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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:

  • DH8C, vicinity Adelaide Australia, 2015 (On 24 April 2015, a Bombardier DHC8-300 making an RNAV approach at Adelaide in IMC with the AP engaged went below the procedure vertical profile. An EGPWS ‘PULL UP’ Warning was triggered at 5½nm out and the approach was discontinued reportedly due to “spurious instrument indications”. The Investigation found that the premature descent had occurred when mode re-selection after a Flight Director dropout had been incorrect with VS active instead of VNAV. It was found that both pilots had assessed the ‘PULL UP’ Warning as “spurious” and a missed approach rather than the mandated terrain avoidance procedure had been flown.)
  • B738, vicinity Christchurch New Zealand, 2011 (On 29 October 2011, a Boeing 737-800 on approach to Christchurch during the 68 year-old aircraft commander's annual route check as 'Pilot Flying' continued significantly below the applicable ILS minima without any intervention by the other pilots present before the approach lights became visible and an uneventful touchdown occurred. The Investigation concluded that the commander had compromised the safety of the flight but found no evidence to suggest that age was a factor in his performance. A Safety Recommendation was made to the Regulator concerning the importance of effective management of pilot check flights.)
  • 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.)
  • B738, Mildura VIC Australia, 2013 (On 18 June 2013, a Boeing 737-800 crew en route to Adelaide encountered un-forecast below-minima weather conditions on arrival there and decided to divert to their designated alternate, Mildura, approximately 220nm away where both the weather report and forecast were much better. However, on arrival there, an un-forecast rapid deterioration to thick fog had occurred with insufficient fuel to go anywhere else. The only available approach was flown, but despite exceeding the minimum altitude by 260 feet, no visual reference was obtained. A further approach with the reported overcast 100 feet agl and visibility 200 metres was continued to a landing.)
  • A320, Halifax NS Canada, 2015 (On 29 March 2015, an Airbus A320 crew mismanaged the descent during a night non-precision approach at Halifax and continued below MDA without the mandatory autopilot disconnection until, with inadequate visual reference, the aircraft impacted terrain and obstructions 225 metres short of the runway. The aircraft was destroyed but there were no fatalities. The Investigation found that the crew did not monitor their descent against the required vertical profile, as there was no SOP requiring them to do so, and did not recognise in time that a go around was appropriate.)


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 http://www.flightsafety.org/current-safety-initiatives/approach-and-landing-accident-reduction-alar