What Are Short Approaches?

Yep. Short approaches. I’m sure everyone’s heard of them or struggled to cope at one point. It happens. I get that. At times, you may be wondering what the flying ferret the approach controller is doing or why you’re coming in lower and closer. This post serves to explain the phenomenon, covering the hows and whys of short approaches from a controller’s perspective and what pilots do in regards to them.

In today’s example, I will be using one of Newark Liberty’s approach plates as a demonstration. Two days ago, I attempted utilizing short approaches for aircraft in accordance with the plate below while working some traffic:

Random jumble of numbers. Check. The hood in Jersey. Check. What you definitely should check is the glide path illustrated in the lower portion of the picture. Take a peek at the little x, the arrow, and 1,500 feet marking at the TALTE fix. That’s the goal of the short approach I conducted- to have flyers hit it at that altitude at the appropriate distance (five miles).

Short approaches mean what they mean. You won’t be flying a twenty mile final or a full ILS approach. Controllers will use it for a variety of reasons, such as squeezing in traffic to avoid having them fly extra miles behind long finals, for the sake of utilizing approach plates for the heck of it, exercising realism, to flesh out creativity, and so on.

If you’re flying in and have an inkling that aircraft are executing short approaches or the inbounds look like they’re being maneuevered in that way, prepare. Heck, even being turned to base earlier than normal is warning enough. Slow down and get ready for a sharper turn to final.

I bet you’re wondering how we think this through. The beauty of it is that very few of us will think the same way- we all take a creative approach to… well, vectoring for short approaches. There’s always a plan. Here’s an example of mine.

The Plan of an App Controller

This was what was going on in my head when vectoring people for this approach with the plate. Ideally, they’d join at the appropriate point after going through one of the arrival paths. Inbounds from WRI usually joined right downwind, JFK on the left, and SWF from the north to south- that one was a bit tricky, requiring the aircraft to position abeam, but it worked out fairly well for the ones who went through it.

But for those who successfully execute those approaches, there will be people who fail. I won’t consider you a total loser, so don’t worry. Instead, here’s a list detailing some of the most common causes of screwed up short approaches.

Reasons Why People Fail

  • Flying too fast and overshoot.
  • Failing to pay attention to the instructions given, realize it too late, try to turn, then overshoot.
  • Less time to configure for landing while on final. Be prepared beforehand on late downwind or the turn to base.
  • Not completing the turn, stalling, only doing half of it, then deciding to finish it later down the road. It isn’t a 30 mile long final where you’re already positioned for the 30 degree intercept- it’s short. Keep the turn going until you fully line up.

For the people who avoid all of those points, they’re the ones who are the real stars at conducting short approaches. Sure, I vector them, but their attention is entirely focused on this adrenaline pumped turn. Focus goes a long way in successfully pulling this off.

Examples of Short-App Pilot Awareness

  • It probably comes as no surprise, but @Tyler_Shelton showed good airmanship and prepared for this type of approach by reducing speed appropriately and turning as soon as instructed. This led him to hit the desired approach fix shown in the pictures below right on the penny. That’s literally all it takes.

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  • @Bulba also showed up and did the same thing. Appropriate speed reduction and turned as instructed. Guess what that resulted in? Another nail right on the fix. Great airmanship from him as well. People like him who mull the forums at least have enough sense to pay attention. It’s one job.

Some other people pulled this off wonderfully, but I can’t find their usernames on here. Point being, it’s not rocket science to do, and if two entirely different people with vastly diverse backgrounds can both demonstrate a short approach, then you can too.

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Overall, that’s a little bit of insight into what goes into planning short approaches and what we as radar controllers expect pilots to do. It isn’t the most widely talked about topic on here, and with more and more of us trying out those types of approaches, I thought it’d be prudent to explain this a little bit.

Honestly, they’re a lot of fun to do and makes the blood rush shoot up a bit in the right circumstances. Who doesn’t love banking onto an Expressway Visual turn, LGA style? Gives goosebumps.

I’m out. Peace.

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great topic thanks for sharing!

Josh is the master of the short approach! If you notice you’re getting a vector towards the final approach fix (middle of the cone), help your controller out and quickly work your way down near final approach speed. This can be really fun.

Quick turns, low altitude, fast configuration, gear down and contacting tower all in a matter of a few miles!

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What is a short approach? Is there an actual definition for an IRL procedure?

Short approach

The short approach is not specifically defined. A full precision approach begins at the IAF (initial approach fix) but from my experience most facilities base and intercept their aircraft inside that around 10-12 miles.

A short approach may occur inside the approach gate but no closer than the final approach fix if the pilot requests (see amendment below).

The approach gate is an imaginary radar fix on the final approach course, which must not be less than one mile from the FAF, and it must not be less than five miles from the landing threshold.

For example, you may have the aircraft intercept inside 6 miles (approach gate) but no closer than 5 mile (final approach fix). The reason the intercept must occur no later than the FAF is because the FAF for a precision approach is the point at which the charted intermediate altitude intercepts the glideslope.

I’m a tower controller, but this is what I remember from technical school and observing approach when they ship aircraft to us. So essentially a short approach is defined as anything closer than normal. Remember, even a short approach for tower is pretty subjective… so shorter than normal would be a fitting definition. For now we can assume pilots are good with it!

Amendment: I did find this. The intercept must occur at least two miles outside the gate, but may be inside (but no closer than the FAF) if the pilot requests or weather permitting it can be closer than two miles from the gate itself. Maybe that’ll be a command we can look at later for pilots to request.

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Maybe @MichaelSchoelen can shed some light on this? I’d love to be proven wrong and learn a thing or two!

Definitely don’t want you guys misinformed.

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I guess I never said short approach, but I would say vectors to short final. In the center it is typically impossible to do this kind of thing because our MIAs are so high the aircraft would never be able to descend for the airport. At the center (unfortunately) it is most beneficial to the controllers and pilots to start the approach at the IAF. I think as you have experienced Tyler, I used the “short approach” plenty in IF.

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I was the awesome tower controller during Josh’s short approach session.

This requires the approach and tower controller to communicate ahead of time. It does make it more challenging for the tower controller because if you are not paying attention to the radar, pilots announce inbound to tower 4-5 miles out which makes it harder to get out planes on the ground. So if you go down this route make sure your tower controller is aware and can plan accordingly. ie use certain runways for departures, etc.

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Short approaches are one of my favorite things to do in IF

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For sure. I find these kind of topics super interesting because of the riveting discussion that goes on regarding tons of different procedures and the proper ways of conducting them. Nice question by AR and excellent input from you and Michael regarding what you both know.

Some surprising discoveries about short approach definitions and the ring ring of the dots when that happened really cinched it, as you’re aware. ;) Either way, hopefully some people got a condensed course of the “short approach” and learned about stuff in the process.

Cheeerrrrrs.

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For anyone who’s read the thread through, remember that you can still pick up new tricks. I found out stuff I haven’t before just by posting this, which I didn’t think would happen. I encourage more people to try exploratory posts like this for great feedback from the professionals.

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Would be nice for a short approach command for ATC for those that do not know how to perform a short approach. I do not have a problem but having someone not configured in front of your are behind you and causing a needed go around for someone else sucks.

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Ok a slight tangent question but hopefully not too off topic for you ATC and pilot pros to answer!

Q. Currently with my flight plans I plan runway to runway ( I am a deep sea sailor man that is how we do our passage plans, berth to berth ). When I get to my cruise height I then check my arrival airport again to see if the active runway has changed or APR ATC is now online a set up an approach pattern so that I can amend my flight plan if needed so that I can fit in. With this I plan for my TOD based on the planned runway.

Now should I be doing a flight plan based on arrival overheard at my airport at the pattern height ( say 3000 AGL for arguments sake) in order to allow for a short final? Reason I asked is a few days ago was doing a PHTO to PHNL, planned for 08L approach but tower instructed me for 04R but from my current position and height I had 42 miles to go and suddenly only had 24 and so was too high!

Incidentally this was on TS1 but I think the controller did a good job as there was a high number of inbound aircraft and he split them between those two runways.

So have we established that it’s not a long approach or is that still an option?

By definition, we’re establishing the average 8-10 mile radar pattern as a standard approach to avoid confusion. I’ve been told that the full, even longer one is rarely used, so we’ll treat it consistently as such. We don’t want to start tripping up people working on radar training for this reason.

On Expert, I would probably give you delay vectors to buy yourself time to get down to height if you were too high for the halved track miles. NM X 300 to the airport is a great rule of thumb to follow. 10 (ILS length) X 300 = 3,000, right where you should be at, and so on. Leave the rest to us and bump the FPM accordingly. ;)

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thanks Josh, that’s where I try and aim to be…providing they don’t change the runway on me!

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I use them to get slow flying aircraft in when I’ve got a number of airliners in the pattern. If you’ve got your pattern aircraft spaced 5mi apart, you have to plan way ahead and create an opening for the slow flying aircraft. It’s fun, but doesn’t always work out. You extend one of your pattern aircraft such that the hole will be there when you’re ready to clear the slow aircraft. It is cool when it works!

If it’s extremely busy… 30+ aircraft on frequency, I won’t even attempt it. Maybe some day!

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