Keep to the Right

October 2, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

Right traffic patterns at non-towered airports are where you find them. Not everyone, few in fact, carry the FAA’s Airport Facility Directory and perhaps they don’t consult all the available information, per the regulation, to find non-standard patterns. That’s why the FAA decided to put the notation RP 5 12 on sectional charts to denote that right turns were required. Pilots didn’t need to look in so many places to get flight critical information. The info was readily at hand.

Air Safety Foundation has proposed that NACO, the folks who provide the government alternative to Jeppesen IFR charts, adopt the same notation in the small airport diagram of Instrument approach procedure chart booklets when a non-standard pattern exists.  Many IFR pilots do not carry sectional charts and unless they are especially diligent, may not check other sources. Since most IFR flights end in VFR conditions that means a  VFR pattern.  Life can get interesting when  someone is flying a mirror image of the correct pattern.

Two questions: Do you find the notation on the VFR charts helpful?  Would this notation be helpful on the IAP airport diagrams? By the way, Jepp already does this on their IAPs. Good idea or are we over thinking this?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Bruce Landsberg

    Keep the comments coming ladies and gentlemen. If you have a comment but haven’t weighed in — PLEASE VOTE …the numbers count.

    Many Thanks……

  • Dennis E. Reeves

    Some designation like “RP” should have been added to IAP years ago.

  • Sebastian DiSylvester

    I am just getting started on my instrument training and learning all the useful information that exists on the Instrument Approach Plates. Haveing the useful information of a RP where appropriate makes a lot of sense, especially when many IFR flights often end with VFR landings, not to mention practice instrument approaches, where it would help knowing where the VFR traffic is comming from.

  • Brian

    I have always wondered why they never put this on the approach plate. I can’t think of one thing negative about putting it on there. Go for it.

  • Ken Jacobson

    I think it is a great idea.

  • Larry Gregory

    Great idea, but why stop at “RP” which may or not be obvious? It wouldn’t take much more room to print “Right Traffic” or simply “Rt Tfc” which would take all the guess work out of the situation – which is what needs to be done in the first place.

  • Harold O. Bourne

    Excellent idea. But I think the term “Rt Tfc” would be more clear, as already suggested.

  • Tim Kochert B-767 Check Airman

    This is a great idea. It helps increase situational awareness for all pilots and would be another safety net in preventing runway incursions.

  • Stuart G. Foster

    I fly virtually every flight IFR in a B58 Baron. I agree that the RP designation for right traffic should be added to approach charts. I would also like to see it added to the Garmin and Honeywell databases so it would be instantly available on the dash in any weather.

  • Joe Shoemaker

    Affirmative ! Add to all info.sources .

  • Mark Walter

    Better still would be the graphic representation of a right-turing arrow, as is used by Flight Guide and other commercial products. The arrow catches my attention immediately, moreso than the text RP 8 or whatever,

  • ronald heinrich

    rp on charts is a great idea and should be included on gps approaches in gps data banks

  • Gerry Glaser

    This is a great idea… I fly in the SFO Bay Area. The VFR charts are crowded and it is getting harder and harder to read the notes regarding an airport (and it is often hard to find where they are placed relative to the airport when the area is crowded.)

    That’s why I never climb into the cockpit without a set of IFR charts under my seat. Most often when I want radio frequencies and info about the airport, it is those charts and not the VFR charts that I rely on. They are easier to read and provide more information.

    This is one of those important pieces of information that thy don’t have…

  • Todd Tobiason

    This is an excellent idea!!!

  • Richard Lowman

    Yes. Yes. Yes. There are three items that I will manually scribe on the approach plate during planning. Right or left traffic with arrows, pattern altitude and alternate altimeter setting frequencies. Concerning traffic patterns, it is also helpful to know the headings you will use ahead of time to get into the traffic pattern.

  • Sally Drew

    I absolutely think this should be done. I have needed this information numerous times and use the instrument charts as a first source of airport information. It would also be helpful to have this in GPS databanks.

  • Jeff Justis

    Definitely a good idea as an aid to planning at untowered airports. In VFR conditions I also think we should cancel IFR further out from the destination than many of us have been in the habit of doing in the past so we can concentrate on the local traffic.

  • Nate D’Anna

    More information is always better than none.

    This would be a definite plus.

  • Juergen Nies

    I’m in Favor to add this to the NACO charts. I use the NACO charts also when I fly just VFR and I think this is vary important information.

  • DParrish

    Adding “RP”, or other similar designator, provides immediate safety-related information on the chart most heavily used by a pilot during landing ops. The eyes are already scanning a multitude of other items: outside, instruments, et al; why introduce yet another item – a busy one that the sectional is – when pertinent landing information can be provided at little expense to a) the space on the chart and b) to the publisher of the chart?

    Thumbs up!

  • Bruce Cross

    In my view, we need this. While having traffic patterns on VFR charts is helpful, having them on IAP’s would save time and facilitate cockpit organization by consolidating the information onto my most used charts…the IAP’s. Thanks in advance for your help in getting this done.

  • Craig Kirkpatrick

    Think it’s a great idea. Have somehow missed the fine print in the FD several times and been surprised to learn I was flying the wrong pattern when visually recovering. Since I fly mostly on IFR flight plans, putting the information graphically on Instrument Approach plates would be extremely helpful.

  • Bob Schmidt

    I was happy when this was added to sectionals, and agree that it should be adder to IAPs. Most of us do not carry A&FDs, and use them only for planning.

  • Steve Solenzio, CFI, ATP

    Yes, great idea. So little ink required but a very helpful piece of information to prevent pilots from getting in each others’ way. Another thought along the same idea is to include on the approach plate, the traffic pattern altitude for the airfield. Note: there are many airports which don’t have the usual 1,000 feet agl pattern altitude. In fact, many airports have different pattern altitudes for single and multi-engine aircraft.

  • Roger Titley

    1. Yes. 2. Yes.

  • Scott Williams

    This is a good idea which should result in less confusion.

  • Larry

    This is as close to a no-brainer as I’ve seen. Will take almost no room on plates, and can only help.

  • Matt

    Yes, the added notation is a good idea on all charts.

  • Dick Lewis

    Of course it’s a great idea – Since I proposed a similar one to ASF long ago. I did however propose a simpler approach to acheiving the objective. That is to identify the pattern by identifying the runway similar to that for parallel runways
    e.g. “8L”. Although it can be considered that this designation primarily exists to differentiate the parallel runways, it invariably represents the normal pattern. There is no reason that this can not be used to identify the required pattern for a single runway. This method would have the added benefit of identifying the pattern to others by identification in radio communications.

  • Juergen Klicker

    Bruce, I can’t agree more.
    Diverting to a different airport is always a possibility and that’s how it should be. Typically this is the time to calculate and re-calculate how much fuel is left in the tanks, to check the weather at your new destinataion and to find the best route to get there. So there’s plenty to do already even if it’s not an actual emergency that got you to that point. So I guess this proposal is nothing less than a contribution to safety.

  • chuck stutesman

    Yes good show I never have liked the idea ,tied for base leg with a king air or ect
    and the old segmented circles have dissappeared with the horse and buggy.

    chuck stutesman

  • Christa

    Definitely a good idea. It also serves as another cross check for those who are looking at multiple sources of info (say in planning a flight). I recently flew into a field that was not labeled right traffic on the sectional- but was labeled in the AFD. I missed the note in the AFD– and though I double checked for it in the sectional when approaching the airport, there was no info to be seen. I ended up being chastised by Unicom when I announced “left downwind”. As I often look at approach plates before flying VFR into an airport (sometimes you can tell if there are areas to avoid overflying, etc.), I might have caught it if it were labeled on the IAP.

  • Don

    Fantastic idea! I spend several minutes writing in both TP direction and altitudes on my IAPs during pre-flight planning. Having at least the TP direction pre-printed would be great. I’ve always been surprised that these data were not already on the IAP.

  • George Horn

    YES….but GRAPHIC DEPICTION is even better. Example: The sectional chart illustration at the beginning of this article describes R 18 27, but Bruce’s textual description quotes R 5 12. IT took several moments for me, sitting at a table, to mentally picture the necessary patterns at Homestead General airport. A small arrow or “L” (directional indicator- not alphabetical) or “_|” at each end of depicted runways would be information-at-a-glance not requiring mental gymnastics in a moving cockpit. GET RID OF THE TEXT “R” OR “L” descriptions.

  • Tim McCollum

    While we are wishing for improvements lets also add it to AWOS / ASOS. It would only take 2 seconds of airtime.

  • John Jones

    The inclusion of pattern traffic information on IFR approach plates is a must do. I never understood why it wasn’t part of the plates in the first place. Many times an approach will conclude in a circling maneuver and there often times isn’t enough time to access this information when single pilot IFR at night and uncontrolled. It’s a situation that presents itself rather quickly especially when it is an unplanned approach such as when re-routing for fuel or weather that was unforeseen. I also agree with a previous post that inclusion in the AWOS/ASOS also makes sense.

  • David S. Twining

    Good Idea although I fly with Flight Guide which I find more helpful than the AFD.
    I also use Jepp IAP’s while in my local area.(NW) otherwise I downlload the FAA charts and this would be one more opportunity to catch a RP. This would be particularly useful when breaking out above VFR pattern altitude for a circle-to-land. Missing the right hand pattern, then, might be hazardous.

  • Nadeem Hasan

    Yes. The notation on VFR sectional is useful and I use and rely on it all the time. I would be similarly useful on the NACO approach plates.

  • millard alexander

    i think this would be a great idea. even under vfr conditions, i always use approach plates, which contain all the useful information about a particular airport, EXCEPT the traffic pattern direction.

  • Warren

    I’m definately for it. This is a great idea. I am a newly rated instrument pilot and the thought of having this on the IAP would be really helpful. I would also like it on the VFR sectional for another quick reference.

  • David A. Strahle, MD, CFI-AI


  • John Lewis

    I agree strongly that adding traffic pattern info to IAP charts would improve safety.
    Among other things, if you have to divert to an unfamiliar airport and then circle to land, it would sure be helpful to know which direction to circle without digging for the airport directory or sectional at a high-workload time.