Maintain 3,200 Til Established on the Localizer

Got a great question from a reader by the name of Dutch today. He asked:

“When on IFR, and receiving final instructions for an approach, the controller gives you heading and altitude until FAF or glideope intercept.

Do you recommend to read back these numbers as well instead of just replying “… Cleared for the approach”? After all, all those numbers are part of the procedure.”

Here is my answer:

Hello Dutch,

Glad you found us. My default answer to your questions is, read back the controller’s full instructions. Your question raises a question in my mind. What type of approach are you flying and where are you relative to the final approach course when the controller gives you his instructions? Here’s why I ask.

If you are taking radar vectors from ATC to a final approach course, you are not established on the published instrument approach until you have met the criteria for being established on the final approach course segment. Therefore, the numbers on the instrument approach do not apply to your current situation. You have to comply with whatever the approach controller says until you are established on a published segment of the approach.

Where Are You?

If you are already on a published segment of the approach, such as the final approach course, the initial approach course, or a feeder route, then yes, the numbers on that part of the procedure probably apply. However, and this is a big however, an approach controller can almost always modify how he wants you fly that segment.

For example, very few approach procedures specify the speed you should fly while on a segment of the approach. ATC may specify a particular speed to fly that is not published. Many published approaches have “at or above” altitudes for a particular segment. ATC may modify the altitude you should maintain on these segments. As you can see, there are many times where published approach procedures may be modified by ATC.

Read it Back in Full

For all these reasons, my default answer is, read back the controller’s full instructions, regardless of the instrument approach procedure. For read back you should not only say the numbers, but also the units or modifiers. For example, if the controller says, “Turn right heading 110. Maintain 3,200 til established on the localizer, cleared for the ILS Runway 8,” your read back should be “Right heading 110. 3,200 til established on the loc, cleared ILS Runway 8.” Pilots who say only the numbers are setting themselves up for trouble: “180, 100, 5000, cleared for the approach.” Good question, Dutch. Thank you for asking.

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