Jan. 24, 2023

InFO 23001, “Use of Aircraft Approach Category During Instrument Approach Operations,” published  Jan. 9, provides expanded information about the aircraft approach category to be used during instrument approaches, as determined by the aircraft’s certification authority.

Approach categories are based on the maximum landing weight of the airplane, and either the Vref speed (if published) or a speed of 1.30 Vso. Vref was added to the regulatory language and AIM guidance in 2002, which led some pilots to believe approach category is based on the Vref of that particular flight.

However, an aircraft’s approach category does not change if the actual landing weight is less than the maximum certificated landing weight. As the InFO explains, the certificated approach category is permanent and independent of the changing conditions of day-to-day operations. Aircraft may not be flown to the instrument approach minima of a slower approach category (e.g., a Category C aircraft may not utilize Category B minimums).

“An aircraft is in only one approach category. That never changes,” said Rich Boll, chair of NBAA’s Access Airspace, ATC and Flight Deck Subcommittee. “If it is necessary to maneuver at a speed higher than the upper limit of the aircraft’s approach category, the next higher minima should be used, if it’s published. However, if higher category approach minima are not published, the pilot is still permitted to fly the approach using the minima published for the aircraft’s prescribed approach category, but the aviator should take extra care to ensure that the aircraft remains within the protected airspace.”

In other words, the pilot must ensure that an approach speed category that is less than the aircraft’s prescribed approach speed category (as determined by the aircraft’s maximum certificated landing weight, per § 97.3) is never used.

Boll explained that many of the Flight Standardization Board (FSB) reports for various aircraft types still state the next higher approach category must be used for a circle-to-land approach. This is no longer true. These FSB reports will be updated in the future to remove this statement.

Review InFO 23001 Use of Aircraft Approach Category During Instrument Approach Operations (PDF)