Air Traffic Services Process Brief -- Establishing an Instrument ApproachAir Traffic Services Process Brief -- Establishing an Instrument Approach

Air Traffic Services Process Brief

Establishing an Instrument Approach

The Issue

The addition of an instrument approach at a given airport can greatly enhance its value to the aviation community. Moreover, the access afforded by an instrument flight procedure under a wide variety of meteorological conditions can be a catalyst for increased aeronautical activities. Historically, most flight procedures have been based on terrestrial navigational aids (NAVAIDs) requiring a considerable investment in equipment and resources. However, with the proliferation of Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies, the infrastructure required to support traditional ground-based facilities is no longer necessary in obtaining an instrument approach.

The Importance to Our Members

Although GPS has the potential to support instrument flight procedures at hundreds of facilities, implementing a new approach is far from a simple undertaking. Obtaining an instrument procedure is a complex, multi-disciplinary effort requiring the collaboration of many professionals within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The goal of this document is to demystify the process by providing a high level overview of the requirements that need to be satisfied prior to the authorization of a new instrument approach.


In 1995, the National Flight Procedures Office (NFPO) was created as part of an Aviation System Standards (AVN) initiative to consolidate all instrument procedure development activities at a single location. This has played a key role in allowing the FAA to develop new procedures, while maintaining the existing system infrastructure. Since its inception, the NFPO has produced a minimum of 500 new GPS standard instrument approach procedures annually. This includes the commissioning of more than 2,000 stand-alone GPS approaches throughout the United States.

AOPA's Position

AOPA applauds the FAA's efforts to broaden the reach of GPS to service new airports. We recognize the complexity and effort that not only goes into the creation of new procedures, but also the maintenance of more than 8,200 published ground-based approaches. Additional instrument approaches serve to enhance the flexibility of general aviation by facilitating greater access to airports throughout the national airspace system.

Although AOPA does not influence the priority or funding of additional instrument procedures, our technical staff is available to answer questions and clarify portions of the process as needed.


Per FAA Order 8260.3, instrument procedures shall be provided at civil airports open to the public whenever a reasonable need is shown. Certain private procedures for the exclusive use of a single interest may also be provided on a reimbursable basis under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 171.

Note: Part 171 only applies to procedures based on "traditional" NAVAIDS and excludes GPS approaches.

With that said, approval requires more than demonstrating the need, practicality, and safety benefits associated with adding an approach. The proposed flight procedure must be "in the best interest of the general public" based on the current national airspace development program. Equally important, the proposal must conform to the existing national airspace development plan budget. As with most government projects, the proposal must first undergo the scrutiny of a cost/benefit analysis before the development of a procedure will be considered. See Elements for Consideration in the Development of an Instrument Approach for additional details on the elements that must be taken into consideration when developing an instrument approach.

Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining an Instrument Approach

What follows is a brief overview of the process that accompanies a request for an instrument approach. Although it is depicted as a linear progression, several of these processes may run concurrently depending on the task at hand.

Step 1:

The process of acquiring a new instrument flight procedure is generally similar regardless of an airport's current status (VFR vs. IFR). Any party with an aeronautical interest may submit a request for an instrument approach including:

  1. Air carriers
  2. FAA field offices
  3. State or local governments
  4. Airport management
  5. Businesses
  6. Flight schools
  7. Individual pilots

As a practical matter, individuals who wish to get an approach procedure approved will need to involve airport management in the initial phase of their request. This is necessary, as the addition of an approach will likely require an update of the Airport Layout Plan (ALP). If such a plan does not exist, much of the information that would be found in an ALP will need to be collected prior to further development.

Requests should be submitted to the Regional Flight Procedures Office (FPO). This office is responsible for coordinating with the Flight Standards, Airway Facilities, Air Traffic, and Airports Offices whose participants will comprise the Regional Procedures Team (RPT). Online requests may also be made by following the AVN link provided below (12). The Regional FPO will make the initial assessment and coordinate the request through the appropriate Airports Office.

Note: A request for an instrument approach procedure will be denied if a previous airport study was not approved, and the existing condition has not been corrected or mitigated in some manner acceptable to the Administrator.

Step 2:

As part of the initial assessment, the next step is for the FAA to determine if the request is for public or private use. If the request is for public use, the RPT will solicit specific airport data. It is important to note that in many cases, federal, state, or local government agencies may be able to provide financial assistance with the costs associated with the development of the ALP and the gathering of data for public use airports. Regardless of the costs, it is the responsibility of the airport sponsor (or their designee) to provide the necessary information to the FAA. Airport data requirements may include:

  • Airport Layout Plan (ALP)
  • Airport light and weather facilities
  • Communication facilities
  • Environmental considerations
  • Concurrence of the airport owner

If the airport in question is a private-use facility, the Reimbursable Agreements Office in Oklahoma City will need to be contacted so they may initiate the agreement process. It should be noted that even a privately developed flight procedure must be subjected to the FAA's quality control and flight inspection process, and these activities carry with them an associated cost. Similarly, a proponent may wish to have an established private instrument approach made available for public use. Known as a "Convertible Special," these procedures also require a reimbursable agreement.

The tables below outline the estimated reimbursable costs associated with the development of an instrument approach procedure.

New "FAA Developed" Private IFP Reimbursable Costs Range of Estimated Costs
* The cost of procedure development $5,000-$11,000
* The cost of performing the initial flight check $2,800-$4,300
* The cost of performing recurrent flight checks $1,800-$2,850
"Convertible Special" Reimbursable Costs Range of Estimated Costs
* The cost of quality control $500-$800
* The cost of performing the initial flight check $2,800-$4,300
* The cost of performing recurrent flight checks $1,800-$2,850

Additional factors affecting the costs of an instrument procedure include:

  • The type and complexity of the procedure
  • NAVAID availability
  • Intended use
  • Terrain and obstacles
  • The need for ALP or survey data
  • Other indirect costs.

Once completed, the process will continue in a manner similar to public-use airports.

Step 3:

The proposal will then be submitted to the appropriate Flight Procedures Office for processing. The RPT will review the request for complete and accurate data. Once this process has been initiated, there is very little opportunity for intervention by parties not directly involved in the evaluation. However, if additional information is required, the request may be returned to the originator.

If the RPT contains all of the necessary information, a study will be conducted to determine the flight procedure's feasibility. If the flight procedure is based on an existing navigational aid, such as a Very high frequency Omni directional Range (VOR), Non-Directional Beacon (NDB), or GPS, the participating Air Traffic Office will be responsible for public notification. If airspace changes are required, the recommended course of action involves the circularization of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) change. If the procedure requires no airspace modifications, a nonrulemaking circularization will likely be accomplished.

If the request passes this hurdle, the RPT will issue their approval and forward the formal instrument flight procedure package to the National Flight Procedures Office.

Step 4:

Once at the NFPO, the request will be assigned to a specialist who will review the layout and design of the procedure and coordinate these findings with the controlling air traffic facility. The instrument approach will then be designed using the applicable Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) criteria. Any airspace actions and safety considerations will be studied as necessary.

Once drafted, the completed procedure will be sent to Quality Control for evaluation. There it will be finalized and forwarded for flight check.

Step 5:

At this point, the approach procedure will be scheduled for a flight inspection. During this process, criteria such as signal availability, integrity, and accuracy are all validated through flight-testing. Once the flight check is passed, the instrument flight procedure is forwarded for publication.

Step 6:

If the procedure is intended for private use only, the finished approach is forwarded to Flight Standards. The appropriate Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) will issue the procedure to the originator, user, or requestor as appropriate. If the procedure is available for public use, the data will be transmitted to the National Flight Data Center (NFDC) and National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) for publication.

TERPS revisions will be processed in sufficient time to permit publication and distribution in advance of the effective date. These dates should coincide with the 56-day publication cycle and any necessary airspace or rulemaking changes.

Associated Links and Resources

  1. FAA Order 7400.2, Procedures for Handling Airspace Matters
  2. FAA Order 8260.19, Flight Procedures and Airspace
  3. FAA Order 8260.3, Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS); Change 19
  4. FAA Order 8260.38, GPS TERPS; Change 1
  5. FAA Order 8260.44, RNAV TERPS; Change 1
  6. FAA Order 8260.26, Establishing and Scheduling Standard Instrument Procedure Effective Dates
  7. Title 14 CFR Part 77
  8. Title 14 CFR Part 157
  9. Title 14 CFR Part 171
  10. AC 150/5070-6B, Airport Master Plans
  11. AC 150/5300-13 Appendix 16, New Instrument Approach Procedures
  12. The Office of Aviation System Standards

Updated Friday, November 18, 2005 2:29:50 PM