Precision Approach

Precision Approach


A precision approach is an instrument approach and landing using precision lateral and vertical guidance with minima as determined by the category of operation.[1] In contrast, a non-precision standard instrument approach procedure only provides horizontal guidance.

Note. Lateral and vertical guidance refers to the guidance provided either by:

a) a ground-based navigation aid; or

b) computer generated navigation data displayed to the pilot of an aircraft.

c) a controller interpreting the display on a radar screen (Precision Approach Radar (PAR)).

The controller uses the PAR display to guide the pilot or flight crew through the final stages of landing, providing horizontal and vertical guidance. In real time, ATC directs the pilot/flight crew to change heading or adjust the descent rate to keep the aircraft on a path that allows it to touch down at the correct spot on the runway.

Precision Approach Categories

Categories of precision approach and landing (including Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Autoland) operations are defined according to the applicable Decision Altitude/Height and Runway Visual Range (RVR) or visibility as shown in the following table.

Category of Operation Decision Height (DH) (2) RVR Visibility
CAT I not lower than 60 m (200 ft) not less than 550 m not less than 800m
CAT II lower than 60 m (200 ft), but not lower than 30 m (100 ft) not less than 300 m   
CAT IIIA lower than 30 m (100 ft) or no DH not less than 175 m  
CAT IIIB lower than 15 m (50 ft) or no DH less than 175 m but not less than 50 m  
CAT IIIC no DH no RVR limitation  

Vertical minima:

  • CAT I Because the aircraft is unlikely to be flying over level ground at the same elevation as the touch-down zone when passing the Missed Approach Point, the vertical minima used in a CAT I approach is measured by reference to a barometric altimeter. In practice, this means that when flying a CAT I approach either a Decision Altitude (DA) or Decision Height (DH) may be used.
  • CAT II/III Because greater precision is required when flying a CAT II or CAT III approach, special attention is given to the terrain in the runway undershoot area to enable a radio altimeter to be used. CAT II and CAT III approaches are therefore always flown to a DH with reference to a radio altimeter.

CAT II and CAT III instrument approach and landing operations are not permitted unless RVR information is provided.

On reaching the DH, the pilot may continue the approach to land provided that the required visual references have been established. Otherwise the pilot must commence a missed approach procedure.

The DA or DH is a specified height in the Precision Approach or approach with vertical guidance at which a Missed Approach must be initiated if the required visual reference to continue the approach has not been established. - (ICAO Annex 6)


  1. ^ ICAO Annex 6

Further Reading

  • ICAO Doc 9365 - Manual of All-Weather Operations.

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