Last week I decided to go for a short round-robin IFR flight between Ottawa and Pembroke. While I was still in cloud and on the airway, cruising at 6,000 ft, Montreal Centre gave me missed approach instructions and then said
Bravo Juliet Oscar, cleared for an approach to the Pembroke Airport.
That kind of a clearance can sometimes be disconcerting for people (like me) who are used to doing vectored approaches to busy airports with every turn and altitude change micromanaged by ATC. There’s a whole lot that Centre expected me to remember to do after giving me the clearance:
- read back the full approach clearance, for the tapes
- select an approach (in this case, there was only one)
- turn off the airway and self-navigate towards the initial approach fix (IAF), which, in this case, was an NDB 21 nautical miles away
- begin descending from cruise altitude to minimum safe altitude (MSA)
- fly the approach and missed
The fourth one might trip up American pilots, especially if they get the clearance a long way from the airport. In Canada, clearance for an approach automatically includes clearance to descend to the minimum charted IFR altitude, which is most typically the 25 nautical mile MSA around the initial approach fix (but may procedure turn altitude on a vectored approach, or a published transition altitude, or even 100 nautical mile safe altitude if you get the clearance a long way back). In the U.S., the MSA is for emergency use, and clearance for an approach does not include clearance to descend before established on the approach, as far as I understand.
In other words, in Canada, MSA is an operational altitude, like the procedure turn altitude, a step-down altitude, the minimum descent altitude (MDA) or the decision height (DH); in the U.S., it’s just a safety advisory.