• The Stabilized Approach

    For Better, Safer Approaches and Landings

    We continue to see many preventable landing accidents. No group of pilots nor class of airplane seems to be immune from this kind of mishap. The airplanes involved in these accidents range from the smallest amateur built airplane to the unfortunate recent crash of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 at San Francisco. The pilot experience ranges from newly certificated pilots to airline captains with many thousands of hours. But many of these landing accidents have one thing in common - an unstabilized approach. Everybody probably remembers a flight instructor saying that a good approach leads to a good landing. If a pilot is chasing the airspeed, struggling to get lined up with the runway, or trying to correct for being significantly too high or too low, the landing is probably not going to be pretty - or worse. But just saying that we need to make a "good approach" isn't really much help unless we can define what we mean by that. Over the past twenty or so years, we have quantified what we mean and renamed it the "stabilized approach." The concept has been in wide use by professional pilots for many years but is not always embraced by pilots of small airplanes. The concept of the stabilized approach applies to both VFR and IFR operations. A general aviation adaptation of the stabilized approach might consist of seven elements. An eighth element simply states that if any one of the first seven is not being met, the approach is not stabilized and must be abandoned.

    Though pilots might argue some of the items, wishing to delete or modify some and add others, the following is a good starting point for the general aviation pilot:
    1. The aircraft is on the correct flight path.
    2. Only small changes in heading or pitch are required to maintain the correct flight path.
    3. The aircraft speed is not more than the desired approach speed (VREF) +10 knots indicated airspeed and not less than VREF
    4. The aircraft is in the correct landing configuration.
    5. Rate of descent is no greater than 500 feet per minute; if a descent rate greater than 500 feet per minute is required due to approach considerations, special attention must be paid.
    6. Power setting is appropriate for the aircraft configuration.
    7. All briefings and checklists have been accomplished.
    8. If the approach becomes unstabilized below the stabilization altitude, an immediate go-around or missed approach must be initiated.

    The pilot needs to become familiar with the elements of the stabilized approach. This list is not intended to be used as a checklist during the busy approach phase. The first seven elements should be committed to memory so that a mental bell will sound when one or more of the items is amiss.