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IFR Fix: You've got mail (from ATC)IFR Fix: You've got mail (from ATC)

If you are an instrument pilot or instrument-rating trainee who flies practice approaches under visual flight rules at an airport with radar service, there may be a letter waiting for you from your local air traffic control facility.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Don’t worry, you haven’t done anything wrong. ATC knows it’s a good idea for you to practice flying approach procedures “in the system.” Some terminal radar approach control facilities come right out and encourage the activity.

ATC needs to keep the mix of practice sessions and other operations orderly, however, so individual tracons may issue letters describing procedures for you to follow when practicing in their airspace, and explaining why they may sometimes have to ask you to please come back another time.

You don’t have to maintain a vigil at the mailbox or scroll back through your email to find the letter that spells all this out.

As with many FAA communications on operational matters, you will find your tracon’s letter—if it has issued one—in notices to airmen for the airport with the ATC facility, and sometimes for a satellite airport. Check for a notam titled “Practice Instrument Approaches” or “VFR Practice Instrument Approaches.” 

So that’s what that notam is. You’ve likely seen it before, but perhaps didn’t pay much attention. Clicking on the notam should take you to a letter to airmen from the local ATC facility. Here are examples from Greater Rochester International Airport in New York; from Bangor International Airport in Maine; from Hudson Valley Regional Airport in New York; and from Frederick (Maryland) Municipal Airport. The letters—also searchable under letters to airmen—can help you plan practice sessions. Study the list of airports served, and note procedures.

For example, “When requesting a practice instrument approach, state type of aircraft, type of approach desired and how the approach will be terminated (full stop landing, touch-and-go, missed approach),” instructs New York Tracon’s letter to airmen in a Hudson Valley Regional Airport notam.

Bangor’s tracon provides practice approaches at six outlying airports, and at its Class C airspace-centered airport. Its letter to airmen notes that  ATC makes practice approaches available “in an effort to provide the highest level of service to the aviation community.”

In return, the letter reminds pilots to report termination of their approaches, to avoid delaying IFR traffic waiting to use the airspace.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: ATC, Notams, Flight Planning

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