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I recently heard an instructor state that when circling, the pilot "... must execute a single, continuous maneuver once the landing approach is initiated. Don't level off." In his experience this would be a reason to fail a check ride.

When checking the AIM, I found the following:

5-4-20.f: Circling Minimums: Pilots should remain at or above the circling altitude until the aircraft is continuously in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal rate of descent using normal maneuvers.

Translating the phrase "continuously in a position" to "continuous descent" seems to me a bit of a stretch. I understand that you don't want to descend below your circling MDA altitude for purposes of obstacle clearance. However, once on final, does a correction for a "below glide slope" condition truly justify failing a student? Wouldn't leveling off be considered a "normal maneuver"?

Is there a CFII out there who could shed some light on this? Are there any additional performance/evaluation requirements that are not codified in the AIM?

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  • $\begingroup$ For reference, this phrase also appears in CFR Ch. 14, 91.175. $\endgroup$
    – nodapic
    Dec 7 '21 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ I suspect that from a CFIs point of view, having to "level off" (rather than merely adjust your descent to a slower rate) indicates a serious misjudgement of the approach, and that would be a reason to fail. $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '21 at 14:42
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The wording you quoted from the AIM, "until continuously in a position," does not make sense to me. It is ungrammatical and therefore unintelligible.

The wording at 91.175 is better:

no pilot may operate an aircraft [...] below the authorized MDA or continue an approach below the authorized DA/DH unless -

(1) The aircraft is continuously in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal rate of descent using normal maneuvers, and for operations conducted under part 121 or part 135 unless that descent rate will allow touchdown to occur within the touchdown zone of the runway of intended landing;

This is clear to me: If, at any point, you find yourself in some position from which a descent to landing cannot be made at a normal rate and using normal maneuvers, you are in violation of the rule (and, presumably, should initiate the missed-approach procedure).

Nothing in the rule implies that you must be in a continuous descent to the runway, that is, that you are forbidden from leveling off at any point.

(Note that I am neither an aviation lawyer nor a CFII.)

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I don't see how to even make it a continuous descent in many cases.

Say you are flying ILS runway 36 circle to land runway 18, with minima 700 ft and you break out of clouds at 800 ft. So now you have to stay at the 700 ft altitude flying all around the airport for about 5 track miles until it makes sense to commence further descent shortly before you turn base.

The “continuously in position” means you have to have continuous clear view of the runway and the area where you'll be manoeuvring through base and final, and be certain you can visually complete the landing from where you are.

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