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The following is required in order for a pilot to conduct a "Contact Approach:"

  1. Pilot must request it from ATC;
  2. Reported ground visibility must be at least one mile;
  3. The pilot must remain clear of clouds;
  4. There must be a published instrument approach available at that airport.

Question: What is the reason that there must be a published instrument approach available at that airport?

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To give the pilot an out, so to speak, should the weather descend to a point where a contact approach is no longer feasible. While an aircraft on a contact approach may be some distance away from the IAP(s), the idea is to provide a manner for the pilot to reestablish themselves on a flight path that avoids terrain and obstacles and can climb to a safe altitude.

It's a similar concept to missed approach procedures on a circling approach, where the aircraft is maneuvering back to a known (i.e. flight checked) safe flight path.

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  • $\begingroup$ This seems like a reasonable answer, but at Lake Tahoe (TVL), both of the instrument approaches require visibility greater than one mile. So, if you had to transition to an instrument approach with only one mile of visibility you would already be below minimums to fly either one of the two available instrumental approaches $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Jul 23 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Approach minimums apply to ceiling, not vis. You might have a mile vis and a 3000 ft ceiling. Visibility requirements on an instrument approach are airport environment in view on a NPA, or approach lights or runway threshold in view on a PA. Contact approaches can be quite dangerous because you are basically scud running beyond obstacle protected airspace of the IAP. A shuttle service at my company used to use contact approaches to make it into a private airport within a busy terminal area near a major airport, letting it stay under the busy airspace above. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jul 23 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnK- I've got to disargree with you regarding instrument approach minimums applicability. The U.S. civilian instrument approach minimums are based on visibility and not on ceiling. See FAR 91.175 (c) 2 and (d) 2. Applies to Part 91, 135, 121, etc. ops. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Jul 24 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ You can fly a Contact Approach to an airport that may only have, for example, a published RNAV Approach or an NDB approach. The Contact Approach procedure does not specify that the aircraft be properly equipped to fly the type of approaches published at that particular airport. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Jul 24 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the main point of contact approaches is it lets you proceed to an airport visually without cancelling IFR, so if you have to abandon the arrival you don't have to request a new clearance to enter the airspace, you just declare what you are doing and proceed to the missed approach procedure. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jul 24 at 5:17
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A contact approach lets you proceed to an airport visually, more or less as if you were granted Special VFR, without having to cancel your IFR flight plan. This gives you the luxury, if you have to climb back into the clag for some reason, to proceed to fly the missed approach procedure and proceed to your alternate (or whatever ATC tells you to do), etc, without having to get a new IFR clearance, and in the event of a comm failure, you have a plan to follow and which ATC can anticipate (most IFR procedural requirements are to cater to the comm failure case).

Without the contact approach option, and you wanted to proceed visually for whatever reason, you would have to cancel IFR and proceed VFR, requesting special VFR if there is a control tower, and then if the weather closes in you have to remain VFR as best you can until you can call for a new clearance, which you would have to take down while clunking around at 1000 ft.

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