conundrum lies in the requirement for an instrument approach. That is, for what reason is an IAP required if, because the vis is below minimums, it can't be legally flown if need be. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Apr 1 '18 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @757toga FWIW, I think you're inventing a conundrum that doesn't exist: you asked if a contact approach would be legal, not if it would be a good idea :-) I don't know the reason why an IAP is required but maybe it's to ensure that ATC has some minimum level of comms and radar coverage around the airport, for example. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Apr 1 '18 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not advocating a position, just asking a question for which an answer is not seemingly obvious or specifically stated. From the FAA's vol. 4, chpt. 2 FSIMS pub. "A contact approach is an authorization to deviate from the prescribed IAP." This creates in the minds of many pilots a requirement that should it become necessary during the conduct of the Contact Approach, a reversion to the IAP would be available. That would not be possible if the IAP was below mins. Fyi, ATC radar coverage is not required. Again, I'm not advocating for a particular answer. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Apr 1 '18 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga Sure, and there is indeed some inconsistency: the AIM says "in lieu of" an IAP whereas the P/CG says that a contact approach allows you to "deviate" from an IAP. But either way, there's no source that I can find that mentions re-joining an IAP and I don't know how you could do that safely anyway. My point is just that there's no need to infer additional requirements that aren't stated in the official sources. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Apr 2 '18 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't disagree. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Apr 2 '18 at 15:09

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