Rules of the Visual

By now, I’m sure everyone’s gotten fairly settled in with the update and what it has to offer. Today covers one of the most important additions to the ATC interface in a while- the visual approach. Below is an excerpt from FAA 7110.65 as a basic overview.

Before we go further, Tyler has a great tutorial for this on YouTube you can check out. It covers the basics of how a radar controller can give a visual and what he or she can use to achieve it. That being said, the intent of this post is to refine some of the points we use when giving such an approach to incoming aircraft.

Minimum Criteria

After some debate and discussion, it was agreed upon there would be minimums to consider before granting a visual approach. We wanted to balance the accepted thresholds from the aviation community and the needs of people within Infinite Flight and came up with what you see below.

  • 3NM from field
  • 2000 feet ceiling

Yes, you will see “at least 500 feet above the MVA” in 7110.65 and other documents, but for the same reason we had to simplify transitions, rules need to be kept clear for the pilots. We wanted to give a little bit of extra safety margin in the manner as we would conduct transitions, hence the 2000 feet ceiling.

So, if an approach controller denies you the visual based on minimums, those are the thresholds set.

When is it okay to deny visuals?

Good question. As touched upon above, it is possible to deny visual approaches, not just from weather alone. Sometimes, a controller will be unable to give one for the following reasons:

  • Incredibly busy periods (think FNFs, burst arrivals, etc). Because the visual requires cooperation on the part of the pilot to report the field in sight and follow a few extra steps, a flux of inbounds can cramp the wait and even interfere with arrivals themselves. At that point, the approach controller will focus on funneling people “down the pipe.” It’s a lot of extra clicking and leads to thinking people are going for an ILS instead quite easily (I’ve made this mistake myself).

    • NOTE: This is NOT an excuse to abuse denying visuals. In the same vein as accepting pattern work, please accommodate visuals as best as you reasonably can.
  • The inability of the pilot to fulfill the steps necessary to fly a visual approach. IE- never reporting the airport in sight, not following the necessary steps, etc. The controller would probably change the pilot’s approach to ILS/GPS by then and get him down some other way.

    • A good example of this happened during a session I had several hours before writing this post- an F-16 asked for a visual. I did the usual motions up to “report airport in sight,” until it was obvious the F-16 didn’t know how to report the airport and sight and had never done a visual before. I then switched him to an ILS approach, something he knew how to do.

Remember, if you’re denying anything, you need to back your decision up with a reason. Be sensible!

The Sensibility of Communication

This is probably a given, but I cannot stress the importance of communicating with your tower controller (if there is one) when giving visual approaches. Considering visuals can occur from any direction, it would be a wise idea to work out a plan. Aircraft can come from…

  • Overhead
  • Downwind
  • Base
  • Final

Questions to ask would include “hey, which direction should I point those guys towards,” “what area(s) would be most convinent to put them in,” “which position in the entry would allow for the most efficient traffic flow,” “what’s the least likely way to kill people,” and so on. Be spontanous and get a groove going with your tower controller. Not everyone is the same, and most people will likely end up giving their own version of what a visual should be.

However… there are some great materials controllers can utilize if they want to go by the books with “tried and true” methods. Check the links out!

Resources to find Charts

Personally, I’m a fan of FLT, which is the third one. You can input the ICAO of the airport you want to find and a list of all the arrival charts will pop up for you. Quick and easy, as opposed to having to click a couple times for the others, but whatever works best for you!

And, of course, my door is always open as a resource for everyone to utilize as they so wish. You’re more than welcome to PM any other recruiter, supervisor, or trainer with inquiries, whether it be from here or somewhere in your own training process.



Great post, Josh! Helped me understand a lot about visuals and hope it helps others out as well :)

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No problem! Happy to help. :)


Just to get clear; does this means that the Approach ATC vectors the aircraft until he’s within 3 NM range of the airfield, at a max of 2000 feet AGL?

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Those are the weather minimums. If they drop any lower, then you have to deny the visual. It’s the same concept as making people file flight plans due to low visibility.


I have bookmarked this topic, so I know what to do when requesting a visual. Very informative topic. :)


Awesome! I felt like I understood before, but after reading this, I realized I was missing it on a lot more! Thanks for this!


There’s a whole wealth of topics out there that go even further in detail. It may seem like a headache with all those rules and standards, but it promotes safety and efficiency. Using them to your advantage is key.

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I’ll be sure to check them out, once again, thanks!

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