Cleared for the visual, intercept the localizer. Huh?

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Things Were Going Pretty Smoothly…

So this was the scenario as we were flying from Richmond Executive, VA (KFCI) to Sarasota FL (KSRQ) over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a relatively normal flight with what I considered higher than normal rerouting from ATC. I attributed this to the heavy traffic for the holidays. We were vectored around what seemed to be the entirety of south west Florida for what I can only surmise was the Deluxe Tour Package. I was told to expect a visual approach to runway 32 into KSRQ. This prompted me to do absolutely nothing in terms of setting up an approach. The weather was super-VFR with only a few of those typical southern Florida late afternoon popcorn clouds at 3000′.

Then Things Get Hinkie…

As we got closer to Sarasota, the first heading was 180 and then eventually a right turn to 220. I tracked 220 for what seemed to be forever. I could see the airport and I could see down runway 32 to my right. I was looking right down the runway thinking we should have been turned to final by now and was sure we were going to get vectored out and then spun around again when all of a sudden the controller says “Join the 32 localizer, cleared for the approach when established runway 32.”. What? My head started spinning when no sooner does the controller ask “964SG, have you passed the localizer?”. Thinking super fast, I say “964SG, that’s affirmative however I have runway 32 in sight.”, which I did. ATC then cleared me for the visual approach and we motored on it. What the heck just happened?

Monday Morning Quarterback

So obviously because I’m bothering to write this all down, I was surprised at the last few minutes of this conversation with ATC and it got me thinking. So if I set myself to let’s-beat-myself-up-mode, I would say that I should have “backed-up” the visual approach by dialing up the localizer. This never occurred to me though as I could see the runway off in the distance no problem. I didn’t even have to squint, it was right there! There was no immediate indication that we’d suddenly go IMC either or that I’d loose sight of the runway. So I’m wondering now if this is just standard procedure? I’m thinking that maybe the “heavies” just use this as standard operating procedure and there’s an expectation that everybody has the localizer dialed up even for visual approaches? It kind of makes sense I suppose but this has never been taught to me as a standard procedure.

I’d love to hear from anybody who has experienced this or has any thoughts regarding how this could be handled better in the future.

One Comment

  • Eric

    I just about always dial up an instrument approach to backup the visual when it’s available. ILS is best because you get lateral and vertical guidance even when you join past the FAF. Great insurance that I’m lined up with the correct runway. Super easy and fast to dial and activate in the G1000.

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