An Airline Pilot's Favorite Approaches

  • Sep 5, 2013 8:56am GMT

Sometimes the job can get a little tedious. Going to the same airports and doing the same instrument approach procedures over and over again. But then there are those airports, when the weather conditions are right, we'll get to fly a "special" approach, the charted visual flight procedure (CVFP). This is different than a regular visual approach, which is assigned when you can see the runway and then just fly the plane to it. The CVFP is a published chart that has the pilot visually fly a route to the runway using landmarks. Its use is designed for noise mitigation and air traffic efficiency.

These approaches are flown during good weather conditions, require more attention, a slightly higher degree of piloting and are just fun! They also give us some great views as we come into land.

As a regional airline pilot, I don't get to do the exciting approaches that you see on YouTube at crazy locations in other countries, but these are a few that we get to do here in the U.S.

The Expressway Visual to runway 31 in New York, Laguardia (LGA)

ATC will give the pilot vectors initially fly to two giant white tanks on the ground. On the way, we get a great view of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan. In order to be cleared for this approach, you must confirm with the controller that you have the tanks in sight, which are pretty easy to spot. Upon passing the tanks, you hang a right turn to follow the Long Island Expressway towards Flushing Meadows park. While navigating, the pilot descends and slows the plane down for landing with flaps and landing gear. You then follow the park around to the left and then a second tight left turn around Citi Field (taking a quick peek to see if the Mets are playing). This final segment is within about 1/2 mile of the runway and about 400 - 800 feet above the ground. To top it off, the runway is quite short leaving no room for mistakes. While arriving from the north when this procedure is in use, approach may bring you southbound at 4000 feet above the Hudson river before swinging you back north around Manhattan to begin the approach.

Harbor Visual to runway 29 in Portland, Maine (PWM)

This approach brings you out over the water to avoid the city and cause noise pollution. You follow the coast around a couple light houses and then continue following the harbor inland. At the Portland Bridge, you make a right turn to align the plane with the runway, but still staying over the water. This is all done fairly low and close to the airport. The Portland area is beautiful so this is a great approach to see the area and fun to fly at the same time!

Due to strict noise restrictions and prohibited areas around the Mall and Pentagon, we follow the Potomac River south towards the airport. Just seconds before touchdown the plane needs to make a tight right turn to align with the runway. There are quite a few landmarks to serve as indications as to what altitude you should be at during the approach. This arrival gives both the flight crew and passengers a fantastic view of our nations capital!