Preparation for the arrival and approach begins long before the descent from the en route phase of flight. Planning early, while there are fewer demands on the pilot’s attention, leaves the pilot free to concentrate on precise control of the aircraft and better equipped to deal with problems that might arise during the last segment of the flight.

This section focuses on the current procedures pilots and air traffic control (ATC) use for instrument flight rule (IFR) arrivals in the National Airspace System (NAS). The objective is to provide pilots with an understanding of ATC arrival procedures and pilot responsibilities as they relate to the transition between the en route and approach phases of flight. This section emphasizes standard terminal arrival routes (STARs), descent clearances, descent planning, and ATC procedures, while the scope of coverage focuses on transitioning from the en route phase of flight, typically the origination point of a STAR to the STAR termination fix.

Aircraft instrument arrivals procedure

Optimum IFR arrival options include flying directly from the en route structure to an approach gate or initial approach fix (IAF), a visual arrival, STARs, and radar vectors. Within controlled airspace, ATC routinely uses radar vectors for separation purposes, noise abatement considerations when it is an operational advantage, or when requested by pilots. Vectors outside of controlled airspace are provided only on pilot request. The controller tells the pilot the purpose of the vector when the vector is controller-initiated and takes the aircraft off a previously assigned non-radar route. Typically, when operating on area navigation (RNAV) routes, pilots are allowed to remain on their own navigation.

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