You’re in the muck on your hometown localizer approach at 3000 feet. You intercept final, center the needle and catch a glimpse of the highway below. A mile from the FAF and seven miles from the runway, still at 3000 feet, you begin to make out the runway. With visibility only three miles, you wait until crossing the FAF before descending to land. Can you log that?
There is no clear guidance and plenty of debate on the logging conundrum. To start, 14 CFR 61.51 (g) (1) states: “A person may log instrument time only for that flight time when the person operates the aircraft solely by reference to instruments under actual or simulated instrument flight conditions.”
One end of the debate says you log it if you started the procedure in actual or simulated instrument conditions, even if you break out well above minimums. On the other end, inspired mostly by FAA interpretations, the pilot must be down to DA or MDA in actual conditions to log the approach. Like most things, the most reasonable argument lies in the middle. From a safety-vs.-proficiency standpoint, either end of the spectrum has pros and cons.
Logging our example that breaks out on a six-mile final might be pushing it. This might make you plenty good at flying in IMC during enroute and transition phases, but doesn’t do much for proving your ability on an approach.
But requiring a descent all the way to minimums seems excessive. We simply don’t have that kind of weather very often. Also, many pilots set personal minimums above the published minimums, so that can create a logging/safety conflict—fly like you train; train like you fly.
A good middle ground that many pilots and examiners use is the FAF, often about five miles out and 1400 feet above MDA. If you get there and start downhill safely and accurately in IMC and transition to a stable visual descent, you’d be proficient and could consider logging the approach.
That’s fine for non-precision approaches, but we commonly don’t use the glidepath on a precision approach until inside the FAF. In those cases, consider making your logging threshold your “500 to minimums” call.
Whatever logging choices you make, common sense and consistency should be employed.