Can pilots fly circling approaches at non-towered airports?

Lnafziger
  • Can pilots fly circling approaches at non-towered airports? Lnafziger

    So the answer in my mind is "of course pilots can fly circling approaches at non-towered airports" (seriously, I could swear that I've done it before, but then again I can't think of any specific examples....).

    That is, until I ran across this little tidbit in the Air Traffic Control Order while researching another question:

    4-8-6. CIRCLING APPROACH

    a. Circling approach instructions may only be given for aircraft landing at airports with operational control towers.

    So then the question becomes, why do they have circling minimums at non-towered airports??

    KBRY minimums

    • No tower here.
    • ATC can't clear me to circle.
    • Why do we have circling minimums??

  • As I understand 5-4-20 circling minima provide obstacle clearance within a lateral distance of the runway. In certain circumstances it may be necessary to overfly the landing environment to establish winds, etc. This should only be done when patternin VFR conditions.

  • The way I understand that ATC order is that it is about "circling approach instructions" which is different than "(circling) approach clearance". They cannot tell you to enter a left downwind, do a right 360, or follow some other specific path to the runway. If they clear you to execute a circling approach to a given runway at a non-towered airport, then the path to the runway is for the pilot to determine, as necessary to separate yourself from other aircraft in the terminal area and land safely.

  • If approaching an uncontrolled field at altitude a pilot can over fly the airport in order to determine wind direction and traffic in the pattern. The pilot can then begin circling while descending to pattern altitude and enter the pattern merging with other traffic. General aviation airports are not usually located where there are obstacles that have to be avoided during the approach unless there are mountains nearby that prevent a straight in final approach.

  • I've done quite a number of circling approaches at non-towered airports. ATC clears one for the approach by type (VOR 4, VOR-A, GPS 32, etc). There's no mention of how it is executed or terminates (other than missed approach instructions). Want to fly the RNAV/GPS by the LNAV minimums, fine. LPV, sure, go ahead, want to circle from 32 around to 4, they don't know how you're doing it. They just know that the airspace around the airport is clear for you to execute and approach (and go missed). Once you switch to CTAF, you're otherwise on your own. There's nobody to give you a landing clearance either, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to land! :-)

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  • So the answer in my mind is "of course pilots can fly circling approaches at non-towered airports" (seriously, I could swear that I've done it before, but then again I can't think of any specific examples....). That is, until I ran across this little tidbit in the Air Traffic Control Order while researching another question: 4-8-6. CIRCLING APPROACH a. Circling approach instructions may only be given for aircraft landing at airports with operational control towers. So then the question becomes, why do they have circling minimums at non-towered airports?? No tower here. ATC

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