Descent to Initial Approach Level - Radar Vectoring

Descent to Initial Approach Level - Radar Vectoring

What we have been informed

When vectoring a flight for approach where a pilot-interpreted approach aid will be used, air traffic control (ATC) should issue the approach clearance prior to the aircraft reports established. At that time the aircraft may be at a level higher than the initial approach altitude. This has occasionally lead to a confusing situation in the cockpit in that pilots have difficulty to determine whether they should maintain the last assigned altitude until established on final approach track, or if they were allowed to descend to the initial approach altitude.

PANS-ATM Procedures

  • The initial and intermediate approach phases of an approach executed under the direction of a radar controller comprise those parts of the approach from the time radar vectoring is initiated for the purpose of positioning the aircraft for final approach, until the aircraft is on final approach and: a) established on the final approach path of a pilot-interpreted aid (PANS-ATM
  • Radar vectoring will normally terminate at the time the aircraft leaves the last assigned heading to intercept the final approach track (PANS-ATM
  • The radar controller is responsible for terrain clearance until the aircraft resumes own navigation (PANS-ATM


Based on the above, and in order for the controller to be able to retain responsibility for terrain clearance while vectoring aircraft for final approach, pilots should either maintain the last assigned level until radar vectoring is terminated (which normally occurs at the time the aircraft leaves the last assigned heading to intercept the final approach track), or ask for an explicit clearance to descend.

Procedures to mitigate against the problem

  • Some States require the controller to refrain from issuing the approach clearance until the pilot reports established, even though PANS-ATM advises otherwise.
  • Some States require the controller to restate the altitude to maintain until established.

Your support is required

  • Note the subject and alert controllers and pilots


© European Organisation for Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) July 2006. This alert is published by EUROCONTROL for information purposes. It may be copied in whole or in part, provided that EUROCONTROL is mentioned as the source and to the extent justified by the non-commercial use (not for sale). The information in this document may not be modified without prior written permission from EUROCONTROL. The use of the document is at the user’s sole risk and responsibility. EUROCONTROL expressly disclaim any and all warranties with respect to any content within the alert, express or implied.


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