So you’re flying into a towered airport. You’ve been listening to other traffic and their clearances, and you hear that there is another aircraft on an 8-mile final, and you are abeam the numbers on downwind.
What are you thinking? Are you going to have to extend your downwind? Man, that will put you WAY out farther then you normally like for flying the pattern… Can the guy on final do a 360 to give you space? SOMETHING has to give, or you’ll end up trying to share the same space at the same time – never a good thing.
Just then, you hear tower: “November two-one-six-five papa, cleared to land runway one-two, make short approach.”
“Make short approach” simply means that tower wants you to cut your downwind short and turn early for your base leg (see our traffic patterns post for more information). Air traffic control generally assumes that you will cut your normal distance between the numbers and your base leg in half, but depending on your aircraft, the runway length, etc, you could “make short approach” immediately abeam the numbers or even further down the runway.
You might hear ATC ask you to “tighten your approach” instead of saying “make short approach.” Also, a non-standard statement, but still one you might hear, is “direct to the numbers.” ALternatively (or in addition to) any of the above phrases, ATC may also ask you to “keep your speed up,” which is self-explanatory, and is another way for ATC to keep safe spacing between aircraft on approach.
The important things to keep in mind when you are asked by air traffic control to make short approach are:
- you will need to descend at a steeper angle than normal, meaning that your airspeed will be higher than you’d like if you are not prepared and planning ahead for that (get power out and flaps in earlier than normal to compensate).
- you may need more runway than you normally use
- because of your higher airspeed from a steeper descent (see above)
- because you may touch down further down the runway than normal
- there is traffic behind you, probably only within a few miles, so you’ll want to clear the runway as soon as possible – don’t loiter!
Above all, ALWAYS keep in mind that you are the pilot in command (PIC) – if you don’t believe that you can do what ATC is asking you to do safely, don’t do it! Tell them you are unable, and that you would rather do a 360, or a 270 to base, or extend your downwind. Never, ever put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable or unsafe, even if ATC has requested it of you.
Think of the radio as an inflight, electronic suggestion box… but not the boss. That would be you. Act like it.
Start the below video at about 1:37 to really see the “approach” being shortened…
Have you ever been asked to make short approach? How did you handle it? Did you do it? Did you request an amended clearance from ATC? What do you think about short approaches in general?
Andrew C. Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.