Can I Descend to MEA/MOCA if Cleared for Approach before IAF?

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I have an IFR question and hope someone can point me in the right
direction. Here's my question:

You are flying on an airway above the MEA (for example, at an
assigned altitude of 10,000 feet and the MEA is 8,000). The airway
ends at the IAF of the approach (the VOR of a VOR approach), but the
airway is not a feeder route shown the approach chart.

If the controller just says "Cleared for VOR Approach Runway XX,"
can you descend down to the MEA (or MOCA if within 22 nm), or do you
have to wait until you cross the VOR and then start your descent
down to the altitude shown on the approach chart?

According to the Jeppesen textbook, you can descend down to the
MEA/MOCA right away. Obviously, you could ask the controller for
clarification, but I am trying to find in the AIM or other FAA book
where it spells this out.

Thank you for any help.


-- Todd Ramming, October 28, 2010


The chance of this ever happening in crowded airspace is negligible, of course. In the Midwest I've always been cleared "pilot's discretion" to descend to some altitude pretty close to the published minimum at the initial approach fix. I personally would say that "cleared the approach" means you can descend once you're on a published segment of the approach. Until then you maintain the last assigned altitude. But the Jepp textbook author might well know better. As noted, I don't think the answer to this question has a lot of real-world value.

-- Philip Greenspun, October 28, 2010

Thanks for the reply. You're right that the question is partly academic. I want to know the answer for a class.

But I have been given this clearance at least twice over the last few months flying in California. The airspace is crowded but most of the IFR traffic is commercial jets well above us.

I have asked the controller for clarification and he then replies with "Descend and maintain 8,000. Cleared for VOR approach ...."

I was trying to clear up my own understanding so I don't have to ask the controller in the future.


-- Todd Ramming, October 28, 2010