IFR Fix: 'Just an insurance policy'

January 2, 2013

As New Year’s resolutions go, this one is a lark: Fly two friends to a class reunion in Woodstock, N.Y., in the high-performance single that your FBO has just placed in service.

You filed an IFR flight plan, but with weather expected to improve rapidly after yesterday’s storm, that was mostly for practice, you explain to the passengers. Acquiring your instrument rating was for proficiency, not to fly routinely in bad weather, you add.

“Like an insurance policy,” one of the passengers observes.

Exactly.

Aloft now in light chop, you confidently predict that the solid clouds below will dissipate, making for an easy, scenic over-the-Hudson River arrival at the destination, Kingston-Ulster Airport. On-field weather observations are unavailable, said a notam. But you will pick up surface weather reports from other airports en route.

Two hours later, those reports are disappointing. It’s beginning to look like you may need to tap that insurance policy.

Kingston-Ulster has one instrument approach, a VOR or GPS-A procedure. Its approach course of 320 degrees is decently aligned with Runway 33. But with a minimum descent altitude of 1,500 feet, the procedure leaves you 1,351 feet agl at the missed approach point.

You will fly the approach with the IFR-approved GPS; a non-GPS-equipped aircraft would not be able to fly the procedure under another notam stating, “VOR portion NA.”

Suddenly fatigued from the early wake-up and long, choppy cruise leg, you recheck the IAP. Its odd shape depicted on the plan view--a racetrack procedure turn with a long final approach course extending to the northwest--now seems less a simple curiosity.

“Long” is key impression: From the initial approach fix, JOEYL, to the missed approach point is a full 14.5 miles. If you had to fly the approach, miss back to JOEYL, then try again, it would add 43.5 miles of flying and burning gas--or more, if there’s holding.

Sure would be nice to know the destination weather! As you pass above the Kingston VOR to begin the JOEYL transition, you are well aware that Dutchess County Airport, with an ILS approach, is only 4 nm away.

At your request, ATC provides the surface weather for Dutchess County. Then the controller adds, “What are your intentions?”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.