First we need to be established on the instrument approach you have chosen to acquire visual references.
In this case we have chosen a precision ILS CAT I approach. We could have chosen a non-precision approach such as VOR or NDB approach.
High precision ILS CAT II and CAT III approaches are not eligible for circle-to-land manoeuvres and subsequently, CAT I approach must be selected.
Circling minima should normally be the same for all the approach procedures of an airport.
We will find our aircraft established on the localizer a few moments before reaching our MDA.
Upon reaching our MDA or the MAPt, we will open by performing a 45-degree turn either to the left or to the right and remain on this new course for 30 seconds.
Then we will turn toward downwind and we will continue like any visual pattern (start timer across threshold, base turn and final).
The opening can only be made given the pilot has acquired runway visual references and estimates he can maintain visual contact during the whole manoeuvring. Otherwise a go-around must be initiated.
If there is no restriction on the chart prohibiting a direction to perform the circle-to-land, try as much as possible to select the direction using this list of priority:
Our aircraft will be descending, established on the final approach course and the pilot flying should level his aircraft when clear of clouds, at the latest reaching the MDA.
The instrument approach final descent shall not be continued below MDA, even with visual references.
Since a circle-to-land is generally at low height (typically 700ft AGL) compared to visual traffic patterns (standard on A320 is 1500ft AAL), final descent should be initiated on final leg.
Remember, you may accept a positive deviation but you must never descend below MDA unless you are in position to perform final descent (normally not before entering base turn).
As the aircraft is performing an indirect approach, the pilot flying should operate a stabilized approach.
However, since we need to manoeuvre the aircraft, we will not prepare our aircraft in the landing configuration.
For the Airbus A320, we will maintain:
- F-speed until last turn to final, meaning about 145 IAS, and allowing a standard 25° bank angle.
- Final approach speed Vapp when established on final.
Speed is critical, in particular when auto thrust is not used. Attention to aircraft energy is important!
Approach will be HDAM ILS RWY27 Circling RWY09
Remain in the 4.5NM-protected circling area (CAT C) independently of your calculations.
The opening leg is always 30 seconds and there is no wind correction.
The outbound time requires an easy calculation:
Abeam threshold, we will start the timer for a duration of 25 seconds
This duration can be corrected for wind with a simple rule as follows (not considered in this example):
- +1 second per headwind knot
- -1 second per tailwind knot
Review appropriate documentation to determine headwind/tailwind component calculations.
Using the previous method to determine the lateral flightpath, you do not need to perform calculations regarding your descent.
At the end of the final turn, you should be in position for a 3-degree standard descent.
In addition, most runways are equipped with visual guidance systems such as PAPI.
Remember: the final descent should be initiated only when in position to do so at a correct sink rate and established on the runway axis
Even though we rely on instruments, you must acquire, maintain and use visual references!
At this point, the following aircraft configuration has to be set while descending established on the ILS:
- Aircraft is at F-speed (approx. 140kts)
- Aircraft is Flaps 3 and Gear is down.
- Minima are identified: 850 feet in this case.
- VOR1 is set to DTI VOR/DME to determine when MAPt is reached.
When reaching MDA, level off the aircraft.
You see the runway and consider the whole circling achievable in regard to visual flight. In that case you may enter into the opening leg. Check every circling steps (downwind, base and final).
Use the FPV (Flightpath Vector) also named "The Bird" if available for enhanced flight accuracy
If you do not see the runway, you may proceed until the MAPt at MDA before initiating a go-around.
You may also stop the descent at a higher altitude than the MDA (Recommended on unmanned facilities)
When you are confident about performing the circling, perform the opening by turning to the left (in this case) by 45 degrees.
We were established on course 269°.
Our new course will be 224°.
As soon as wings are leveled, start timer.
As briefed, leg time is 30 seconds.
Do mind the wind to not get pushed onto the runway because of the drift. It will result in an overshoot when performing the last turn to final.
Aircraft remains in the same configuration.
At the end of timer, perform a 45 degree turn toward the runway to enter downwind.
We were established on course 224°.
Our new course will be 269°
When flying abeam threshold (confirm visually), start timer
Leg time using previous formula is 25 seconds.
Wind will lead to a corrected time of 23 seconds.
Optimum lateral distance with runway is 2.2NM. Adjust!
Aircraft remains in the same configuration.
If you are flying an advanced depiction of this aircraft, select arrival runway and activate secondary flightplan.
At the end of timer, perform base turn starting with a 20-degree bank angle.
At half of the turn but not before:
- Select Flaps for landing
- Reduce speed to approach speed
You may check at half turn that your distance to the runway centerline is good: at 140kts, the optimum value is 0.7NM.
Adjust turn speed by modifying bank angle (max value is 25°).
At the end of the turn, visually adjust your position with the runway.
Normally you should be a bit below the normal descent path.
Do not initiate descent below MDA if not established on final leg or if position is uncertain.
Use any means to confirm your descent:
Do not forget your landing checklist!
In case of aborted approach (which can be due to loss of visual references), the situation is critical!
Your reaction is subsequent to your position in the circling:
- Before being abeam the runway threshold, turn toward the airfield and rejoin the original instrument approach published missed approach path.
- If you are at a later stage, turn toward the airfield, climbing in circles while remaining in the protected area and rejoin as soon as possible a suitable course toward the missed approach path.
- In case of go-around on final, perform a standard visual traffic pattern.
If unable, climb using maximum rate of climb to safe altitude, in circles to remain in the protected area.