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A pilot is flying IFR on a visual approach to a towered airport. He elects to go around due to gusting winds and notifies the tower. The tower then asks his intentions. He replies that he would still like to land. The tower instructs: "Squawk VFR and enter a left downwind for runway 5."

Is the instruction to squawk VFR proper?

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    $\begingroup$ This question does not make sense. Is the pilot landing or going around? You cannot do both at the same time. Perhaps there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the term "Go-around". $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Mar 24 '19 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ Which country are you asking about? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Mar 24 '19 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ Curious about what Class airspace it was. I was reading Class D controllers only "use visual means to identify and separate aircraft". $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Mar 24 '19 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ryan, he intends to land after going around. Robert, yes - tower controllers are primarily visual. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Mar 25 '19 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Were you on an IFR plan or simply shooting practice approaches? It's somewhat "normal" if shooting practice approaches and you have not informed tower of your intent to do multiple approaches. If you are on an IFR plan and did not agree to cancel IFR, it's unusual. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Mar 31 '19 at 18:23
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No, that scenario does not sound normal to me. For one thing, a visual approach is an IFR procedure. Instructing the crew to change to a VFR squawk makes it sound like the controller is suddenly treating the flight as a VFR flight, which makes no sense. A controller is never allowed to just cancel IFR; going from IFR to VFR must always be explicitly requested by the crew ("cancelling my IFR flight"). We are not even allowed to suggest a flight to change to VFR, the idea has to come from the pilot.

Besides, it makes no sense that the controller would change the squawk code of a (presumably) already identified flight to a non-discreet code (1200/7000) since radar identification would then be lost and it would be impossibly to continue to provide radar service.

If the example you provide is a real one, there is obviously a reason for the controller doing what they did, however, based on the limited information you give here, it is hard to see what the reason would be. Maybe if we knew the whole picture, it would make more sense.

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  • $\begingroup$ "We are not even allowed to suggest a flight to change to VFR" When landing at an non-towered airport in the US, Approach will ask if you have the field in sight and, if so, will tell you to cancel "with flight serivice on the ground or with me". You might argue the latter's technically not a suggestion to cancel now in the air, but that is how pilots interpret it in practice and, at least for GA, nearly always agree. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 24 '19 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenS Which makes sense, if you are landing at a VFR-only aerodrome (one with no instrument approach). You can't land there IFR. But that's not something enforced by ATC, that's an aerodrome specific restriction that you planned for yourself when you planned the flight. $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Mar 24 '19 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard Most public non-towered airports here have an RNAV approach these days, and many already had NDB, VOR or even ILS approaches, so you could stay IFR to the ground if you insist, but Approach will suggest canceling iff they clear you for the visual. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 24 '19 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard At least in the US, controllers will make the comment that Stephen mentioned even if the airport has instrument approaches. Many US airports have instrument approaches but no towers, meaning that the pilot has to cancel IFR himself. ATC can't release other IFR traffic into or out of the airport until they receive the cancellation so it's easier for everyone if pilots cancel when airborne if they can. But it's always the pilot's decision, not ATC's, as you said. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Mar 24 '19 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife OK, I guess that's because the US has a slightly special way of dealing with IFR/VFR and opening and closing flightplans. See related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/35056/… $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Mar 24 '19 at 18:06
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You are not operating under IFR in the tower pattern if in the United States, so the short answer is yes.

It is not unusual at all to shoot an instrument approach to a runway, execute an option, (i.e. touch and go or low approach) and then turn downwind into the tower landing pattern. Generally tower will ask you to squawk standby to declutter approach control’s scope.

It is correct that when cleared for a visual approach you are still on an IFR clearance. However, what is imporant is the pilots specific words to the controller after aborting the landing: If the pilot stated “missed approach” and began executing the IFR missed approach procedures he/she should expect to continue to be given IFR handling, i.e. vectors by the approach controller to set up for another instrument approach. This is especially true if still talking on approach control’s frequency.

However, if the pilot is on tower frequency, weather is VMC and the tower pattern is open, and for fuel or other reasons the pilot desires to turn downwind immediately after aborting a landing, the request should be stated unambiguously: For example something like, “Tower, N123WP going around, request left/right closed traffic for landing”. This effectively cancels IFR, makes intentions to remain VFR in the pattern to expedite landing clear, and approval from tower along with a request to change squawk would be entirely appropriate.

The pilot in this case stated "going around" and it sounds like tower made a reasonable assumption about intentions based on weather conditions and the fact that the pilot had previously requested visual to a full stop. (Requesting an ILS approach to the option could imply multiple practice instrument approaches might be desired for training...)

If this is not what the pilot wanted, it needs to be rebuked clearly and immediately. For example, “Negative, N123WP is executing the missed approach, request IFR vectors for another visual/ILS/RNAV approach runway 25.”

Instead the pilot accepted tower's clearance to turn downwind into the VFR pattern, and the change to a 1200 code was proper.

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  • $\begingroup$ You may not be operating on a full set of IFR instructions (i.e. heading/route and locked-down altitude) but you should be afforded IFR separation in the traffic pattern, if the go-around was unintentional. Reference: 7–4–1 (a) and (b). Read between the lines for (a) and (b). If you're shooting instrument approaches and request to terminate an approach with "option tower" that does imply cancellation of IFR after completing the option and you will be afforded VFR separation in the pattern. $\endgroup$ – randomhead Feb 1 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead, I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say here.... What do you mean by “a full set of IFR instructions”? And are you implying that both IFR and VFR can mingle in the tower traffic pattern, and tower controllers will be expected to manage them both somehow? $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 1 at 4:06
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Since you were on an IFR visual approach and have "gone around" after your 1st landing attempt, and are in the landing pattern curcuit, weather permitting, why not do what the tower says?

There may be different procedures for IFR approaches and go arounds. They may have slotted you to "fit in" for left downwind for runway 5 VFR. Switching (to 1200) and landing seems to get it done. Unless you leave the landing pattern or do not follow their instructions, there does not seem to be any harm.

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  • $\begingroup$ It would also help to be clear about approach (as flying into the towers airspace) as compared with being in the pattern and going around. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Mar 24 '19 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ We were IFR and cleared for the visual approach. Over the threshold and winds gusted strongly. The PIC decided to go around, powered up and stopped his decent. He then advised the tower he was "going around" (not "missed"). The Tower asked his intentions and he said he still wished land. TheTower then said: Okay squawk 12) and enter a left downwind and brought us around to land. Those are the complete facts. $\endgroup$ – John D'Alimonte Mar 24 '19 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ There are different procedures for aborting a landing if you are operating visually under IFR vs VFR that need to be clearly understood by instrument rated pilots. This response doesn't really answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Mar 25 '19 at 18:18

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