For EASA, if possible.

If I'm IFR flight flying STAR and I receive shortcut to a point which is behind IAF but I'm not cleared for eg. ILS RWY 12 approach, what I'm supposed to do?

I would say that the point which I was cleared to is my clearance limit. I would say that I can't continue that approach because I wasn't cleared to. I guess this shouldn't happen but if it happens what is correct action for a pilot according to a law?

I think that for FAA land it is simply start to hold with standard holding pattern but I'm not sure if this is the case for EASA.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you assuming lost communications? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think he means not a coms failure but where the controller is busy or preoccupied and you reach a clearance limit with no further instruction so whaddaya do on the spot. A largely theoretical case but I suppose there are situations where it can happen. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 18:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JohnK, I agree, but I don't like to presume. The language used is also important pzag, if your clearance limit is the airfield and during the STAR you are told "proceed direct ABCD" your clearance limit hasn't changed. If there were another point on the STAR after that I would continue to the last point on the STAR you were cleared for, (and query the controller) before I would hold. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnK I agree with "largely theoretical" in that it's extremely rare to actually happen, but starting to get uncomfortably close to a clearance limit & hoping ATC's next transmission is for you, not as much. I think ATC is very interested in averting this sort of situation, but it's worth thinking through what's the best course if it does happen, IMHO. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 1:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No, I didn't assume lost communications. I know it is theoretical. This came up during ATC training. I work on a simulator for them as a pilot (I fly all the aircraft they learn to control) and they did exactly that and none really knew, not even instructors could agree, what to do next. The ATC in training sent me directly to point behind IAF but without any further clearance. $\endgroup$
    – pzag
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 5:14

3 Answers 3


First, I'd check the printed STAR: if it gives an instruction like "expect the ILS runway XX" then I'd go with that.

If you're the only airplane inbound to your destination, then holding might work, but in a busy terminal area where you are part of a long train of aircraft inbound on that STAR heading to an obvious runway, holding there outside of (but near) the IAF would create a dangerous situation for you & the next few aircraft in line, with the possibility of no easy place for the controller to vector you to.

I'd continue on final, squawk IDENT ("hey, look at me!" to get the controller's attention), and stay basically in line. If the controller doesn't want you flying the approach (say, he just got word of an unexpected runway closure) it's still easier for him to keep you at (or climb you back up to) altitude on that same groundtrack than to sort out you turning back toward inbound traffic or traffic on parallel finals.

Chances are good that he meant to clear you for the approach, or even thought he had cleared you for it, and once he can, that's what he'll do.

While I agree that "can't get a word in" isn't quite the same as Lost Comm, I'd defend Captain's Authority & doing the safest thing by continuing in, rather than holding, in the situation of a long string of arrivals.

That said, if you're inbound to a small airport with nobody close behind you, and you starting down final could create a conflict with some of the traffic that's making the frequency so busy, then that's an entirely different scenario, and holding in your protected airspace could well be safer than starting an approach into airspace that ATC needs to sanitize of other traffic.

I think that latter scenario is more what the "hold at your clearance limit" rule is based on. In my flying (FAA-land, not EASA), I'm generally part of the long stream of traffic all inbound to the major airport, and we're typically given "expect the ILS 25L" by one or more arrival controllers while still on the STAR.


A “shortcut” does not change your clearance limit; it simply removes the portion of the route prior to the shortcut point. Therefore, upon reaching that point, you would continue to the clearance limit.

For instance, if you were originally “cleared to X via direct A direct B direct C direct”, and ATC later says “cleared direct B”, your clearance limit remains X, but with the shortened route of “direct B direct C direct”.

Notice the distinction between “cleared to … via”, which sets/amends both the clearance limit and the route, and “cleared”, which amends only the route. A couple tiny words make a huge difference in meaning.

However, since you were not cleared for an approach, you cannot descend below the last assigned altitude. This leaves a question of what to do when you reach your clearance limit, but the pilot should have clarified with ATC long before that happens or, if unable, begin lost comms procedures. And that will definitely get ATC’s attention!

  • $\begingroup$ The question wasn't about a "direct B", but about "direct Y", where Y is behind X. What should you do now? Turn around and fly back to X? Or hold at Y? $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Bianfable If Y isn’t already on your current route, I wouldn’t call that a shortcut. Nothing in the Q leads me to think ATC intended to change the clearance limit. Note they said “behind the IAF”, so it’s a fairly safe assumption that the clearance limit was the airport. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 18:02

In FAA land, if it's not lost comm, fly your cleared route at your last assigned altitude to the clearance limit and then enter holding.


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