When should you activate an instrument approach?

Wish I had a dollar every time a pilot incorrectly answers this question by saying “when you are cleared for the approach”.  

We all know there are two kinds of instrument approaches—Vectored Approaches and Full Approaches (with an IAF).

There are two cues from ATC that prompt you to activate an approach.

1. Vectored Approach: When ATC says “fly heading 270, vectors for the approach”.

2. Full Approach: When ATC says “direct OKANE” (the IAF).

So, what the heck does “cleared for the approach” mean? Being cleared for the approach only means that you may leave the assigned altitude and descend to the published one on your approach plate.

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