When to call inbound when approach inactive?

Hey all, I have a detailed question I would appreciate if anyone could help me clear up. The question is when I should call inbound, particularly when tower is active but even on unicom, assuming I’m NOT being passed from an approach controller. Somehow I had the understanding that I should call inbound when formally entering the tower’s space, so I’m often calling in just as I pass under 5,000ft. I’m pretty mathematical about descents so I’m reliably getting to 3,000ft just ahead the last waypoint before I begin my approach turns to the end of the localizer. However, sometimes (e.g. PHTO to PHNL) this means I’ve already gone downwind of the tower at decently close proximity when I descend under 5,000, and understandably a couple of tower controllers have asked for my intentions when I was holding off my call inbound until <5,000, trying to help them prioritize traffic. So- what’s wrong with this picture on my end? Should I: call inbound earlier, even if above 5000? Plan my descent earlier so I’m under 5000 when entering radio contact? Plan a more roundabout approach so I’m entering more straight in and keeping further clear of the tower until at proper approach altitude? …One of those remaining uncertainties in my flying, I’d appreciate any thoughts.

If it’s busy and tower is handling a lot of aircraft I try and announce early so he/she can vector me how they please. If no one is there I call in once I’m a few minutes out of the localizer to give them time to give me instructions.

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Ok that sounds fair, so you pay more attention to the situation than the 5,000ft ceiling as a hard line? Meaning you’d call in at say 7000 if it seemed appropriate?

I call once when I am i range of tower frequency, 26NM from airport, so ATC can give me proper pattern instruction.


Yeah I pay much more attention to the situation. Usually though by the time I call I’m less than say 8k feet so it doesn’t take me long to get down to the localizer altitude of 3k intercept. If it’s not busy I’m down to 3500 by the time I call in. It depends on the situation but I do pay attention to my altitude as well.

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Hi @Christoffer_Z - first of all - nice to see pilots concerned about making sure they follow the proper procedure. You want to contact tower 25nm out and below 10,000ft. If you don’t do so, tower will on guard you. The airspace around the airport (the blue circles) is irrelevant here - use the 25nm rule.

As soon as you tune into tower frequency you want to state your intentions (normally inbound for landing / touch and go) so tower can deliver your pattern entry and sequencing. If you fail to do so you will get a “say intentions”.

I hope I answered your questions. This is all assuming expert server, by the way. Let me know if you need further explanations.

IFATC mgjr83.


Just to expand on what @MannyG said, don’t change frequency if your within a 25 mile radius and with approach, as you will be switched back immediately and with regular occurrence will be ghosted. See you in the sky’s


Call inbound 10 NM from your destination. If it’s Unicom a standard traffic pattern entry should be used. A.k.a a 45 deg downwind entry. When on Unicom don’t announce a 10 mile final but a 5 mile final is appropriate.


Great, that’s crystal clear. I hadn’t realized the airspace boundaries didn’t matter here. I figured if I’m still a ways out I was being helpful by letting tower handle other priorities until I’m in the airspace, clearly outsmarted myself there. And yeah, certainly I’m tuned in to the frequency at 26nm, I’m not getting on guard warnings, this solves it for me, thanks guys.

Yes, I usually call final at 5-6 miles on Unicom. So this goes against what the others have said though, if I read you right. Even without an approach controller, you’ve got me waiting to call in until I’m at the end of the localizer unless my downwind takes me within 10nm of the tower? The others have me calling in essentially as soon as I can, regardless of altitude or position. In this scenario nearly all my approaches are straight in, which does seem plausible. Now I’m confused…

If there isn’t approach a 45deg downwind entry or base is preferred over a straight in. Everyone thinks they have to come straight in which is just odd.

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Yeah fair enough, I’m very often on a 45, I fly phto-phnl a ton, that’s what inspired this, both of those are clear 45-degree entries. Not to sow division in your ranks, but I think I’ve been steered in two different directions. I’ll try both ways and see who asks for intentions :)

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If approach isn’t active they can guard you up to 25 miles out I think it’s lame but it is what it is. Just set yourself up on the downwind you’ll be just fine. TPA is 1500 AGL for jets also be at that when you reach the downwind :)


That’s the winner. :)

I fly PHTO-PHNL often as well. As both are large airports rather than patterns I tend to fly the apporiate STAR when inbound and SID on departure. To repeat what others say, especially on Unicom, I call inbound with intentions when about 25nm Out from the airport itself.

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