Instrument Landing System [ILS]

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An instrument landing system (ILS) enables aircraft to land if the pilots are unable to establish visual contact with the runway. It does this by way of transmitted radio signals.

An instrument landing system operates as ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision lateral and vertical guidance to an aircraft approaching and landing on a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow.

An instrument approach procedure chart (or ‘approach plate’) is published for each ILS approach to provide the information needed to fly an ILS approach during instrument flight rules (IFR) operations. A chart includes the radio frequencies used by the ILS components or navaids and the prescribed minimum visibility requirements.

Radio-navigation aids must provide a certain accuracy (set by international standards of CAST/ICAO); to ensure this is the case, flight inspection organizations periodically check critical parameters with properly equipped aircraft to calibrate and certify ILS precision.

An aircraft approaching a runway is guided by the ILS receivers in the aircraft by performing modulation depth comparisons. Many aircraft can route signals into the autopilot to fly the approach automatically. An ILS consists of two independent sub-systems. The localizer provides lateral guidance; the glide slope provides vertical guidance.

Glide slope of ILS (G/S)

The pilot controls the aircraft so that the glide slope indicator remains centered on the display to ensure the aircraft is following the glide path to remain above obstructions and reach the runway at the proper touchdown point (i.e., it provides vertical guidance).


Due to the complexity of ILS localizer and glide slope systems, there are some limitations. Localizer systems are sensitive to obstructions in the signal broadcast area like large buildings or hangars. Glide slope systems are also limited by the terrain in front of the glide slope antennas. If terrain is sloping or uneven, reflections can create an uneven glidepath, causing unwanted needle deflections. Additionally, since the ILS signals are pointed in one direction by the positioning of the arrays, glide slope supports only straight-line approaches with a constant angle of descent. Installation of an ILS can be costly because of siting criteria and the complexity of the antenna system.

ILS critical areas and ILS sensitive areas are established to avoid hazardous reflections that would affect the radiated signal. The location of these critical areas can prevent aircraft from using certain taxiways leading to delays in takeoffs, increased hold times, and increased separation between aircraft.

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