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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92 Responses to “Keep to the Right”

  1. Timothy Metzinger Says:

    You are not overthinking this – it will be an improvement to have the pattern depicted on the NACO charts as shown.

  2. John Balow Says:

    This is a great Idea. It can ONLY HELP.

    Good Job.

  3. Michael Bell Says:

    What a great idea. You are completely right with this one. Not knowing the pattern handness is a recurring problem especially when diverting to unplanned stops for weather or otherwise. With the wide acceptance of electronic plates this is much more valuable to the IFR pilot than putting it on the sectionals. Thanks and great idea!

  4. Robert Hancok Says:

    Only makes one wonder why this hasn’t been thought of years ago. An excellent idea.

  5. Byron Hamby CFI/CFII Says:

    Yes they should put RP on approach plates. It would enhance the safety of the flight and would give the pilot even more info. Also some approaches have different min based on using other airports altimeter settings. If you have a com failure and can not transmit, but can recieve you should also have a nearby ASOS/ATIS freq written on the approach plate.

  6. John H. Mosser Says:

    Of course it should be added. And I hope it does not take as long as it did to get the ASOS, AWAS and ATIS information added to VFR charts.

  7. Richard Lawrence Says:

    Traffic pattern indication on the approach charts is an idea I sent to the FAA about 4 years ago. The response was something like they’d consider it. I sent it along with another suggestion that they print the approach plates on whiter paper, like the DOD version of the charts or like Jepps and that for localizer or ILS frequencies to make those frequency boxes much more prominent. Clarksburg, WV approach it is easy to see the VOR box and set that rather than the ILS box. Both are near the runway. Jepps do a better job of hiliting the ILS box.

    Back to the right pattern issue. I don’t even think they need to indicate “RP 24″ on the chart. Just put the normal right pattern indicator of two lines at right angles with an arrowhead pointing towards the end of the runway that shows the traffic by each RP runway.

    For my flying I go into many different airports and it is a real hassle to have to go to an entirely different document just to determine if the runway has right traffic. For tower controlled airports ATC and the tower handle this, but for uncontrolled that is not the case. This is an idea that should be implemented without delay. Safety is enhanced at trivial cost.

  8. kelly grant Says:

    I’ve wondered for years why we can’t show right traffic on Terminal charts. Graphically noting it would be even better. Nothing like a “unicom suprise” while maneuvering for landing.

  9. Tom Batchelor Says:

    I agree that this notation should be included on all charts and IAP’s. This can reduct the work load on a pilot flying a single pilot, high performance aircraft. Work load and safety are inversely proportional. As one goes up the other goes down.

  10. Mike Bevan Says:

    I once diverted from my destination airport on short notice due to unforcast winds which I only found out about when I heard the AWOS. I flew an approach to a nearby airport which led to a circle to land for the runway facing into the wind. I came out of the clouds at about 1500 feet AGL and cancelled IFR for a normal pattern entry. I was flying solo IFR and while I had an AFD and a VFR sectional available I only had time to grab the plate for the new approach.

    I flew a left pattern, which turned out to be correct for the runway, but since the only info I saw on the airport was on the L chart and the approach plate I was looking at it would have been very good to have a notation to tell me if I had needed to enter a right pattern instead.

    Besides, as an instrument instructor it would give me some more trivia to quiz students about.

  11. George Hawkins Says:

    Great idea! Yes, pattern direction should be published on the IFR approach charts and as described. I’m an active (175 hr/yr) IFR pilot/owner of a 4-seat single engine retractable. Most approaches are not to minimums, so it follows that most approaches have the potential to mix with VFR traffic. This change would promote both safety and courtesy.

    Let me take this opportunity to address another chart change that I think would be most useful. On sectional and IFR enroute charts the altitude blocks of MOAs, Restricted, etc. should be printed directly on the chart. I suggest that in the hash section. Ideally the active times should be printed there as well. For the larger areas — requiring the larger deviations and more likely for pilots to go through — there is plenty of room on the chart to do this. I believe there is enough space on the chart for this information on the smaller ones as well. What do you think, Bruce?

  12. Vin Says:

    I am in favor of both additions. I would also like to see hold short lines on every airport diagram for airports that have non-standard markings like DXR.

  13. John Roberts Says:

    This sounds like a great idea. I also agree with another comment that a graphic arrow would be even better.

  14. Jerry Clark Says:

    I’m a CFI, CFII and I find the new notations on sectionals to be very helpful and fully support the addition of this info to approach charts. I normally use the RWY diagram section of the chart to discuss how we will circle if needed and having this info right there will be a great help.

  15. Dan Skoda Says:

    I join the group, who think this is a great idea. When flying IFR, I always have the approach plates infront of me. If you have to divert, it is usually because something did not go as planned, so looking through other soarses to find pattern info is a distraction, when you least need it.

  16. Ronald E Schneider Says:

    I agree that it would be very helpfull to post the letters RP on all IFR charting for airports with right traffic.

  17. Clint Grimes Says:

    I like the graphic idea better than a text notation. I think that an arrowed “L” shaped turn direction graphic at the end of the runway would be easier to notice and interpret at a glance.

    When I prep for a x-country, I print out the AOPA kneeboard format sheet for each airport I’m flying over, to or alternates and draw in these pattern indicators by hand (and add the pattern altitude for my airplane)

  18. Neil Ulman Says:

    When asked what I think of a “good idea,” I always ask, “What’s the downside?” Text or arrows, I don’t see any downside to this suggestion. Good idea, period.

  19. James D. Higgs Says:

    As an active ATP< CFI< & DPE for 40 years I have found that the “RP” is one of the best things that has happened to sectional charts. This info is , unfortunately missing from the IFR appch plates. I have found that many pilots believe , when cleared for an approach, that they “own” the airspace around that airport. This is simply not true for airports located in class “G” airspace as the minimum wx for landing from an IFR appch is usually the same as for VFR flight in the vicinity of the airport. JDH

  20. Andreas Bentz Says:

    I think it’s a great idea. I suspect that there are many operators who carry NACO charts, no A/FMs, and a VFR “atlas” (which reproduces WAC charts, so does not include the “RP” notation), and therefore have no information in the cockpit about left or right patterns. Printing this information on IAP charts would place that information in the cockpit, right where most (instrument) pilots are looking already (the IAP chart).
    I also think that the simple notation “RP [runway number]” is ideal, since it keeps it consistent with the VFR sectional notation. I would not support a graphic depiction: it could potentially clutter the diagram unnecessarily (look at some Jeppesen VFR charts for European airports for an example), and would eliminate the consistency with the sectionals’ “RP”.

  21. Reid Pendleton Says:

    Great idea. Also, why not include pattern altitude on the airport diagram plates, since most flights do end in VMC. I’m surprised no one else had brought this up.

  22. Jim Price Says:

    It’s a safety issue. Anytime you can read information that will improve safety, it’s a bonus! Pattern altitude would be great, but some airports have three – light, jet and helicopters.

  23. Bob Oglesby Says:

    Whether or not I am flying under IFR rules, I always have the IAP chart out for my destination airport. Adding the “RP” designation to indicate right pattern for runways in the airport diagram box is an excellent addition.

    Bob Oglesby
    President Winston-Salem Aviation Association

  24. Lee Sewell Says:

    I think this is an excellent safety idea, especially to have it on the approach plates & the low altitude maps. When flying single pilot in & out of soup, the fewer places I have to look for info improves safety. I wonder at RP versus RT since my anecdotal experience is that most pilots refer to Right Traffic, not Right Pattern. Not a big deal, but KISS helps. LRS

  25. Danny Bretschneider Says:

    Yes — Great idea.

  26. Roger Bohl Says:

    Just this week, could have benefitted from this info. I support adding the designation.

  27. Daemon Hruda Says:

    I fly nothing but single pilot IFR for a part 135 company and do not carry VFR charts on board. Having a quick reference to traffic patterns at uncontrolled fields is something that should have been added long ago. Any reason why VOTs were removed from the back flap of IFR sectionals when they started printing the higher resolution version?

  28. Herbert A Perkins CFII Says:

    Yep – pertinent information – as it is in VFR charts, it will be very helpful – do it.

  29. Kevin Farrell Says:

    Looks unanimous so far! I am in full agreement of adding RP to the airport diagram (at least!) and to the IAP as well.

  30. Charlie Self Says:

    I believe that more simple things like this should be done to make our job easier. I am for the changes.

  31. Norton Richards Says:

    Great idea. I usually use an approach plate or the airport diagram to prep myself for a VFR landing at an airport that is new to me or that I have not visited in a while. RP{ info would be most helpful.

    The only problem I see is the transition time. Unless ALL approach plates and airport diagrams are changed at the same time, if there is no RP info on a particular page, how will I know whether it is “not applicable” or just “not there YET”?

  32. Rudi Wiedemann Says:

    Terrific idea. In addition, why not also indicate the “calm wind/default” runway. This can be extremely useful for uncontrolled fields where many experimental and light sport aircraft operate, often without radios (legally, to my amazement). Plus, we need a better scheme for merging incoming IFR “circling approach” traffic with local VFR traffic. I could see scenarios where a low-wing IFR aircraft is descending down onto a high-wing VFR aircraft in the pattern just after the field has gone VFR. Generally-applicable safe default procedures are in order here I think.

  33. Lewis Wilson Says:

    Any additional (pertinent) info. on ANY publications is better.

    Yes. Do add this info.

    Lewis Wilson

  34. Carl Cadwell Says:

    Great idea to put it on the plates. I often arrive on an IFR flight plan to a non controlled field, cancel the IFR and switch to unicom or advisory. A reminder on the plate would be useful. It would also be helpful to put in on the Garmin 430/530 series (probably others have the same feature) that shows the airport and individual runways.

  35. Russell Eppright Says:

    Absolutely add it. It’s one less thing that you have to look up from other sources when you are flying IFR but weather conditions allow for a VFR arrival.

  36. Adolph Faller Says:

    the airport that I store my airplane at has a left hand pattern for RWY 07 that seems to be a surprise to transients. The reason for the operations north of the airport is a Music Conservatory to the south and keeping traffic away from that side of the airport helps in keeping the airport a good neighbor. Standard IFR departure is fly a heading of 360 degrees, climb and maintain 3000 expect “final” atitude in 10 minutes. . .so the controllers know the restrictions.

  37. Sachin Adbe Says:

    That’s a great idea. But what about RP*?

  38. Ferdi Mack Says:

    Absolutely- great idea. It’s a mistake not to have this info on the plates.

  39. Coby Sena Says:

    Absolutely! This can only make our flying safer. Having to dig out the AFD to see what the traffic pattern is only adds to the level of work going on in the cockpit. Having it right together with the info I’m already looking at it a better solution.

  40. George Futas Says:

    I vote strongly for noting RP on IFR charts. It’s a GREAT improvement for safety. Most reasons are stated in prior email from others. From personal experience flying across the US in light AC multiple times, it’s a cockpit scramble for solo pilots to transition from IFR to land VFR at untowered airports when having to grab an airport directory or equivalent out of theflight bag and read the fine print while looking out for traffic.

  41. Cary Alburn Says:

    I wonder how many times I’ve landed at non-towered airports with no knowledge, at all, of a right traffic pattern? Sometimes it’s been because I didn’t think to look it up; but sometimes it’s because of an unplanned diversion and not enough time to even think about it–seems as if the “powers that be” have never flown single pilot IFR and had a workload overload, just trying to get down safely. “RP” on the approach plate would help; I like the suggestion of using a graphic, too–maybe both would be best.


  42. Leo Eric Weiss Says:

    Since we already have so many abbreviations in this industry/on approach plates now how about adding a hand symbol between the “R” and the “P”?

  43. Michael Fannin Says:

    Ii scrolled through and read all 41 comments before mine. So far we have complete agreement that this is a good idea. That was my opinion before reading the others but it is nice to see great minds thinking alike!
    Strive for perfection and the worst we will do is achieve a high degree of excellence!


  44. Douglas Winters Says:

    I think it’s a great idea! I normally do my preliminary flight planning using the & the AOPA on line flight planning section. Although I do make it a habit of flying with the most current edition of the AFD, I normally download the airport information from one of the two sites mentioned above. I would then be able to see at a glance whether an airport or runway has “right patterns.

  45. Bill Bradshaw Says:

    I strongly support the idea of putting RP on both the IAP airport diagrams and L charts. It will be a great way to improve satety.

  46. Jim Hoffman Says:

    This would be an unqualified safety (and convenience) enhancement. Should be on the IAPs and surface diagrams.

  47. Dale L. Weir Says:

    I`m for it, I like it on the sectional charts, but wish more pilots would pay attention to the information available to them.

  48. Fred Harrison Says:

    No, I don’t use sectional charts, but fly IFR almost exclusively. Yes, indicating preferred takeoff and landing patterns on IAP charts would be useful. I recently ran into a good example, LXT, Lee’s Summit, MO. Having this information before being 2 miles from te airport lined up for a left pattern, and then hearing from the FBO Unicom that a right pattern was preferred would have made some steep turns at low altitude unnecessary.

  49. Angelo Iannuzzo Says:

    BAD IDEA. The extra ink will cost the taxpayers too much money.
    Just kidding. I’ve been wishing for this for years.
    Hey someone had to be contrary!

  50. Neale C. Thompson Says:

    Oct. 3, 2008

    I believe that it would be a quick reference with a great deal of safety built in.

  51. Bruce Landsberg Says:

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

    Many Thanks……

  52. Dennis E. Reeves Says:

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

  53. Sebastian DiSylvester Says:

    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.

  54. Brian Says:

    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.

  55. Ken Jacobson Says:

    I think it is a great idea.

  56. Larry Gregory Says:

    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.

  57. Harold O. Bourne Says:

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

  58. Tim Kochert B-767 Check Airman Says:

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

  59. Stuart G. Foster Says:

    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.

  60. Joe Shoemaker Says:

    Affirmative ! Add to all info.sources .

  61. Mark Walter Says:

    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,

  62. ronald heinrich Says:

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

  63. Gerry Glaser Says:

    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…

  64. Todd Tobiason Says:

    This is an excellent idea!!!

  65. Richard Lowman Says:

    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.

  66. Sally Drew Says:

    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.

  67. Jeff Justis Says:

    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.

  68. Nate D'Anna Says:

    More information is always better than none.

    This would be a definite plus.

  69. Juergen Nies Says:

    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.

  70. DParrish Says:

    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!

  71. Bruce Cross Says:

    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.

  72. Craig Kirkpatrick Says:

    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.

  73. Bob Schmidt Says:

    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.

  74. Steve Solenzio, CFI, ATP Says:

    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.

  75. Roger Titley Says:

    1. Yes. 2. Yes.

  76. Scott Williams Says:

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

  77. Larry Says:

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

  78. Matt Says:

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

  79. Dick Lewis Says:

    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.

  80. Juergen Klicker Says:

    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.

  81. chuck stutesman Says:

    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

  82. Christa Says:

    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.

  83. Don Says:

    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.

  84. George Horn Says:

    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.

  85. Tim McCollum Says:

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

  86. John Jones Says:

    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.

  87. David S. Twining Says:

    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.

  88. Nadeem Hasan Says:

    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.

  89. millard alexander Says:

    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.

  90. Warren Says:

    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.

  91. David A. Strahle, MD, CFI-AI Says:


  92. John Lewis Says:

    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.

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