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So you were being vectored for the final approach course (ILS/RNAV/whatever) and the controller forgot about you for some reason (busy). Assume you called them and they were not replying. Also assume you were not yet cleared for the approach but they told you to assume the x approach. Would you blow through the final approach course and wait for them, even though you might conflict with traffic, or turn inbound even though you had not been cleared and potentially take a beating later?

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Yes, blow right through it. You should never deviate from a clearance to "take a beating" later simply because you think you know better than the controller. If the controller is busy it is for a reason, and it is very possible they are extending you on purpose for spacing. You could very well conflict with traffic even more by taking your own turn. It is far better to let them fix the overshoot they caused than to battle the FAA over a flight violation.

If you genuinely think the controller may have forgotten about you, you should continue to attempt contact, while pressing IDENT with each transmission. If it is so busy that you can't get a word in edgewise, press IDENT anyway. I have done this and received an immediate turn without even having to transmit on the radio. It is designed to get their attention, just don't overuse it.

The only exceptions where you should deviate from an assigned vector are if you are lost comm or have an emergency. In either case make sure you are squawking appropriately.

I would consider a vector towards terrain a pending emergency if not turned within some appropriate period of time. When I was instructing in the Navy, during simulator rides I would force a missed approach at McChord AFB, give a climb to 5000' and a left turn towards Mt Rainier. I would then fail the crew's radios. It was always a good lesson in terrain awareness, especially for young aviators from flat states.

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    $\begingroup$ The Ident is really a good point, it could be a 7600 (transmit-only) situation. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 20 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. It was a technique I was taught early on in case you need to get their attention and it always seemed like a good idea to me. And a good way to acknowledge ATC when you can hear them, but not transmit. Actually, I think military radios have a selectable function where IDENT engages any time the mic is keyed. Good idea for a single pilot lost comm scenario to avoid having to take hands off the controls. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 20 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ Would simply reaching a border of a zone with a minimal vectoring altitude lower than your current altitude constitute an emergency? $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Feb 20 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Vladimir f- Good question. Short answer is yes, I would consider being below MVA in IMC to be an emergency. The degree of my response would depend on the circumstances though. For example, let's say I was at my home field and had excellent situational awareness on the area, and a very good moving map dispaly. If I knew I was just inside a sector with a ridge of mountains, and I am in an out of the clouds so that I can also visually confirm that I am following a river parallel to a ridgeline 5 miles to the side I would be more patient with ATC, and debrief them on their error after I land. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 20 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ However, if I am at an unfamiliar airfield with lower awareness due to steam gauges I wouldn't be passive at all. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 20 at 16:59
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It's an oddball situation because normally once you are put on a heading that will intercept final, the approach clearance is included with the heading instruction ("XXX, turn right heading YYY, cleared for the approach").

But lets say the controller actually just gave you a heading to final and nothing else, and you never heard from them again. The question becomes, is this a valid comm failure or not.

If it's a real comm failure, and you continue through the final approach course and just continue off to who knows where, what is the controller to do for separation of traffic? You are now like a horse that escaped the barn, and the controller now has no idea of where you are going next.

Assuming all efforts to raise ATC fail, you go to the basic IFR comm failure procedure and proceed logically based on the comm failure protocol; clearance, expected clearance, and all that. In this case it's pretty clear to expect the approach you are being vectored to.

So if it was me, I would be frantically trying to make contact but once I was convinced I had a real comm failure I'd select 7600 and just fly the approach.

Once ATC sees the 7600 selection, that's what the controller will expect me to do and will be able to adjust traffic flow to suit. That last thing to do in a comm failure situation in a terminal area is to head off in unexpected directions.

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  • $\begingroup$ You make some good points, and I agree that if you have a strong suspicion of a comm failure is it best to recognize it and take action early, before getting too far across the inbound course and making things more difficult. However, I would caution about being to hasty if you know the controller is busy... $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 20 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. The scenario given is really not very realistic I think. It's unlikely a controller is going to turn you to intercept the LOC without an approach clearance at the turn and if he does he's really screwed up. A more likely scenario is a vector for spacing, like on a downwind leg of an arrival, where the controller is distracted and you think it's time to be turned in and no instruction comes. Well in that case you stay on your heading unless staying on the heading is getting you in danger somehow, while you work out whether you have a comm failure or the controller is just busy. $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 20 at 22:17

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