Operations at Non-Towered Airports

The FAA has released a new edition of AC 90-66B: Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations. This is the first update of this topic in ACs since the 1990s.

The new edition of this AC mostly clarifies existing procedures and recommendations, but it adds specific examples and addresses several topics that have continued to cause confusion to pilots operating at so-called uncontrolled airports. In particular, the updated text includes several helpful, specific examples of radio communications.

For example:

9.6 Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) Traffic. Pilots who wish to conduct instrument approaches should be particularly alert for other aircraft in the pattern so as to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic, and should bear in mind they do not have priority over other visual flight rules (VFR) traffic. Non-instrument-rated pilots might not understand radio calls referring to approach waypoints, depicted headings, or missed approach procedures. IFR pilots often indicate that they are on a particular approach, but that isn’t enough information for a non-IFR-rated pilot to know your location. It’s better to provide specific direction and distance from the airport, as well as the pilot’s intentions upon completion of the approach. For example, instead of saying, “PROCEDURE TURN INBOUND V-O-R APPROACH 36,” it should be “6 MILES SOUTH… INBOUND V-O-R APPROACH RUNWAY 36, LOW APPROACH ONLY” or “6 MILES SOUTH … INBOUND V-O-R APPROACH RUNWAY 36, LANDING FULL STOP.”

And section 10.3 addresses the fingernails-on-the-blackboard phrase “Any traffic in the area please advise.”

10.3 Self-Announce Position and/or Intentions. “Self-announce” is a procedure whereby pilots broadcast their position, altitude, and intended flight activity or ground operation on the designated CTAF. This procedure is used primarily at airports that do not have a control tower or an FSS on the airport. If an airport has a control tower that is either temporarily closed or operated on a part-time basis, and there is no operating FSS on the airport, pilots should use the published CTAF to self-announce position and/or intentions when entering within 8–10 miles of the airport. When referring to a specific runway, use the runway number and not the phrase “Active Runway,” because there isn’t an official active runway at a non-towered airport. To help identify one airport from another when sharing the same frequency, the airport name should be spoken at the beginning and end of each self-announce transmission.

Note: Pilots are reminded that the use of the phrase, “ANY TRAFFIC IN THE AREA, PLEASE ADVISE,” is not a recognized self-announce position and/or intention phrase and should not be used under any condition. Any traffic that is present at the time of your self-announcement should reply without being prompted to do so.

Section 10.4 offers additional helpful recommendations:

10.4 Confusing Language. To avoid misunderstandings, pilots should avoid using the words “to” and “for” whenever possible. These words might be confused with runway numbers or altitudes. The use of “inbound for landing” should also be avoided. For example, instead of saying, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, EIGHT ONE TANGO FOXTROT TEN MILES TO THE SOUTHWEST, INBOUND FOR LANDING RUNWAY TWO TWO MIDWEST,” it is more advisable to say, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, EIGHT ONE TANGO FOXTROT TEN MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE AIRPORT, LANDING STRAIGHT IN RUNWAY TWO TWO, MIDWEST,” so it does not confuse runway 4, runway 22, or the use of an instrument approach procedure on arrival.


Traffic Pattern Altitudes

At the October 26-27, 2016 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum, FAA updated its plans to publish traffic pattern altitudes in the Chart Supplement (formerly the Airport/Facility Directory).

The latest recommendation is described here (PDF). Briefly, it proposes adding the following text to AIM 4-3-3 Traffic Patterns:

Unless a specific traffic pattern altitude is published in the Chart Supplement entry for the airport, it is recommended that propeller-driven aircraft enter the traffic pattern at 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL), and that large and turbine-powered airplanes enter the traffic pattern at an altitude of not less than 1,500 feet AGL or 500 feet above the established pattern altitude. A helicopter operating in the traffic pattern may fly a pattern similar to the airplane pattern at a lower altitude (500 AGL) and closer to the airport. This pattern may be on the opposite side of the runway with turns in the opposite direction if local policy permits.
 As part of the review of the issue, ACF members agreed that only TPAs that deviate from the recommended altitudes described above should be published in the Chart Supplement.