Flight Redemptions

What is CDFA in Aviation? (Continuous Descent Final Approach)

Updated: February 28, 2024

Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA)

Aviation is a complex and fascinating field, with numerous terms and concepts that are essential for pilots and aviation enthusiasts to understand. One such term is the Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA). In this article, we will explore what CDFA means, how it is used in aviation, and its benefits.

What is Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA)?

The Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA) is a flight procedure used by pilots during the final segment of an approach to an airport. It involves maintaining a steady descent rate from the final approach fix to the runway threshold, without any level-offs or power adjustments.

CDFA is often used as an alternative to the traditional step-down approach, where the aircraft descends in a series of level segments with intermittent level-offs. By eliminating these level-offs, CDFA allows for a smoother and more efficient descent, resulting in several benefits for both the aircraft and the environment.

The Benefits of CDFA

CDFA offers several benefits compared to the traditional step-down approach:

Reduced fuel consumption: By maintaining a continuous descent, CDFA minimizes the need for additional thrust and power adjustments, resulting in reduced fuel consumption. This not only helps airlines save on fuel costs but also reduces carbon emissions, contributing to a greener and more sustainable aviation industry.
Improved noise reduction: CDFA also helps mitigate noise pollution around airports. The continuous descent minimizes the use of thrust reversers and other noise-generating components, resulting in quieter approaches. This is particularly beneficial for communities living near airports, as it helps reduce the overall noise impact.
Enhanced situational awareness: CDFA allows pilots to maintain a consistent descent profile, providing them with better situational awareness during the approach. By eliminating level-offs and power adjustments, pilots can focus on monitoring their aircraft's performance and ensuring a smooth and stable approach.

Implementing CDFA

To implement a Continuous Descent Final Approach, pilots need to follow a few key steps:

Flight planning: Pilots should include CDFA in their flight plans and brief the approach procedure before departure. This ensures that the crew is aware of the specific altitude, speed, and descent angle required for a continuous descent.
Navigation equipment: Aircraft equipped with modern navigation systems, such as GPS and RNAV (Area Navigation), can more easily execute CDFA. These systems provide accurate position information and vertical guidance, allowing pilots to maintain precise descent profiles.
Communication with air traffic control: Pilots need to coordinate with air traffic control to ensure a smooth transition to CDFA. This includes requesting clearance for a continuous descent and adhering to any specific instructions provided by ATC.

It is important to note that CDFA may not always be possible due to factors such as airspace restrictions, traffic congestion, or ATC instructions. In such cases, pilots must follow the instructions provided and revert to the step-down approach if necessary.

Successful Examples of CDFA Implementation

CDFA has been successfully implemented in various airports around the world, resulting in significant fuel savings and environmental benefits. One such example is the Stockholm Arlanda Airport in Sweden. The airport introduced CDFA procedures for certain approach paths, resulting in an average fuel reduction of 100–150 kg per approach. This not only saves airlines money but also reduces carbon emissions by approximately 300–450 kg per approach.

Another successful implementation of CDFA can be seen at the Melbourne Airport in Australia. The airport introduced CDFA procedures for all aircraft arriving from the north, resulting in reduced noise impact on nearby communities and improved fuel efficiency. The airport estimates that CDFA saves approximately 1,000 kilograms of fuel per aircraft on these approaches.

These examples highlight the positive impact of CDFA on fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and noise pollution. By implementing CDFA procedures, airports and airlines can contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly aviation industry.


The Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA) is a flight procedure that offers several benefits for pilots, airlines, and the environment. By maintaining a continuous descent from the final approach fix to the runway threshold, CDFA reduces fuel consumption, mitigates noise pollution, and enhances situational awareness. Successful implementations of CDFA around the world have demonstrated its effectiveness in saving fuel, reducing carbon emissions, and minimizing noise impact on communities. As the aviation industry continues to strive for sustainability, CDFA is a valuable tool that can contribute to a greener and more efficient future.

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