Aircraft Speed on Approach

Hello everyone! Hope your holidays were well.

Ever since becoming an IFATC officer, there has always been one thing bothering me that I feel I need to mention to the IFC, not only to help us controllers but you as pilots and the service you receive. Yes, there are always the individuals that make mistakes or disregard our instructions, but I’m here to mention aircraft speed on approach, especially when approach is active.

Now some may be thinking, “well, approach has speed commands.” And while this is true, in a busy airspace where we have a ton of things to worry about, speed isn’t always top on our mind when we see good spacing.

So, speed. Over the past few months I’ve seen pilots going 250KIAS on downwind, base, and even final. Let me explain why this is wrong and what you should do.

Going 250 until final creates a few issues.

  • Collision Course: If you decide to fly faster than an aircraft directly in front of you on the same STAR, the controller will not have to spend more time fixing your speed when they could be attending to other aircraft…
  • Missing Waypoints: Flying at high speeds during crucial stages of the arrival will often lead to the plane overshooting a waypoint, which will then cause additional problems for the controller.
  • Missed Approach: Going too fast can lead to missed approach. Same as up above, going too fast won’t allow the plane to turn and intercept in time, blowing through the localizer, and creating a missed approach.
  • Flight Time Is Extended: Think of it this way. There are 3 aircraft on final, your ready to turn base. The faster you decide to go, the farther from the airport you go before we can turn you. Slowing it down allows the aircraft to pass by sooner and thus your turn comes earlier.
  • Preparation: If a speed commands is issued for you, being slower already allows you to be at that speed command quicker, instead of not meeting the controller’s needs in proper time.

So, what are the appropriate speeds to fly during an approach?
Downwind: 200-220
Base: 180-200
Final: 180-200

If pilots could use these speeds, it would allow controllers to create a smooth flowing approach for you and other pilots and allows for a better journey.

Lastly, if you don’t choose to listen to this request, here’s my other request: Please, and I beg you, if you are in trail of an aircraft that is flying at a slower speed than you, try to slow down to match their speed. Aircraft take time to reduce their speed, especially heavy aircraft. If you are 5 miles in trail of another aircraft and you are flying 50 knots faster than them, it may be too late to slow down before separation is lost. Slowing it down earlier will help you, everyone around you, and your controllers.

I appreciate everyone for reading and hope this servers as a friendly reminder to all pilots. Again, approach controllers are here to help with speeds (and should be issuing them when needed) and have to right to slow you down instead of a pilot doing it themselves, but having pilots help always makes us happy and makes our job a little easier.

Thanks @PlaneGeek for the help in writing this reminder
-AviationReports
IFATC Officer

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Great idea 💡

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Yep, great topic. Just because you didn’t get a speed instruction doesn’t mean you should max out the throttle to 259 knots lol.

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I would also like to mention that we controllers break these recommended speeds. For example, today at Dublin, we had aircraft doing 230 on downwind and 220 on base most of the time. That was for our efficiency and we will tell you if you need to speed up as well :)

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Excellent post @AviationReports
I did thought of this issue every now and then seeing some pilots on final with unrealistic approach speed.
I always have a rule (other than instructed by ATC) that whatever I enter the base, the speed must be 200 knots or less, to prepare for the final. The APPR settings work more efficient also if speed is 200 knots or less and no more than 30 degree angle.
Futhermore I always maintain the same speed or less as the aircraft in front of me if we are in the base on final approach, I know ATC will appreciate a helping hand to keep things ticking and to vacate the runway quickly & safely.
That’s what I did earlier when I landed in EIDW with inexperienced pilot ahead of me on final going too slow for my liking but I managed to reduce speed to give ample space & time while monitoring the plane behind me as well.
I got a thank you from the tower controller after the landing 😁

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Amazing, and thanks for helping out!

Really appreciate the kind words

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Great information however I personally struggle with the initial descent phase. Here’s kinda an example of what I struggle with so your at cruise let’s say FL300 and I’m going moc.86 or so do I slow down as soon as VNAV engages or wait till a lower altitude?

You’re good usually until the downwind. Once you get alongside the airport on the downwind, then I would start slowing to the recommended speeds. No need to slow right away.

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Nice, informative topic Hudson 😄

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You can reduce the speed by 0.1 or 0.2 Mach once you started to descent.
Once passed FL240, I put 290 and once you are coming to FL100, put it 240, and so forth.
Obvs always follow ATC instructions otherwise

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Really well said

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I guess something else you could add there is depending on aircraft (some slow better than others) give yourself time to slow down at least below 250 to avoid violations below 10,000.

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Yes it depends on some factors but that’s the rule I usually adhere to. I usually put 240 once I’ve gone passed FL120, if I am descending below FL100 (and also to switch landing lights ON). That’s usually enough time for me to slow down with spoilers from 290 but in the event I could not reduce it in time, I just reduce the v/s for example 2,000 to 1,000 or at worse arrest the descent completely until under 250 is achieved before going under FL100

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This point is really important. Some pilots don’t seem to understand this. Then they act like it’s my problem I sent them so far downwind.

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It’s something my flight instructor always said

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In fact your speed must be 200kias or less even to engage approach mode.

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Yes you are correct

the slower you go, the easier for the APPR to make a smooth approach

Excellent post! I often have people going 259 on Base. Not really sure why, hopefully this topic can shed some light on it.

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Thank you so much! I see this all the time and it drives me insane, specifically on clearances. Thanks for shedding light on this and I hope many people can take use of this reminder instead of constant speed commands from radar controllers.

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