I'm wondering how many minutes prior to Final approach do pilots decide what type of approach they will carry on with at the arrival airport like (VISUAL/CATI,II,IIIA,IIIB) ?

Like how many minutes before they get the latest METAR or weather reports and decide accordingly how to carry on with their final landing and how long all this preparation takes before the actual touchdown ?

  • $\begingroup$ I added the airline-operations tag because I think you're asking about airline pilots preparing for arrival. A single pilot in a light aircraft could be quite different. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Mar 8, 2021 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


This varies a bit based on company or personal standard operating procedures (SOP's). However, typically a pilot/crew will receive arrival airport information either via D-ATIS (Data Link-Automatic Terminal Information Service) sent directly to an aircraft's on board equipment (e.g., ACARS - Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System), or the same information converted to speech for those aircraft not equipped with an ACARS (or similar receiving system).

The information received generally includes the latest airport weather information, runway(s) in use, type of approach to expect (ILS, Visual, etc.), and any additional relevant information a pilot/crew would need to know before arrival for planning purposes.

For air carrier/high altitude type arrivals the crew generally will access the ATIS prior to the planned "Top of Descent" (TOD) point where the descent from cruise altitude will begin. It would not be uncommon to access the ATIS information 10 minutes (or more) prior to the TOD point (in a relatively lower workload environment) in order for the crew to properly prepare for arrival. This preparation would include accessing the appropriate charts, perhaps inputting information into the onboard navigation/performance computer systems, briefing the approach procedures to be used, missed approach procedures, runway exit procedures, any special instructions noted from the ATIS.

Once the descent began (past the TOD point) and the landing preparations all completed and briefed, it could take 20 - 30 minutes before actual touchdown (or more). This would vary based on ATC requirements, traffic conditions, vectoring, weather, etc.

For light aircraft/low altitude arrivals, the procedure the pilot/crew would take would be fundamentally similar. ATIS information and arrival preparation would (should) be done early enough to allow for the least distraction and done in a relatively low workload environment (prior to a higher - close to the airport - workload environment).

Again, different pilots and company SOP's may call for different procedures, but the above is common in my experience.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for the answer...My flight was a 2 hour flight and it was a CATIIIB approach and landing during that so I was wondering how the cockpit must have prepared the landing because it looks so complex..thanks again Mr757 ! $\endgroup$
    – Avgeeker
    Mar 6, 2021 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ I did a trip to ferry a regional airliner from South America to N America once, about 10 years ago, and there were no arrival ATIS's at the airports we stopped at, like Lima. You got your "ATIS" data included in your arrival clearance. You didn't have the luxury of listening to an automated broadcast a second time, the lousy audio, Spanish accents, and different phrasings could be confusing, and you didn't want to ask for repeat if you could avoid it because the controllers could be a bit... curt, you might say. Getting back to N America was a big relief. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Mar 6, 2021 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ Nice to know Mr John $\endgroup$
    – Avgeeker
    Mar 7, 2021 at 3:39

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