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Take, for example, this FAA official IAP plate (ILS RWY 13L CAT II JFK). Its Initial Segment consists of more than one Initial Approach Fix (IAF): COVIR, KMCHI, and BUZON. As far as I can interpret this, when an aircraft enters from the en route structure, it is obliged to follow the route COVIR → KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX etc.

My question is, is the aircraft supposed to follow this particular route or, depending from where it comes, it can "skip" e.g. the first Initial Approach Fix, and follow the route KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX (instead of COVIR → KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX)?

Also, if the answer is yes, does that mean that it can even ignore all the IAFs and enter Intermediate Segment directly, provided that this serves its purpose better?


Any initial approach fix (IAF) is a valid point at which an aircraft can start the procedure. Many procedures also have IAFs on multiple paths to choose from to get to the final approach. Standard Terminal Arrivals (STARs) sometimes include a certain IAF so that pilots can go straight from the arrival to the approach. Aircraft not on one of these STARs could use any other IAF.

Aircraft can also start even later in the procedure at an intermediate fix (IF), such as TELEX in the above example, provided it is coordinated with ATC and certain conditions are met.

After entering a procedure, aircraft are expected to fly the procedure as published. While it's not as common as with a SID or a STAR, ATC could certainly give an aircraft instructions for a shortcut on an approach, for traffic or other reasons. ATC would need to authorize this to ensure clearance from traffic and obstacles and compliance with restrictions such as noise abatement.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you foot, just one more clarification: Apart from ATC vectoring orders, which can override the standard chart procedure, if a pilot is to choose the COVIR IAF, do the arrows imply that he "must" approach the intermediate segment by following the COVIR → KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX route? Or is there the possibility of "flying" from COVIR directly to the IF as desired? $\endgroup$ – Vector Zita Jun 7 '18 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @VectorZita At a big airport like JFK they will generally be on vectors by the time they reach the IAF. They are really just for NORDO situations. And ATC would expect you to follow each part of the procedure after the IAF. If you flew directly from COVIR to TELEX you would not be guaranteed obstacle clearance. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 7 '18 at 19:21

Clearance will be as directed by ATC at time of departure, or as modified by ATC while enroute.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you CrossRoads for your input. Does this mean that ATC can request from the pilot to follow the route KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX, instead of the "normal" initial approach segment that is depicted on this particular IAP's plate (COVIR → KMCHI → BUZON → TELEX), or even ignore the whole initial segment and vector him directly to the intermediate segment? $\endgroup$ – Vector Zita Jun 7 '18 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, your route will be directed by ATC to merge you in with other planes in the system. ATC will often try to give you a more expeditious route if air traffic will permit it. If you watch the traffic for JFK on Flight Tracker, you might be able to determine what routings are being used (might have to watch for a while) flightradar24.com/40.64,-73.73/12 or you might be able to determine from listening to a Live ATC website, try one: google.com/search?q=live%20atc%20jfk&cad=h $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 7 '18 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ At the moment, planes from the south seem to flying northeast, past the airport, then turning left and landing to the southeast, which is not the approach you have shown above. Planes from the east are sort of following the southern shoreline then turning northeast to join the flow of planes from the south. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 7 '18 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ Click on a plane, commercial flights will show their take and destination and their flight path will be shown, and you can see other planes following the same flight path. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 7 '18 at 14:08

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