Dave Hirschman

The Rest of the English-speaking World Has Figured This Out

February 2, 2011 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

Our February “Dogfight” about proper pattern-entry procedures at non-towered airports has generated quite a stir, and I’ve been called all sorts of interesting names (“renegade,” “anti-authority,” and “anarchist” are my favorites) for questioning the efficacy of the FAA’s standard 45-degree entry.

I’d just like to point out that the U.K., Canada, England, New Zealand and the rest of the English-speaking world has solved this problem long ago. While I hope to keep their fees and privatized ATC north of the border, I wish our FAA would cut and paste this portion of the Canadian regs into our own FAR/AIM. It’s logical, safe, and would be a welcome improvement to the way we fly.

The Canadian Way

23 Responses to “The Rest of the English-speaking World Has Figured This Out”

  1. Roy Uchman Says:

    I haven’t flown in the U.S. (yet), but as a Canadian pilot with 20 years experience as a recreational and commercial pilot it’s my opinion that the pattern-entry procedures we follow are effective and safe. The rules are very straight forward, and can’t think of a single instance that resulted in a potential conflict with another aircraft in the pattern (circuit).

    If the wind and traffic are favouring an approach to a runway with a westerly heading and we’re arriving from the south we’ll cross overhead at circuit height (1000′ AAE) plus 500′, check the windsock for the active (if nobody’s in the circuit), descend to circuit height on the north side of the airport and then cross overhead again to join downwind. Alternatively, in the same scenario, if we’re arriving from the north, west or east, we’ll plan the arrival to over-fly the airport from the north at circuit height to join the downwind.

  2. Roy Uchman Says:

    I should have mentioned in my previous comment that in my experience the procedure we follow is efficient, it allows us to effectively determine the active runway if nobody else is in the circuit, and provides ample opportunity to identify other traffic in the circuit and to plan an entry that doesn’t conflict with the other traffic.

  3. Oz Says:

    This is the way we fly traffic patterns at non-towered aerodromes in Australia, too, and it works like a charm. You Yanks do yourselves a disservice with 45-degree patterns as they’re imprecise and lead to all sorts of conflicting interpretations. There’s much to like about flying in America — but your pattern entry procedures are buggered.

  4. Ron Says:

    I like flying over mid field to enter the pattern unless there are multiple aircraft in the pattern. I just wish instructors would teach their students to stay within gliding distance in the pattern and stop teaching these B-52 patterns. Go somewhere else to do touch and goes if traffic gets busy, be courteous to traffic trying to depart. Last week we had one student doing touch and goes DOWNWIND, a pilot trying to depart, and a moron calling left base 10 miles out. Even with all the headache it was still a great day to fly…..

  5. Dave Says:

    Everyone is always most comfortable with what they are accustomed to and change is never easily accepted. As a 20 year US Navy pilot, I am most comfortable with an entry that funnels through an initial point roughly 3-5 nm prior to the approach end of the active runway at 500 feet greater than the published downwind altitude. Once your interval is located, you merely turn to downwind, descend to pattern altitude and continue as desired. We executed this with no communications between ourselves and did so safely (still do). I have always been confounded by what I consider a very haphazard and rarely well maintained pattern around US civilian airports. The Canadian procedure looks to me to be a more complex version of the Navy “overhead” and would seem to waste time and fuel, but it is in my opinion a safer procedure than what I have seen at most US civilian airports.

  6. jr Says:

    This is nothing more than a my way is better than your way conversation. Neither of the two ways works if you don’t have pilots using common sense and courtesy. My experince has been the problems only occur when someone makes a call inbound and expects everyone else to watch out for him/her. A bigger problem is proper radio work and English speaking. I have heard way to many folks on the radio that have no idea what anyone else is saying as well as not being able to properly communicate their intentions.

  7. LeRoy Cook Says:

    Mr. Hirschman is correct as anyone. but I think the main issue is the traffic situation at the airport. A throughly saturated field should be overflown 500 feet or more above the pattern altitude, with a descent to join a 45-degree entry well outside the pattern. However, if traffic is light or non-existent, I see nothing wrong with rolling directly into a downwind from a mid-field crossover, or on an extended base leg or downwind. I do object to a long straight-in, which runs the risk of a merging midair, in my experience.

    We are fortunate in that the FAA keeps its hands out of this fight. The only regulation is a prohibition against landing with a “wrong way” turn to final, the right-hand pattern often used by arrogant big-city pilots visiting in the country. Let’s keep it that way and use our heads, relying more on our ears and eyes and less on the overloaded radio.

  8. jim hanson Says:

    I’m a 49-year aviation veteran–I’m an airport manager, and a corporate pilot. I fly jets and LSA’s, gliders, helicopters, and balloons.

    Several issues as yet unaddressed:

    1. Overflying 500′ above the pattern, then descending. If the runway in use is known (AWOS, radio traffic) I see no reason to overfly the airport 500′ above the normal traffic, then descend and maneuver to the traffic pattern altitude. Descending into the traffic pattern doesn’t allow clearing below–dangerous. Same for maneuvering cllose to the airport–and close to known traffic. You wouldn’t be practicing turns, climbs and descents within a couple of miles of an airport, would you? You’ve just made the situation WORSE.

    How about traffic on an instrument approach? Most of that traffic is straight in. If the instrument traffic DOES break out at 1000 feet, do you really expect them to circle and join a pattern? No–it is easier and safer to simply go straight in.

    Mixing up high-speed and low-speed traffic–it serves no purpose–and instead may be MORE dangerous–for a high-speed aircraft to do the age-old 45 degree entry and mix it up with the training traffic. Better to just go straight in.

    The 45 degree entry served a purpose at one time–pre-radio days, when all airplanes were about the same speed. It makes little sense to perpetuate it in modern times. It’s about time the FAA drops it from its recommended procedure–but then, the FAA always HAS clung to obsolete training procedures.

  9. atwood Says:

    I don’t care what “standard” they want to apply, but it should be standard! At least that way arriving and departing piltos would at least know the general direction to look for traffic. I learned on the 45degree entry into downwind. I’m happy with it and wish everyone else would follow suit.

  10. Bob Says:

    A 45 degree enty allows much greater visibility for the left seat Pilot. The angle also creates a “merge” effect which is safer than a 90 degree entry. I have had pilots drop into the pattern right in front of me with midfield, upwind side , 90 degree entrys. They never even saw me.

  11. Bob Says:

    In Mr. Uchman’s description, at a busy airfield you could end up with a great deal of crossing and recrossing the field with everyone decending to circut altitude in the same general area. Youve almost added two more legs to the circut. Sounds like a Circus to me.

  12. Michael Says:

    I think most U.S. pilots make an overhead join when they are not familiar with the airport. Atleast I do and was taught that way. The article says “….the rest of the English-speaking world……”, well not the case in Italy most of the time. I have extensive knowledge and experience about flight in Italian airspace. VFR aircraft are restricted to VRP’s (visual reporting points) especially if a control tower or AFIU (aerodrome flight information unit) is at the field and at uncontrolled airports there are always restrictions of landing direction or entry directions. And besides, most VFR aircraft are restricted to 1,000 ft AGL along VFR routes so the choice of entry is usually not overhead.

  13. Michael Says:

    I ment to say by the example of Italy is that the English speaking world seems to manage things in a more logical way and seems to care about VFR aircraft.

  14. Jan Melkebeek Says:

    The 90 degrees midfield entry at pattern altitude +500 ft is not found in English speaking countries only. For non-towered airports in Belgium, France, … this is the standard entry. This also allows to check the windsock or to check the airfield for obstructions (like sheep or other animals). Of course, for a high-wing aircraft this entry is somewhat safer than for a low-wing one.
    For towered airports all depends on the control tower of course: straight-in or base entry or entry points…

  15. Roy Uchman Says:

    Regardless of which pattern entry you favour, I think we can all agree that standardization and communication are two of the most important characteristics.

    Like I said, I don’t have experience flying into an uncontrolled U.S. field, but I’m leery of the 45 degree pattern entry for the following reasons: one guy’s 45 might be 60 degrees and 1nm and another guy’s 45 is 30 degrees and 5nm, and he may be a couple hundred feet off of the pattern altitude. That’s a lot of sky to be scanning if I’m on downwind or if I’m following these guys onto the downwind.

    Conversely, with the Canadian procedure, if I’m on downwind, I know that I need to be looking overhead the airport, directly to my left. That’s a relatively small piece of the sky. Whereas, if I’m crossing overhead to join the downwind, I’m looking for traffic that’s already on the downwind, and that’s a fairly well defined area as well. In addition to this, position reports are more accurate when relative to the airport (i.e,. “…1 mile north, crossing overhead to join left downwind runway 28.”).

  16. Ben Bailey Says:

    I’m not sure that I am crazy about all this “blog”, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Seems that I am missing stuff. I looked all over my copy of the Feb AOPA Pilot and could not find Hirschman’s “dogfight” anywhere. And now that I found the link in my E-pilot, I find all the comments but not the original article. Since most of my aviation studying and reading is in my easy chair in front of the fireplace, I become a bit frustrated when the e-pilot has part of a story and I have to chase links to get the rest of it, and even in the print edition many of the stories give highlights and send me off to cyberland to get the full story.

    Operations at non-towered airports has been a major interest of mine over my instructing career and I really try to capture all the information I can on the subject. But it’s analogous to the dictum in 91.103 to become familiar with “all available information” concerning your flight. It doesn’t say “readily” available information. With the NOTAM system (and especially concerning TFRS), a lot of the “available” information is very difficult to come by.

    These truncated and “go somewhere else to fine the rest” articles are really a turnoff and leave the reader with less than full information

    i know that I sound like a Luddite, but I thought you might like another opinion.

  17. Jack Voss Says:

    It appears that we have many “standards” in the mix. That, in itself, appears unsafe.

  18. David Heberling Says:

    I was originally a 45 degree entry guy. I exchanged a few emails with Hirchman challenging his use of “FAA Approved” for the overhead approach. His answer that one Inspector where he lives approves this procedure left me less than satisfied. Then he used his trump card, Canada. That got me interested. What we really need is an update of the AIM pertaining to traffic patterns. This discussion needs to formalized and all the stakeholders involved. I am an old dog willing to learn a new trick. I just want it well thought out and blessed by the national office of the FAA. Then this dogfight called off.

  19. Steve Phoenix Says:

    There seems to be a lot of opinions, but very little data. How many midairs occur between airplanes that are using the AIM procedures in the strictest sense and how many occur between airplanes when a “non-standard” procedure is used? How do the Canadians fair statistically?

    There must be a better way to determine what the correct standard should be than just offering opinions. Or it may be that no standard is better; I don’t see birds using standard rectangular patterns. That’s my data point.

  20. Chris Pfaff Says:

    I like the standardization, but as an instructor, I question the mid-field crossing. Possible problems are during fly-ins, especially that may do impromptu airshows, and the descent from above TPA down to TPA while essentially in the traffic pattern. Enlighten me as to how this descent problem is not a problem.

  21. N lynn thoma Says:

    I do like the midfield crosswind entery, but, only when approaching from the non-pattern side of the airport. One thing I dislike about the “45”, is that you have all these aircraft converging from all directions and altitudes to the same spot. How many miles away from the airport does a “45” start from anyway? It seems the Canadian way just has a different scary spot on which to converge. I’m a huge fan of good accurate radio work (when you have one), who you are, where you are, and where you are going. If that means reporting that you’re 5 north 2000 decending planning midfield crosswind or 5 north 2000 will go to a point 5 southwest, decend and enter a 45, it’s all good to me…even that 10 mile base or final, although, as a matter of courtesy, I consider people who are in the pattern as having the right of way. With this flexability on traffic pattern enterys, everyone is not forced to fly over the exact same spot. Safer I think!

  22. John Mahon Says:

    There were about 200 Stearmans at NAS Norman OK in the summer of 1945. As many as 100 might be in the air any time it was daylight, and 8 or 10 at night. We all used the standard 45 degree entry, mandated and seriously enforced. Woe be to the cadet who messed it up. I don’t remember a single ‘Near-miss” and certainly no collisions. There was no tower, and no chattering radio. Abhorred by all was the pattern-disturber who stretched out his pattern with a mile-long final leg. 50 yards is plenty. I still operate the same way at my tower-less home airport, and still mentally castigate the selfish fool who starts his final from halfway to hell. He should go all the way and leave the rest of us alone.

  23. Peter Row Says:

    I’d like to throw another monkey-wrench into this discussion. Disclaimer: I’m of the “communicate clearly, be respectful, then do what makes sense” pattern entry philosophy.

    However, I recall (as a VFR pilot, before I got my own instrument ticket) hearing traffic on the CTAF like “Cessna 12345 is over MUGSY inbound on the ILS for 32.” This meant nothing to me (at that time). At least, if you know what the ILS is, you can figure out what direction this aircraft is coming from. What about “Cessna 12345 is 3 miles out, inbound on the VOR alpha approach.” Even another instrument pilot won’t know where this aircraft is coming from unless he has personally reviewed that approach. This means that only the safety pilot (or instrument pilot, if it is an approach in actual conditions) is “looking” for traffic, because no one else knows where to look.

    I’m not aware of a practice instrument approach aircraft’s odd entry ever causing an accident. If someone can answer why this seems to work OK, or how this can/should be improved, we might be a lot closer to understanding the best ways to deconflict VFR aircraft in the “standard” pattern.

    On the other hand, maybe this should be a different dogfight -> what to do with those darn instrument guys flying around in VMC! How rude! (sarcasm, of course)

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