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Everybody loves a good approach plate. At least Air Facts readers do. After we shared seven bizarre instrument approach charts last year, we had hundreds of positive comments and numerous requests for more. As we like to say, the readers are PIC at Air Facts, so here we will indulge your desire for more torturous procedures.

In the initial article, we limited ourselves to airports in the United States. But given the recently concluded Olympics, we thought it only appropriate to include airports from all over the world. So buckle up for a whirlwind tour of the globe’s most interesting approach charts. As usual, these charts are for fun only, and not to be used for navigation.

North America

Some of the most interesting approach charts are for VFR days. Last year we showed off famous visuals to New York and Boston, but we left out another famous one–Washington National Airport’s River Visual. This procedure, designed for noise abatement, twists and turns down the Potomac River and is an interesting ride the first time you do it:

DCA river visual

On the other end of the sophistication spectrum would be the RNAV 13R at Palm Springs, California. This airport sits in a wide valley, but is surrounded by mountains that reach over 10,000 ft. above airport elevation. But that’s no match for a smart approach designer with the benefit of RNAV (RNP more specifically). The resulting approach is one you can’t fly in your Skyhawk–see the Authorization Required note–but it does show the future of instrument approaches, with hardly a straight segment in sight:

PSP plate

Mexico offers some unique approaches as well, including the ILS DME 3 or LOC 17 at Saltillo. With mountains on both sides of the final approach course, the designers had to get creative. The “procedure turn” is a DME-based teardrop entry, and the missed approach is another teardrop to the other side of the final approach course. The result is a heart-shaped chart that will make your head spin thinking about all the options:

Satillo plate

Not to be outdone, Canada offers some hair-raising approaches too. Ever wanted to shoot an NDB approach to a 3800 ft. MDA in the mountains–that uses two NDBs? Didn’t think so. But that’s exactly what you can do in Castlegar, British Columbia. Is the name of the second NDB a joke?


Back in the US, Roswell airport in New Mexico offers something different. For those days when you need to get your F-16 back home on a scuzzy day, consider the Hi ILS 21, which starts at 15,000 ft. and ends at 3800 ft.

Roswell hi

But as the famous saying goes, there’s always someone flying higher and faster, so that F-16 approach is certainly not top dog. Why not? Because if you steal a Space Shuttle and have to get back to the Cape, you need the MLS 33 at the Kennedy Space Center. Just be sure to disable the TAWS system or you’ll hear “sink rate” for the last 5000 ft.:

Shuttle plate

Our final North American entry isn’t a real approach, but it is a fine design. Have you seen the Hudson Miracle approach that Jeppesen created?

hudson miracle

South America

South America has no shortage of mountains, and those tall peaks lead to some unique instrument procedures. The VOR DME 2 at Cochabamba, Bolivia would certainly qualify. It’s a DME arc to a final approach course that ends at a field elevation of nearly 8400 ft:

Bolivia plate

Manizales, Colombia has a slew of interesting approaches too, including the VOR Z approach to runway 10. How’s your Spanish?

Colombia plate


No list of famous approaches would be complete without the “checkerboard” approach to Hong Kong’s (now closed) Kai Tak airport. Fly the needles down to skyscraper level, find the checkerboard on the mountain side, bank right and land:

Kai Tak plate

Kathmandu, Nepal is another place known for its remote location and high elevation. As you would expect, the VOR DME 02 at Tribhuvan airport is a doozy, with no less than eight step down altitudes to remember and a challenging missed approach:

nepal plate

Probably the most complicated approach ever designed is for Linzhi, Tibet. The airport, which is almost 10,000 ft. above sea level, is in a place no approach should ever exist. But there is one, complete with a staggering 105 waypoints and a 90-mile missed approach leg. This is a private approach that requires special equipment, so no plate is available, but watch this video for a glimpse of how crazy it gets.


One of Europe’s most interesting approaches isn’t in the remote mountains. Instead, the obstacles to avoid at London City Airport are tall buildings that surround this urban airport. While it’s a fairly straightforward approach in its design, it features a “chop it and drop it” 5.5 degree glideslope that requires special aircraft certification:

London City

NDB approaches may be an endangered species in the US, but in many parts of the world they are a backbone of the instrument approach system. There’s no better example than the three NDB circling approach to Petropavlovsk, Russia.

Russia plate

The LOC A approach at Reggio Calabria, the so-called “Italian Kai Tak,” is another interesting approach. It includes an offset final approach course, high mountains and plenty of red notes to read:

italy plate

One final European plate deserves some attention: the NDB DME 14 to Montenegro’s Tivat airport. Look carefully, as there’s a lot to take in:

Montenegro plate


One final group of approaches deserves special recognition: call it the wild card group if you like. These are all circling approaches, but look closely and it’s clear these are not your typical circling approach. Some aren’t even instrument procedures.

First up is the chart for night circuit procedures at Kelowna in Canada. It’s hard to believe this would ever be a good idea, but at least it’s charted:


Innsbruck in Austria is a legendary airport, especially for flight simulator pilots. But this is a frequently-used airport, especially during ski season, so it gets plenty of action. Besides the famous instrument approaches, there are some interesting visual approach procedures to consider, particularly if you’re circling:


Bern, Switzerland has charted circling procedures as well, but mostly for noise abatement. Note the explicit detail, including inset charts, that pilots need to understand:


Finally, consider the NDB Visual Approach to runway 5 in Madeira, Portugal, which could be handy for that next trans-Atlantic ferry flight.

madeira islands

The gold medal winner is?

Each of these approaches has something unique to offer the brave instrument pilot, and they are a fine reminder that reading the entire approach chart is essential in mountainous terrain. While we wouldn’t assign one on an instrument rating check ride, they are all safe and flyable with a little planning and good airmanship.

Which one gets the gold medal?

John Zimmerman
17 replies
  1. Federico Bossi
    Federico Bossi says:

    Nice collection of weird approaches!
    Something worth test flights on flight simulators.

    You left out one of the weirdest approaches in the world:
    Lugano, Switzerland (ICAO code LSZA)

    At 6 degrees it has the steepest ILS (or IGS in this case) in the world, and it is usually followed by a charted circling procedure to the opposite runway, so that the missed approaches (hair rising!) and departures overfly the lake instead of heading straight into the mountains.

    The steepest approach with lowest minima are available only to authorized operators, crews and type of aircraft, while even for the most basic IFR followed by a visual approach a short online familiarization course is required.

    Tons of bizjet (up to the size of Gulfstream 5) fly here, Darwin airlines flies its Saab 2000 turboprop and Swiss airlines used to fly their Bae146 in and out of Lugano.

    And the scenery is magnificent.
    I know that, it’s just a few miles from my home!

  2. Dick Collins
    Dick Collins says:

    I vote for the one at Castlegar BC because I flew in and out of there on the jumpseat of a Pacific Western 727. All I could think was “should an airplane relly go here?”

  3. Robet Graham
    Robet Graham says:

    Great article! Remember the Hi TACAN penetration at Roswell from my youth. It was one of the approaches we used out of Laughlin AFB in West Texas training on the T-38. We called it “the widowmaker” because it was a favorite of instructors trying to bust a student out of the program. Managed to get my wings despite that approach.

  4. Piero_53
    Piero_53 says:

    Hudson approach was really very funny!!! Best compliments to the author for these olympic games…

  5. steve
    steve says:

    While these approaches are interesting, I double that any of will end up doing these unless we work for the airlines or do some corporate flying and in a lot of cases get checked out for these.

    I’ve done a few of these with the airlines, some actual and some in the sim… and all are very interesting and most require a checkout.

  6. Ken Durkin
    Ken Durkin says:

    The approach to Kai Tak became relatively easy after the installation of the IGS. My first view of it in 1972 was following the NDB approach over Cheung Chow throught the Habour to Green Island NDB and the looking for the Chequer Board amlost dead ahead followed by a right turn of about 80 degrees to the runway. Thank God for the long layovers of those days!

  7. SkyMachines
    SkyMachines says:

    While you did cover the KASE LOC/DME-E in a previous article, there is a “secret,” airline-only approach to the airport that gets one down to 1000′ AGL. http://www.skymachines.com/mountain-flying/files/KASE-LOC-DME-15.pdf. Special flight crew training is required.

    Also, the KASE VOR/DME-C is surely one of the most intense, requiring a 9.61-deg. descent from the FAF to the runway. http://download.aopa.org/ustprocs/current/SW-1/ase_vor_dme_c.pdf. At 100 kts. groundspeed, that requires nearly 1700 fpm descent! At 120 knots, it’s over 2000 fpm. When I take students there in light aircraft, we find we need to put full flaps out before the FAF and approach no faster than 80 KIAS. Even then, if you’re not really on top of it, you have to do s-turns or a 360 on final. YIKES! I would never do this approach to minimums in real life, or fly it at all at night.

  8. AfricanEagle
    AfricanEagle says:

    I’ve flown into Reggio Calabria and Tivat, but I was VFR. Even so they were both fun approaches.

  9. Terry Spurgeon
    Terry Spurgeon says:

    Castlegar is one you don’t forget. Land IFR and next day when wx. clears, look around at terrain & you kind of wonder if you were crazy. Before it was NDBs it was Radio Range Approach! The A & N and clicks always seemed better than mountain affected ADF needles.

  10. jim griffith
    jim griffith says:

    I go with Spurgeon and Collins on Castlegar. I also flew in on the jump seat of a PW 737 when my daughter was attending the aviation college there. Id give honourable mention to Kai Tak that I’ve flown into and Petropavlovsk which I’ve only flown over.

  11. Ed
    Ed says:

    In the comments above the Castlegar approach plate, it’s mentioned that the MDA for the approach is 3800. Now I admit that I’m very rusty in my knowledge of the alphabet soup of IFR designations but isn’t 5380 the MDA and 3800 the minimum height AGL????
    What a fastastic assortment of Approach plates, one for the archives, Thanks.

  12. Ed
    Ed says:

    The TIVAT Serbia approach, is that the one a USAF crew in a military 737 crashed on approach with Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce??

    • Sasa
      Sasa says:

      Nope, that was in Dubrovnik, not far away. And Tivat is not Serbia but Montenegro. Anyway, Dubrovnik is near by and also have a tricky airport, but not as difficult Tivat.

  13. Cal
    Cal says:

    Kelowna Night Circuit procedures… really? You wouldn’t believe how many students have experienced their first night hours there, including yours truly. Stay at the recommended circuit height, stay within the beacons, keep two or more white on the PAPIs. We go by Hermes hill west of Ellison Lake at 2500′ in daylight. Maybe it’s just because I’m from BC and most airports have no night…. but I never found anything challenging about it. Now… going over the rocks without even a porch light below you is another story!

  14. Steve S
    Steve S says:

    It’s fun to review all these odd ball approaches, and think about flying them.

    Being in the airline environment, I’ve been lucky to fly several of them… most require special certification. Some pretty tricky and some not too bad.

    Hong Kong was one of the most fun ones (now gone), and the river visual to DCA…. great view of the city from low altitude.

    Some of the Mexico ones I’d pass on… besides horrible communication, lots of “gotchas”, and I don’t like the country to start with.

    Also, we have plenty of interesting ones here in the US.

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