“Cleared Straight-In RNAV Runway 18 approach,” but I need to circle to land, what’s up?

“Cleared Straight-In RNAV Runway 18 approach,” but I need to circle to land, what’s up?

  • May
  • 07
  • 2013
  • Advanced Aircrew Academy


During the flight debrief the pilot monitoring asked the pilot flying what was up with that controller clearing them for the straight in approach, then telling them they could circle at their discretion.

The answer lies in changes to the ATC approach clearance phraseology. If your aircraft is RNAV-equipped, you should expect to hear this new ATC approach clearance language starting in June 2013. This relatively minor change is intended to clarify some existing confusion about when we need to fly a “thin line” hold-in-lieu-of procedure turn when these are published on the approach plate.

The basic situation has not changed. We do not enter that type of published hold unless instructed to do so by ATC, but, we may need to and are OK to use that airspace if required to get turned around to fly the approach – a course reversal. More specifically, we are allowed to use that airspace when our current heading is greater than 90 degrees from the inbound approach course.

Under the new rules, the pilots in Aircraft #1 on the RNAV approach shown below should expect to hear a variation of the following clearance: “Cleared direct CENTR, maintain at or above three thousand feet until CENTR, cleared straight-in RNAV Runway One Eight approach.” The phrase “cleared straight-in” is one of the new terms, indicating that ATC does not want you to enter the depicted hold.

As in the past, Aircraft #2, if cleared to CENTR and for the approach, will have to execute a course reversal PT in the depicted airspace to get turned around and will get receive no separate clearance to do that.

Two other changes to note:

One is that you may now also be cleared to a published intermediate fix (IF) somewhere along the final approach course of both RNAV and conventional approaches, as long as that IF is at least 3 NM prior the Final Approach Fix. This change can help expedite traffic and save time and fuel.

Another allows controllers to clear pilots for localizer approaches when ILS glideslopes are known to be out of service, and it also removes all references to microwave landing systems.

All of this is contained in the FAA’s NOTICE N JO 7110.615. Click below to download the notice.

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