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Approach brief: Curveballs in the LA basin

Must-know items for a SoCal instrument arrival

The ILS Runway 20R to John Wayne Airport-Orange County (SNA) is straightforward, with a few important considerations.
Turbine Pilot Approach Briefing

Using the briefing strip, you can easily hit the major items: frequency is 111.75 MHz, inbound course will be 196 degrees with no offset, LEMON is the final approach fix with an intercept altitude of 2,200 feet, and the decision altitude is 255 feet. Touchdown zone elevation is 55 feet. The minimum sector altitude is the major consideration in setting up for the approach. This is especially important if you come in from the east off of the DSNEE Four arrival, since you’ll be radar vectored to the final.

The chart tells us that the MSA is based off the SLI (Seal Beach) VOR, which is about 12 miles west of the field. The highest elevation in the MSA circle is 7,700 feet in the northernmost quadrant, and 6,900 feet in the eastern quadrant. If the weather is low or foggy, or if you’re arriving at night, you need to be aware that you will have relatively little room to maneuver vertically. You can also expect some unusual level-off altitudes that will not be the standard increments of even thousand feet.

Even in visual conditions, it’s worth asking for vectors to join the final approach course in order to avoid the terrain just southeast of SNAKE and HUKEM. Given that the SoCal area is often hazy and smoggy, tracking the localizer with an autopilot is a good idea until you are certain you have the field in sight. Anticipate some challenges with speed control as well, as SoCal Approach will be giving some chop-and-drop step-downs to keep you clear of the terrain. Configure early if necessary.

Looking ahead down the final approach course, there is an obstacle between LEMON and DYERS just west of the course, and another just inside DYERS. Keep this in mind with the note that the visual glideslope indicator and ILS glideslope are not coincident.

Even in visual conditions, it’s worth asking for vectors to join the final approach course in order to avoid the terrain just southeast of SNAKE and HUKEM.The runway is equipped with a medium intensity approach lighting system with runway alignment indicator lights (MALSR), and the precision approach path indicator is on the left. However, the biggest safety issue as you approach the airport is the proximity of Runway 20R to Taxiway Bravo and to Runway 20L. Runway 20R is 5,701 feet long, but 20L is only 2,887. Landing on the wrong runway could be catastrophic, but in low-visibility conditions or if you’re fatigued—or simply not following the electronic navigation guidance—it could happen.

In the event of a missed approach, the procedure is pretty simple: Climb to 3,000 and track outbound to MINOE, which is 10 miles away. That’s plenty of time to get cleaned up with the speed under control. If MINOE isn’t available for any reason, SLI is the designated alternate missed approach holding fix.

SNA is famous for noise sensitivity issues, so it behooves you to become familiar with all requests to minimize your noise footprint. There’s an early morning curfew, and the departure profile should be one to get you altitude quickly—a tactic you might want to incorporate into a missed approach, as well.

There is a lot going on in this approach, both in its design and execution, as well as at other airports in the area. Listen for your call sign on the radio, manage your energy, and ensure you’re lined up on the correct runway.

Chip Wright

Chip Wright is an airline pilot and frequent contributor to AOPA publications.

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