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Airplane Flying Handbook
Airport Traffic Patterns
Standard Airport Traffic Patterns

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Airplane Flying Handbook


Table of Contents

Chapter 1,Introduction to Flight Training
Chapter 2,Ground Operations
Chapter 3,Basic Flight Maneuvers
Chapter 4, Slow Flight, Stalls, and Spins
Chapter 5, Takeoff and Departure Climbs
Chapter 6, Ground Reference Maneuvers
Chapter 7, Airport Traffic Patterns
Chapter 8, Approaches and Landings
Chapter 9, Performance Maneuvers
Chapter 10, Night Operations
Chapter 11,Transition to Complex Airplanes
Chapter 12, Transition to Multiengine Airplanes
Chapter 13,Transition to Tailwheel Airplanes
Chapter 14, Transition to Turbo-propeller Powered Airplanes
Chapter 15,Transition to Jet Powered Airplanes
Chapter 16,Emergency Procedures



Airport Traffic Patterns


Just as roads and streets are needed in order to utilize
automobiles, airports or airstrips are needed to utilize
airplanes. Every flight begins and ends at an airport or
other suitable landing field. For that reason, it is
essential that the pilot learn the traffic rules, traffic
procedures, and traffic pattern layouts that may be in
use at various airports.

When an automobile is driven on congested city streets,
it can be brought to a stop to give way to conflicting traffic;
however, an airplane can only be slowed down.
Consequently, specific traffic patterns and traffic control
procedures have been established at designated airports.
The traffic patterns provide specific routes for takeoffs,
departures, arrivals, and landings. The exact nature of
each airport traffic pattern is dependent on the runway in
use, wind conditions, obstructions, and other factors.

Control towers and radar facilities provide a means of
adjusting the flow of arriving and departing aircraft,
and render assistance to pilots in busy terminal areas.
Airport lighting and runway marking systems are used
frequently to alert pilots to abnormal conditions and
hazards, so arrivals and departures can be made safely.

Airports vary in complexity from small grass or sod
strips to major terminals having many paved runways
and taxiways. Regardless of the type of airport, the
pilot must know and abide by the rules and general
operating procedures applicable to the airport being
used. These rules and procedures are based not only on
logic or common sense, but also on courtesy, and their
objective is to keep air traffic moving with maximum
safety and efficiency. The use of any traffic pattern,
service, or procedure does not alter the responsibility
of pilots to see and avoid other aircraft.


To assure that air traffic flows into and out of an airport
in an orderly manner, an airport traffic pattern is established
appropriate to the local conditions, including the
direction and placement of the pattern, the altitude to
be flown, and the procedures for entering and leaving
the pattern. Unless the airport displays approved visual
markings indicating that turns should be made to the
right, the pilot should make all turns in the pattern to
the left.

When operating at an airport with an operating control
tower, the pilot receives, by radio, a clearance to
approach or depart, as well as pertinent information
about the traffic pattern. If there is not a control tower,
it is the pilot's responsibility to determine the direction
of the traffic pattern, to comply with the appropriate
traffic rules, and to display common courtesy toward
other pilots operating in the area.

The pilot is not expected to have extensive knowledge
of all traffic patterns at all airports, but if the pilot is
familiar with the basic rectangular pattern, it will be
easy to make proper approaches and departures from
most airports, regardless of whether they have control
towers. At airports with operating control towers, the
tower operator may instruct pilots to enter the traffic
pattern at any point or to make a straight-in approach
without flying the usual rectangular pattern. Many
other deviations are possible if the tower operator and
the pilot work together in an effort to keep traffic
moving smoothly. Jets or heavy airplanes will
frequently be flying wider and/or higher patterns than
lighter airplanes, and in many cases will make a
straight-in approach for landing.

Compliance with the basic rectangular traffic pattern
reduces the possibility of conflicts at airports without
an operating control tower. It is imperative that the pilot
form the habit of exercising constant vigilance in the
vicinity of airports even though the air traffic appears
to be light.

The standard rectangular traffic pattern is illustrated in
figure 7-1 (on next page). The traffic pattern altitude is
usually 1,000 feet above the elevation of the airport surface.
The use of a common altitude at a given airport is the
key factor in minimizing the risk of collisions at airports
without operating control towers.

It is recommended that while operating in the traffic
pattern at an airport without an operating control
tower the pilot maintain an airspeed that conforms
with the limits established by Title 14 of the Code of
Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 for such an airport:
no more than 200 knots (230 miles per hour
(m.p.h.)). In any case, the speed should be adjusted,
when practicable, so that it is compatible with the
speed of other airplanes in the pattern.