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Setting-up stabilized approaches

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

Earlier this year Transport Canada released new flight test guides for the Private Pilot Licence (PPL), the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), and the Multi-Engine Class Rating (Multi). The major change in the new editions is the introduction of stabilized approach criteria for VFR pilots. Stabilized approaches have been common practice in the Part VII (commercial) world for many years and significant safety improvements have been made so much so that the Transportation Safety Board actually removed unable approaches from it's 2018 watchlist but there's still room for improvement especially in general aviation.

Stabilized approach criteria.

Transport Canada defines a stabilized approach as,

- briefings and checklists complete;

- aircraft in landing configuration (gear and flaps set);

- appropriate power for the situation;

- maximum rate of descent of 1000 fpm;

- speed +10/-5 of the reference speed (Vref);

- only minor heading and pitch changes required;

by 200 ft. AGL. If any one of the criteria above are not met by 200 ft, the pilot shall initiate an overshoot.

Flying stabilized approaches.

The term stabilized approach is really a synonym for a thought-out approach. Use the criteria above or develop your own that works for your aircraft then look at the runway you'll be landing at on a map or satellite picture. Determine where you want to touch down and work your way back, identify gates at distances back from the touchdown point. Determine the target airspeed and altitude through each gate and the desired aircraft configuration as well as a tolerance that will allow you to correct or adjust the approach. If you miss a gate, don't think about it, go-around and try again.

Just because these are the criteria list by Transport Canada in the flight test guide doesn't mean they're the right criteria for you or your aircraft every approach allows for these criteria to be met but challenge yourself to think approaches through, use the criteria above or set your own, it will make you a better, safer pilot.

Residual Risks.

Residual risks are risks that are left over or created when a risk mitigation is applied, in this case, stabilized approaches.

While flying stabilized approaches will reduce the risk of an approach or landing accident, a 3 degrees approach path may have the aircraft lower to the ground farther away from the runway requiring power to get to the runway. In the event of an engine failure, the aircraft may not be able to glide to the runway and might land short. Adjusting the approach angle so it's steeper than 3 degree will leave the aircraft higher through each of the gates and may allow the aircraft to glide to the runway in the event of an engine failure; the trade-off will be an increased rate of descent.

Disclaimer - as with all calculations, there's a chance a mistake was made producing this table. Double check the numbers before using them for any purpose.

A 3 degree path to the touch down point doesn't consider the aircraft's altitude above ground at any other point during the approach. Caution must be used while planning an approach and choosing an approach angle to ensure that any obstacles that may lie along the approach are identified and avoided.

Further reading.

- Stabilized approach and go-around (FAA)

- A solid foundation for landing (AOPA)

*All views are my own and do not represent the opinions or values of Transport Canada or the Government of Canada.