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Visual References

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Article Information
Category: Controlled Flight Into Terrain Controlled Flight Into Terrain
Content source: Flight Safety Foundation Flight Safety Foundation (FSF)
Content control: EUROCONTROL EUROCONTROL

Description

The phrase 'Required Visual Reference' is used in relation to the transition from control of an aircraft by reference to flight deck instrumentation to control by reference to external visual references alone. Those visual references, including aids, should have been in view for sufficient time for the pilot to have made an assessment of the aircraft position and rate of change of position in relation to the desired flight path. In Category III operations with a decision height the required visual reference is that specified for the particular procedure and operation. (ICAO Annex 6, and PANS-ATM).

The establishment of visual references at the completion of an instrument approach is an important process which determines whether the approach may be continued to landing, or a go-around must be flown.

Note: the vertical or slant view of the ground through broken clouds or fog patches does not constitute an adequate visual reference to conduct a visual approach or to continue an approach below the applicable MDA/H or DA/H.

The section below headed "European Regulations" details what these visual references must be. The remainder of this article deals with the process of transition within the aircraft cockpit.

According to Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Briefing Note 7.3 — Visual References , "The transition from instrument references to external visual references is an important element of any type of instrument approach."

The briefing note points out that two common Task task-sharing philosophies are common:

  • "Pilot flying-pilot not flying (PF-PNF) task-sharing with differences about the acquisition of visual references, depending on the type of approach and on the use of automation:
    • Nonprecision and Category (CAT) I instrument landing system (ILS) approaches; or,
    • CAT II/CAT III ILS approaches (the captain usually is the PF, and only an automatic approach and landing is considered); and,
  • "Captain-first officer (CAPT-FO) task-sharing, which usually is referred to as a shared approach, monitored approach or delegated-handling approach.

"Differences in the philosophies include:

  • The transition to flying by visual references; and,
  • Using and monitoring the autopilot."

"The task-sharing for the acquisition of visual references and for the monitoring of the flight path and aircraft systems varies, depending on:

  • The type of approach; and,
  • The level of automation being used:
    • Hand-flying (using the Flight Director [FD]); or,
    • Autopilot (AP) monitoring (single or dual AP)."

The briefing note than proceeds to discuss task sharing and other considerations for different types of approach.

European Regulations

AMC1 to IR-OPS CAT.OP.MPA.305(e) and Appendix 1 to EU-OPS 1.430 define the required visual references for continuion of a precision approach or a non-precision approach as follows:

Non-Precision Approach A pilot may not continue an approach below MDA/H unless at least one of the following visual references for the intended runway is distinctly visible and identifiable to the pilot:

(i) Elements of the approach light system;
(ii) The threshold;
(iii) The threshold markings;
(iv) The threshold lights;
(v) The threshold identification lights;
(vi) The visual glide slope indicator;
(vii) The touchdown zone or touchdown zone markings;
(viii) The touchdown zone lights;
(ix) Runway edge lights; or
(x) Other visual references accepted by the Authority.

Precision Approach A pilot may not continue an approach below the Category I decision height ... unless at least one of the following visual references for the intended runway is distinctly visible and identifiable to the pilot:

(i) Elements of the approach light system;
(ii) The threshold;
(iii) The threshold markings;
(iv) The threshold lights;
(v) The threshold identification lights;
(vi) The visual glide slope indicator;
(vii) The touchdown zone or touchdown zone markings;
(viii) The touchdown zone lights; or
(ix) Runway edge lights.

Category II Operations A pilot may not continue an approach below the Category II decision height ... unless visual reference containing a segment of at least 3 consecutive lights being the centre line of the approach lights, or touchdown zone lights, or runway centre line lights, or runway edge lights, or a combination of these is attained and can be maintained. This visual reference must include a lateral element of the ground pattern, i.e. an approach lighting crossbar or the landing threshold or a barette of the touchdown zone lighting.

Category IIIA Operations For Category IIIA operations, and for Category IIIB operations with failpassive flight control systems, a pilot may not continue an approach below the decision height ... unless a visual reference containing a segment of at least 3 consecutive lights being the centreline of the approach lights, or touchdown zone lights, or runway centreline lights, or runway edge lights, or a combination of these is attained and can be maintained.

Category IIIB Operations For Category IIIB operations with fail-operational flight control systems using a decision height a pilot may not continue an approach below the Decision Height ... unless a visual reference containing at least one centreline light is attained and can be maintained.

Accidents and Incidents

The following events on SKYbrary involve lack of visual reference as a factor:

  • P46T, vicinity Son Bonet Palma de Mallorca Spain, 2002 (On 19 December 2002, a Piper PA-46 Malibu, after takeoff from Son Bonet Aerodrome, penetrated the control zone (CTR) of Palma de Mallorca tower. The pilot was instructed to leave the CTR and the aircraft headed towards mountainous terrain to the north of the island where the flight conditions were below the VFR minimum. In level flight the aircraft impacted terrain at an altitude of 2000 ft killing all three occupants.)
  • C500, vicinity Santiago Spain, 2012 (On 2 August 2012, a Cessna 500 positioning back to base after completing an emergency medical team transfer operation earlier in the night crashed one mile short of the runway at Santiago in landing configuration after being cleared to make an ILS approach. The Investigation concluded that the approach was unstabilised, had been flown without following the ILS GS and that the crew had used DME distance from the VOR near the crash position rather than the ILS DME. Fog was present in and around the airport.)
  • C185, Smithers BC Canada, 2000 (On 27 September 2000, a Cessna 185, struck a snow covered hillside, probably while in controlled flight, en-route from Smithers BC, Canada.)
  • RJ1H, vicinity Zurich Switzerland, 2001 (On 24 November 2001, a Crossair Avro RJ100 making a night non precision approach to Zurich violated approach minima and subsequently impacted terrain whilst making a delayed attempt to initiate a go around. The aircraft was destroyed by the impact and post crash fire and 24 of the 33 occupants were killed. The Investigation attributed the crash to the crew deliberately continuing descent below MDA without having acquired the prescribed visual reference. Both crew pairing and aspects of the crew as individuals were identified as the context.)
  • C501, vicinity Trier-Fohren Germany, 2014 (On 12 January 2014, the crew of a Cessna 501 on a private business flight with a two-pilot crew attempted to make an unofficial GPS-based VNAV approach in IMC to the fog-bound VFR-only uncontrolled aerodrome at Trier-Fohren. However, after apparently mis-programming the 'descend-to' altitude and deviating from the extended centre, the aircraft emerged from the fog very close to the ground and after pulling up collided with obstructions, caught fire and crashed killing all occupants. The Investigation noted an apparent absence of pre-flight weather awareness beyond the intended destination and that there was a suitable fog-free diversion.)

Related Articles

Further Reading

  • ICAO Doc 4444: PANS-ATM;

Flight Safety Foundation

The Flight Safety Foundation ALAR Toolkit provides useful training information and guides to best practice. Copies of the FSF ALAR Toolkit may be ordered from the Flight Safety Foundation ALAR website