Ryan Burnette

What altitude should be set in the altitude preselect during the final segment of a visual approach?

Like most pilots who operate as a crew member on a two-pilot flight deck, I have some pet peeves. One that irks me on line and in the training environment is setting the altitude found in the published missed approach procedure of an instrument approach while cleared for a visual approach to that runway. I’ve bit my tongue many times as my fellow pilot did this. I have even done it myself to pacify my instructor while in training.

Setting a missed altitude found on an instrument in preparation for a go-around from a visual approach could lead to a deviation in the form of a climb to an unauthorized altitude.

Visual approaches should be backed up with the most precise approach available for that runway. This is the primary reason many pilots will set that missed approach altitude.

A visual approach is not an instrument procedure. It has no missed approach. If you can’t land from a visual approach, the result is a go-around.

Aeronautical Information Manual 5−4−23 e. gives us the answer in black and white, from the FAA, for those of us flying in the USA.

A visual approach is not an IAP and therefore has no missed approach segment. If a go around is necessary for any reason, aircraft operating at controlled airports will be issued an appropriate advisory/clearance/instruction by the tower. At uncontrolled airports, aircraft are expected to remain clear of clouds and complete a landing as soon as possible. If a landing cannot be accomplished, the aircraft is expected to remain clear of clouds and contact ATC as soon as possible for further clearance. Separation from other IFR aircraft will be maintained under these circumstances.

I have heard preselecting the missed approach altitude off a visual referred to as a technique, but the last sentence of the AIM excerpt clearly presents the threat. Following the AIM guidance provides separation from IFR traffic. Climbing to the altitude on the instrument missed approach probably won’t. Climbing to that altitude in the event of a go-around could have hazardous results.

I propose that operators give guidance on this situation in their manuals. This will force a discussion on what the right altitude to set is and will give crews a clear procedure to follow.

I further propose that the traffic pattern altitude should be set unless rapidly rising terrain exists off the departure end of the visual approach runway, in which case the minimum safe altitude for the sector should be used.