Pro Tips: Traffic Pattern Manners and Etiquette | Aviation

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Etiquette is defined as a “customary code of polite behavior among members of a particular profession or group.”

Pilots understand that adherence to professional standards is nowhere more critical than during approach to the airport and landing. Fighter pilots instinctively understand this. When they return to the airfield or aircraft carrier, the formation gets a little tighter and the radio calls are more concise.

They follow the rules partly because they understand the cost of making a mistake is high, and they know everyone is watching.

The Super Bowl of traffic pattern operations is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (KATL) during rush hour. Hundreds of flights coordinated into an aerial ballet, a series of machine-gun-like radio instructions, carrying thousands of passengers safely to their terminal just in time so they can run and catch their next flight. Achieving this level of safety and efficiency requires everyone to adhere to a strict code of behavior. However, the same may not always be said of the traffic pattern at your local towered or especially nontowered airport.

So why do we care about traffic pattern discipline so much? According to the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH), the vast majority of midair collisions occur in good visibility between aircraft going in the same direction, near uncontrolled airports, and at altitudes below 1,000 feet. Sounds like Saturday afternoon in the touch-and-go pattern. Maybe it is worth a few minutes to review the basics of traffic pattern requirements, midair collision avoidance, and proper pattern etiquette.

High Wings, Low Wings, and the Standard Traffic Pattern

The “Friendly Aviation Administration” is sufficiently concerned about traffic pattern etiquette to have just released an update to Advisory Circular 90-66C, “Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations.” However, this updated AC, the AFH, and Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) are all quick to…

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