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IFR Fix: Approaches, badly missed

Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed when a pilot flying an RNAV instrument approach to a coastal Massachusetts airport missed the approach for an unusual reason: The runway lights failed to switch on when the pilot tried to activate them on the published frequency.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Had the glitch not appeared during a maximum-workload flight phase, the pilot might have had time to cross-check the approach plate with the airport diagram and discover that the wrong frequency for operating the pilot-controlled lighting appeared on the plate. But figuring that out would have to wait.

Does this occurrence, shared in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, shake up any complacency you may be harboring about flying missed approaches, possibly resulting from a lack of emphasis on them during training or recurrency flights?

That would not be unusual. Missed approaches are sometimes treated as an afterthought during practice exercises; in that environment they mainly serve as a transition to the next approach, especially when practicing in VFR weather.

Leave that mindset on the ground when the instrument flying is for real because when the chips (and the flaps) are down, a missed approach is an extremely high-workload scenario: You may find yourself at minimums without seeing the runway, wrestling with an equipment malfunction, or in a struggle to stabilize the aircraft for landing in turbulence, suddenly with a lot more flying to do.

Some pilots’ missed approaches are self-inflicted. A Piper PA–32 pilot reported missing after accidentally turning off the avionics master switch while making a power change in “turbulent IMC conditions.”

Easier said than done, but maintain your composure and fly the aircraft. Published missed-approach procedures range from simply flying straight ahead to a navaid or fix to a complex prescription of (standard-rate!) climbing or level turns while intercepting a course or entering a hold. Often air traffic control will assign something easier, but if the “published miss” must be flown, be sure you are well briefed on the details.

Of course you briefed the missed approach procedure—but how briefly? In all honesty, did your procedure review rise to the level of mastery?

Flying the missed approach may demand no less of a pilot who may already be fatigued and even a bit rattled by the sudden transition.

“Since the execution of a missed approach occurs when the flight deck workload is at a maximum, the procedure should be studied and mastered before beginning the approach,” notes the Instrument Flying Handbook, discussing the procedure on page 10-21.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

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 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, Weather

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