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4 Answers

Descending for the approach

Asked by: 6329 views Instrument Rating

I have an IFR question and hope someone can point me in the right direction. Here's my question:You are flying on an airway above the MEA (for example, at an assigned altitude of 10,000 feet and the MEA is 8,000). The airway ends at the IAF of the approach (the VOR of a VOR approach), but the airway is not a feeder route shown the approach chart.If the controller just says "Cleared for VOR Approach Runway XX," can you descend down to the MEA (or MOCA if within 22 nm), or do you have to wait until you cross the VOR and then start your descent down to the altitude shown on the approach chart?According to the Jeppesen textbook, you can descend down to the MEA/MOCA right away. Obviously, you could ask the controller for clarification, but I am trying to find in the AIM or other FAA book where it spells this out.

4 Answers

  1. Wes Beard on Jun 26, 2013

    Once cleared for the approach, you are authorized to descend on published routes. In your case, you can descend down to the MEA once within 22NM down to the MOCA.

    If the MEA/MOCA is not the same altitude as the approach either the approach designer has figured you can make a normal descent while flying the approach or there is a holding pattern or procedure turn allowing you to descend further to make a normal descent.

    Reference AIM 5-4-6.

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  2. Ale on Jun 27, 2013

    To all follow pilots,

    This question is a very important question. It seems that there are many opinions about this issue. Please read this link


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  3. John D. Collins on Jun 27, 2013


    There are several opinions discussed in your link, but Keith Smith had the correct understanding and did a good job trying to educate the others who were misinformed. I agree with Wes and his reference to the AIM..There is also a regulatory reference in 91.175 (i) that is quoted in part below:

    “When operating on an unpublished route or while being radar vectored, the pilot, when an approach clearance is received, shall, in addition to complying with Sec. 91.177, maintain the last altitude assigned to that pilot until the aircraft is established on a segment of a published route or instrument approach procedure unless a different altitude is assigned by ATC. After the aircraft is so established, published altitudes apply to descent within each succeeding route or approach segment unless a different altitude is assigned by ATC.”

    Note that the aircraft must maintain the last assigned altitude “until the aircraft is established on a segment of a published route or …” . An airway, STAR, feeder route are all published routes. If a controller decides to clear an aircraft for the approach while still some distance from the airport while the aircraft is on an airway or STAR, they will make sure that all IFR altitudes below the last assigned altitude are clear of IFR traffic, otherwise they will assign an altitude to maintain, for example: “Maintain 5000 until crossing ABCDE intersection”. The only other time they are required to assign an altitude is when the aircraft is not on a published route. In this case the clearance will be something like: “Cleared direct ABCDE, maintain 5000 until ABCDE, cleared RNAV RWY 2 Approach …”

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  4. Mark Kolber on Jun 27, 2013

    Important point: the existence of multiple “opinions” on a subject does not necessarily mean there is not a correct answer. It may well mean that some folks know the answer and others don’t or choose to make up their own.

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