Yesterday was a reminder that you always have to go in to every approach with the mindset of executing a missed approach.
I will tell you all about it but I will start by explaining how we go about selecting what approach to fly and why.
First of all, we always try to use the most accurate and precise approach availible. This is normally an ILS and we would only fly a non-precision approach, like a VOR or NDB approach if there is no ILS availible or if we need it for training purposes.
There are a couple of ILS approaches availible. The most common type is ILS Cat 1 where we fly down to a decision height of 200 feet (or more) above ground. With a Cat 1 we have to execute the landing manually.
The other types of ILS's are Cat 2 (DH more than 100 feet Radio Altitude) and Cat 3 (DH more than 50 feet radio altitude). These type of approaches are normally flown completely on autopilot down to, and including, landing.
Because of the higher precision needed for auto-land there are special requirements on the airport, runway and ILS. This is why we don't always fly these approaches. It will require the airport to implement bigger separation between landing aircrafts and the aircraft auto-land actually requires more landing distance than a normal, manual landing does (140 m).
Normally we have a quite good idea of what weather we can expect at the destination even before we take off but in some cases the weather deteriorates more and faster than forecasted. That was the case this Monday.
We were en-route from Paris to Girona and, as always, we took the latest weather when we were approaching our top of descend to prepare for the approach.
The weather was ok, as forcasted with 5 km visibility in Mist and overcast clouds at 700 feet. This weather is good enough to fly a normal ILS Cat 1 and we don't even have to fly a "monitored approach" which we would do if the weather would be marginal for a Cat 1.
When flying a monitored approach the First Officer becomes Pilot Flying during the approach and the Captain takes controls and lands if he/she gets sufficient visual references to land before minimums. If that is not the case, the FO flies the go-around.
But this time the weather was so good (relatively speaking) that I elected to fly a normal approach with me as Pilot Flying for the whole approach.
I was very confident in the possibilities landing and since it was the last flight after a very long day I was already thinking of going home.
We flew the approach in a completely normal way and ATC gave us landing clearance without mentioning any changes in the weather.
I had instructed my First officer to call out any visual references he saw and when we passed 500 feet descending without any sign of the runway I started suspecting that the weather might have deteriorated quite a bit.
We reached "Minimums" without a single sign of any approach lights so I promptly executed the Go-around and started climbing.
We cleaned up the aircraft as per procedure and I kept the controls while I instructed my FO to complete the "after TO checklist" and start preparing for a CAT 3 approach.
I made a PA to the passengers, explaining what had happened and briefed my cabin crew.
We then flew the Cat3 approach to a successful landing.
It turned out that the cloud-base had gone down to overcast at 100 feet with a RVR of 1000 meters.
This served as a great reminder to me that you have to enter all approaches with the mindset of having to go-around. Any landing is supposed to be seen as a bonus. :)
If you want to see how to fly a cat 3 approach and a Go-around from a Cat 3, then download my app and enjoy!
Have a great day!!