AINsight: The Appropriate Missed Approach

 - December 29, 2021, 10:21 AM

A missed approach is a possibility during any flight. The appropriate pilot response depends on the geographic location of the aircraft when the missed approach procedure is initiated and may not necessarily be the published missed approach procedure. A well-flown missed approach requires the pilot to have competency in the many nuances of a missed approach procedure.

Outside of simulator training, an actual missed approach is rare. The reason to “go missed” often is a surprise and adds to the high workload of an unexpecting flight crew during an approach. Thus, pilots should plan thoroughly and brief the missed approach prior to reaching the top of descent. When executing a missed approach, pilots must manage the aircraft and flight path to safely ensure terrain and obstacle clearance.

As a reminder, according to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), “a clearance for an instrument approach includes a clearance to fly the published missed approach procedure unless otherwise instructed by ATC.” Of importance, “the published missed approach procedure provides obstacle clearance only when the missed approach is conducted on the missed approach segment from or above the missed approach point (MAP) and assumes a climb rate of 200 feet/NM or higher, as published.” Furthermore, “if the aircraft initiates a missed approach at a point other than the MAP, from below minimum descent altitude (MDA) or decision altitude/height (DA/DH), or on a circling approach, obstacle clearance is not necessarily provided by following the published missed approach procedure, nor is separation assured from other air traffic in the vicinity.”

According to the Instrument Flying Handbook, “many reasons exist for executing a missed approach.” Regulations (14 CFR 91.175 (e)) authorize pilots to execute an “appropriate missed approach.” For this discussion, three scenarios will be discussed, in each case, the aircraft has a different geographic location: (1) A missed approach at the MAP; (2) a missed approach prior to reaching the MAP; and (3) a missed approach after reaching the MAP or descending below the MDA or DA/DH.

For fun, we’ll then review the appropriate missed approach procedures from a circling and visual approach.

A missed approach at the MAP is the least complex and the one practiced most in the simulator. The primary reason for this missed approach is the required flight visibility prescribed in the instrument approach procedure being used does not exist or the required visual references for the runway cannot be seen upon arrival at the DA/DH or MAP. The response to this scenario is to comply with the published missed approach procedure. In this case, obstacle clearance is provided if the missed approach is initiated from or above the MAP.

A missed approach initiated prior to the MAP (unless otherwise directed by ATC) requires the pilot to continue to fly the lateral track of the instrument approach procedure to the MAP at or above the MDA or DA/DH before beginning the turn. When the missed approach is initiated, the pilot should begin the climb (go-around procedure), but not begin the turn until reaching the MAP.

A missed approach after the MAP and/or below the DA/DH or MDA involves additional risk. In this case, obstacle clearance is the responsibility of the pilot and may not necessarily be provided by following the published missed approach procedure. The appropriate missed approach is authorized during this scenario and allows the pilot to take whatever action necessary to ensure obstacle clearance. A good plan is to utilize the engine out (EO) procedure for that runway during a missed approach after the MAP below the published DA/DH or MDA. The EO procedure will provide obstacle clearance; however, these procedures can be complicated and should be reviewed in advance.

A missed approach from a circling approach may be the most challenging. According to the Instrument Flying Handbook, “if visual reference is lost while circling-to-land from an instrument approach, execute the appropriate missed approach procedure.” After initiating the missed approach, fly an initial climbing turn toward the landing runway and then maneuver to intercept and fly the missed approach course. Again, in this case, the appropriate missed approach may not be the published missed approach procedure.

The last scenario—a “missed approach” from a visual approach—is a bit of a trick. Technically, a visual approach is not a standard instrument approach procedure and has no missed approach segment. A visual approach is an ATC authorization for an aircraft on an IFR flight plan to proceed visually (and clear of clouds) to the airport of intended landing. If unable to complete a landing from a visual approach, the pilot is expected to execute a go-around and climb to pattern altitude and is required to maintain terrain and obstacle clearance.

Regardless of the missed approach (or go-around) flown, pilots should contact ATC as soon as possible. If flying something other than the published missed approach, pilots should include the heading and altitude being flown to maintain obstacle clearance on the initial contact.

For pilots, a missed approach is a rare event. The intent of this blog is to begin a discussion on the appropriate missed approach and the initial actions required during these different scenarios. For a deeper discussion, other documents such as the regulations (14 CFR 91), AIM, Instrument Flying Handbook, TERPS (Ch. 2), and ICAO Doc. 8168 (Vol. 1) should be reviewed.

Pilot, safety expert, consultant, and aviation journalist Kipp Lau writes about flight safety and airmanship for AIN. He can be reached at