Scenario: Airport is in a class E airspace surface area (control tower is not in operation); the reported weather is IMC but is at or above circling approach minimums; pilot is cleared by ATC for a approach to the airport and is making an instrument approach to runway 36 with the intention to circle and land on runway 18.

After completing the circle and descending for runway 18, the pilot determines that the aircraft is too high to make a safe landing and decides to abandon the approach.

Question: Is it mandatory at this point for the pilot to fly the entire "published" missed approach procedure or can the pilot choose to just make a turn to reenter the circling maneuver area originally flown and land on runway 18 (e.g., enter a left downwind)?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most instrument approaches are for pretty long runways, it's hard to imagine one where there isn't enough length for light aircraft to sideslip or do s-turns to lose altitude. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jul 22, 2021 at 7:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @GdD - I appreciate your comment but the point of the question relates to the procedure after the decision is made to abandon the approach (not how the aircraft got into that position in the first place). BTW, often, because of the IMC diminished visual clues (especially at night), perhaps close-in downwind, and low circling altitude, it can be challenging to circle. Many air carriers do not allow circling approaches at all (depending on the fleet type and operational area). Also, slipping a Lear, for example, with passengers or patients on board would typically not be a viable option. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Jul 22, 2021 at 15:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GdD there can be other reasons to go around too, like being unstabilised on short final by an untimely gust of wind. Also include a Beechcraft 1900 or a Dash-8 in your thinking, those also operate to some class E airports. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jul 23, 2021 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ Closely related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jul 29, 2021 at 16:57

2 Answers 2


Assuming that you're asking about the US, then according to the Instrument Procedures Handbook p.4-41 (emphasis mine):

If the aircraft initiates a missed approach at a point other than the missed approach point, from below MDA or DA (H), or on a circling approach, obstacle clearance is not provided by following the published missed approach procedure, nor is separation assured from other air traffic in the vicinity.

In the event a balked (rejected) landing occurs at a position other than the published missed approach point, the pilot should contact ATC as soon as possible to obtain an amended clearance. If unable to contact ATC for any reason, the pilot should attempt to re−intercept a published segment of the missed approach and comply with route and altitude instructions. If unable to contact ATC, and in the pilot’s judgment it is no longer appropriate to fly the published missed approach procedure, then consider either maintaining visual conditions (if possible) and reattempt a landing, or a circle−climb over the airport.

In other words, once you go below MDA the missed approach procedure doesn't provide obstacle clearance anyway, meaning that flying the published missed may not be the best course of action. So it's up to the pilot to determine what to do.

  • $\begingroup$ To amplify the text of the IPH. The Missed Approach Procedure assures obstacle clearance if the airplane starts the missed approach at the MAP and climbs at 400' per nautical mile from the MAP altitude. Starting at a lower altitude or a different point may not provide terrain clearance. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Jul 22, 2021 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ "Pilot should re-intercept a published segment of the missed approach". Is this not Step 1? Then, decide "what to do". This would benefit others in the pattern. BTW, obstacles should be known in advance (and are less of an issue on a high approach). $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2021 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertDiGiovanni Yes, as I read it, step 1 is contact ATC. If that doesn't work for any reason, step 2 is to "attempt to" re-intercept. Step 3 is to make your own decision. Even if you want to follow step 1 and contact ATC, if you're maneuvering close to the ground in limited visibility just switching frequencies could be a dangerous distraction and a pilot might determine that reattempting the landing is the safest thing to do. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jul 22, 2021 at 17:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife the reference in your excellent answer does mention contact ATC first, but aviate, navigate, communicate does seem to apply here as you suggested. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2021 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertDiGiovanni Definitely! $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jul 23, 2021 at 15:11

In the Center environment, when I clear you for an instrument approach, I'm protecting the missed approach, and I expect you to fly it if you cannot land safely, whatever your reason.

Realistically, though, if you have good visual, and can do so safely, I'd have no problem with you getting the aircraft up to a safe altitude and circling back to the airport, and landing. After all, a safe landing is what we both want.

Keep in mind that there's no express or implied clearance for this, but I won't be clearing another aircraft for the approach unless I hear from you.


You must log in to answer this question.