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Uncontrolled Aerodromes - Procedures

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Definition

An uncontrolled aerodrome is an aerodrome without a control tower, or one where the tower is not in operation.

General

There is no substitute for situational awareness while in the vicinity of an uncontrolled aerodrome. It is essential that pilots be aware of, and look out for, other traffic, and exchange traffic information when approaching or departing from an uncontrolled aerodrome. Use of the appropriate radio frequency and communications protocols is critical to the safety of both IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) and VFR (Visual Flight Rules) traffic at an uncontrolled aerodrome.

VFR Procedures

The following procedures apply to VFR traffic operating in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).

Arrivals

The following procedures apply to all aircraft operating at uncontrolled aerodromes except those aircraft that are following a standard instrument approach procedure.

Prior to joining a traffic circuit, all pilots should announce their intentions and once in the circuit, make all of the appropriate position reports. The traffic circuit is generally flown at 1000' above airport elevation (AEA) and all turns in the circuit are to the left unless a right-hand circuit has been specified in the relevant publications. Pilots are expected to approach and land on the active runway. The active runway is a runway that other aircraft are using or are intending to use for the purpose of landing or taking off.

Should it be necessary for an aircraft to land on, or take off from a runway other than the active runway, it is expected that the appropriate communication between the pilot and the ground station (if available) or between the pilot and other local traffic will take place to ensure that there are no conflicts.

Circuit Joining Procedures

The following illustration depicts circuit joining and departure procedures at an uncontrolled aerodrome without Mandatory Frequency (MF) procedures (or equivalent) in place.

Circuit Joining Procedures

For aerodromes without MF procedures or for aerodromes with MF procedures when airport advisory information IS NOT available, the following procedures are applicable:

  • Whenever possible, aircraft should approach the traffic circuit from the upwind side. However, if the pilot has positively determined that either there is no other traffic or that there will be no conflict with other traffic entering the circuit or traffic established within the circuit, the pilot may also join the circuit on the downwind leg.
  • When joining from the upwind side, descend so as to cross the runway in level flight at the published circuit altitude or at 1000' AAE when no altitude is published. Maintain that altitude until further descent is required for landing.
    • If it is necessary for an aircraft to cross the airport before joining the circuit, it is recommended that the crossover be accomplished at least 500' above the circuit altitude.
    • All descents should be made on the upwind side or well clear of the circuit pattern.

For aerodromes within a Mandatory Frequency (MF) area (or equivalent) when airport advisory information IS available, pilots have additional circuit joining options:

  • Aircraft may join the circuit pattern straight-in or at 45˚ to the downwind leg or straight-in to the base or final legs. Pilots should be alert for other VFR traffic entering the circuit at these positions and for IFR straight-in or circling approaches.

Departures

VFR aircraft departing the airport should climb straight ahead on the runway heading until reaching the circuit traffic altitude before commencing a turn in any direction to an en-route heading. Turns back toward the circuit or airport should not be initiated until at least 500' above the circuit altitude.

IFR Procedures

The following procedures apply to IFR traffic operating in both Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).

Pilots operating aircraft under IFR at an uncontrolled aerodrome do not hold any priority over aircraft operating under VFR at that aerodrome. Some pilots operating under VFR at many sites prefer to give commercial IFR and larger or faster types of aircraft priority. This practice, however, is a personal airmanship courtesy, and should not be expected by the pilot of the IFR aircraft.

When the weather conditions at the aerodrome could permit VFR circuit operations, pilots of IFR aircraft are expected to approach, land and depart on the active runway that may be established by the aircraft operating in the VFR circuit. Should it be necessary for the IFR aircraft to use a runway contrary to the established VFR operation, it is expected that appropriate communications, between pilots or between pilots and the air-to-ground facility, will be effected in order to ensure there is no traffic conflict.

Arrivals

Aircraft conducting an IFR approach to an aerodrome located within controlled airspace will be deconflicted from other arriving and departing IFR traffic by ATS. Deconfliction from VFR aircraft is a pilot responsibility. Holding clearances will be issued as required and an approach clearance will be provided at the appropriate time.

If the aerodrome is located within uncontrolled airspace, no ATS approach clearance will be issued. An advisory service may or may not be available to provide traffic information; however, deconfliction from any traffic becomes the responsibility of the pilots concerned. It is, therefore, essential that communications and reporting procedures as outlined in the article Uncontrolled Aerodromes - Communications are followed.

Departures

Where a pilot of an IFR flight intends to take off from an uncontrolled aerodrome, the pilot shall:

  • Obtain an ATC clearance if in controlled airspace. If the aerodrome is located within uncontrolled airspace, a clearance is not required. Note that the IFR clearance may contain a time or an event based departure restriction. Examples include:
    • "clearance not valid until 1320Z (or do not depart until 1340Z)"
    • "do not depart until (callsign) has landed"
    • "clearance cancelled if not airborne by 1400Z"
  • Report their departure procedure and intentions on the appropriate frequency before moving on to the runway or before aligning the aircraft on the take off path
  • Ascertain by radio on the appropriate frequency and by visual observation that no other aircraft or vehicle is likely to come into conflict with the aircraft during takeoff.
  • Maintain a listening watch and follow the reporting procedures as outlined in the article Uncontrolled Aerodromes - Communications

Related Articles

Further Reading

UK CAA

Transport Canada

FAA