What are the traffic rules at untowered airports?


((Note to Dami - I did search first))

At untowered airports what are the traffic rules? I.e. who has priority? Does an aircraft coming in for a landing automatically have priority over an aircraft in the pattern and engaged in practice flying (T&G ops)? Does a pure jet have priority over a turbo-prop? I know there are “pattern rules” for people practicing and taking flying lessons.
At the local airport we have a 1949 bi-plane which (I don’t believe) has no radio, so if this plane were coming in for a landing, would planes in the pattern automatically yield “right of way”?
Similarly, on a recent occasion piston planes engaged in T&G ops were taking off to the north (in accordance with published airport rules for “calm wind operations”) when a Lear Turbofan landed from the north. I didn’t have my scanner, so I don’t know for certain, but I imagine an announcement of the impending landing had been made on the airport frequency, but suppose that 1949 no-radio plane had been flying, who would have had priority?


It’s the PIC’s responsibility to See and Avoid.

Right of Way Rules


I defer to Magnetoz posted link…


Each airport has a published standard traffic pattern for each runway that pilots are supposed to use. You are supposed to announce on the radio when you are approach the airport area or before you take the active runway to depart. You are also supposed to enter the pattern on a 45 degree entry to the downwind leg for the active runway in use (typically defined by the wind direction as shown by the wind sock or on the AWOS) and announce your pattern entry, turn to base and turn to final as well as when you turn off the active runway. There are not right of way rules for jets vs. pistons, so we just talk to each other and coordinate. It is considered courteous piloting to yield to a faster jet or piston aircraft, but you are not required to do so. If there are planes in the pattern without radios (and not much excuse for that anymore with cheap battery powered handhelds available), then the planes are responsible to see and avoid each other.

The basic rule at uncontrolled airports is first come first served, but good radio communication is how things are usually sorted out.


There were only three of these built, one is hanging in Seattle. I assume you mean a Learjet.

To answer your original question, you might want to get a copy of the FAR/AIM. They are cheap and will tell you everthing you want to know.

Also during IFR operations, the nearest radar controller will hold an aircraft on the ground if there is another one inbound. If weather is good, one or both will operate VFR to avoid a delay.

Most of my uncontrolled experience is at PUW. The only crash I recall there was between an A6 and an AirTractor spraying wheat fields near the airport. During my history there they have had 1-2 airlines serving the airport with a lot of sports charters, jets and everything else mixed with students and crop dusters. It’s a pretty safe system.


Yes but, IFR traffic can arrive off on instrument approach. Even in VMC. This may or may not put them in that position. At my home airport both the instrument approaches line you up for a straight in final. It would be foolish for me to brake off the approach just to position myself on a downwind.


Thanks to all but especially Magnetoz & CAFlier - that’s exactly what I wanted to know



I wonder what the official stance is on the approach in VFR. I have noted that many pilots announce the approach, but I know most VFR pilots do not understand where they are when they announce this.

I try to communicate in a way that VFR pilots will understand, but if it’s busy I often just end IFR and join the regular pattern. I often come in too fast to easily merge with training traffic, so I go over or around and slow down before coming down to pattern altitude.

One interesting tidbit is that in Canada they don’t do the whole 45 degree thing. They just announce a downwind, crosswind, or whatever entry. It seems easier to me, and I think we might ought to reconsider our system.


One of my pet peeves as a CFI was when instrument pilots, or even instrument students (with cfi’s, no less) would announce “LOUEY inbound” or something like that. Students, non-instrument private pilots, and ALL pilots unfamiliar with every approach into that airport would have NO clue where that airplane is or what they’re doing. I always made my students announce “6 miles to the northeast” or something to that effect.

As far as what is “right” about IFR airplanes entering the traffic pattern?
I’d have to read up on what the AIM says, but this is always a touchy subject. I say that if it’s possible (re: severe clear) for the IFR aircraft to conform to the regular flow of traffic already at the airport then they should. Whether it be by canceling IFR when able, or doing a circle to land to the other runway they should try to do so. If they cannot, or will not, for whatever reason, they should announce as such on the CTAF well before blasting into the pattern at 200kts or on short final for the opposing runway. Common practice with pretty much everyone I fly with is to not cancel the IFR until we have the airport in sight or are damn certain that we will see it in just a few moments. That lets us switch freqs and announce and LISTEN to the CTAF to get a feel for whats going on. If we can’t cancel until late, if at all, we will try to have both radios listening at the same time to hear traffic at the airport, and one of us will switch to #2 to make at least one announcement a few miles out.
This is one of the most common reasons for over-the-air arguements on a nice summer day. VFR pilots think they were “cut-off” and the IFR pilots think they have the right of way.


Even with 700 hours behind me, I must admit going to an unfamiliar airport WITH intersecting runways can make me situationally challenged when both runways are in use.

Kinda hard to figure out where and when to join the pattern for my runway of choice AND have my head on a swivel looking for traffic.

Like cfijames said, also quite difficult to determine position of an aircraft that refers to an IFR fix when I am at an airport not at my home, so when I am home, I do give my mileage and composs related position from the airport when doing instrument approaches in VMC.

At KMBO, since the VOR alpha is a 45 degree angle to the runway, it makes it easy for me to join downwind from a 45 for runway 35 or fly over mid field to join downwind for runway 17.

We have lots of student activity at my airport and I’d rather not add to their stress level trying to figure out where I am.

I know I appreciate it when someone does it for me at an airport I am not familiar with!



I chose my words carefully when I said “supposed to”. There is not a legal requirement to enter a pattern on a 45 downwind. It is recommended by the FAA. However, airplanes entering the pattern on a non-standard procedure (anything other than a 45 degree downwind entry) is the number one cause of incidents at non-controlled fields. Whenever you use a nonstandard entry, you are increasing the odds of an accident. When the FAA determines the cause and the insurance companies are deciding who pays what (assuming that you live), you really don’t want to be the one defending your non-standard pattern entry.

So when you say that it would be foolish for you to break off your straight-in approach, statistically you would be foolish not to. You can obviously improve your odds by frequently announcing that you are making a straight-in approach and how far you are away from the airport (not just IFR waypoints that the VFR pilots don’t recognize). Hopefully there won’t be any no-radio planes in the way.


I am seeing a lot of “MIDFIELD CROSSWIND” entries at OKV. At a typical field with left-turn pattern, the pilots fly their plane across midfield, perpendicular to the runway, at pattern altitude. Then they turn left into the pattern to the downwind leg. If you’re visualizing this correctly, the first thing that you might realize is that they’re pretty much flying head-on with traffic entering the pattern properly on the 45. :open_mouth:

My instructor first noticed this with me on a flight a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve seen it about five or six times, and I’ve flown about five or six times in the last two months! I’m usually outside of the plane when I see it, so I don’t know if these clowns are even announcing their positions. The one time I was in the plane when I saw it, they did announce their intention to do so.

Does anyone know if UNICOM/CTAF frequencies are recorded on tape (or digitally) for possible accident investigation?


I don’t know about official tapes, but I suspect that a recording could easily show up from someone making a copy for their own reasons.

As for no radio, or NORDO airplanes, I really don’t understand why anyone would be one. Someone told me that some vintage planes have engines that create too much interference, but for the rest? Seriously, it’s the 21st century and you can get one for a couple hundred dollars.


I would agree 100%, I always give my position as a distance from the r/w rather then a fix.

Speed is one issue, so is money, so is safety IMHO. I’m shooting approaches at around 140kts. That’s twice as fast as some a/c in the patteren. I CAN’T slow to a speed in the pattern that would allow me to flow with everyone else at a busy GA airport. In fact I touch down at 120 kts. If I over fly the airport with the intention of turning a xwind downwind base final, if there is another a/c in the pattern he would have to be at least base to final as I overflew the airport. Over flying the airport also requires fuel (lots of it) conseritivly I’d guess it cost $20 more (which isn’t much but adds up), think of all the things your doing in your a/c to save $20/flight. Add to that the fact that somedays are 5+ leg days 350 days/yr and we’re costing the owner $3500/yr more. I’m not going to debate cost vs. safety. Safety always wins, but I’m not sold on the fact that straight in isn’t safer. Straight in I have the big picture. The runway is right in front of me and I can see if there is anything between me and the airport. Flying over requires a blind turn to xwind and then downwind. Anyway, it’s just my opinion. But it’s true nothing sucks more then being 2 miles from the runway doing 140 kts. and hearing a C152 turning base to final. And that’s after making call every mile for the last 5. Oh, well.

In fact I got screamed at by the airport manager in Yankton, SD after flying a straight in approach. I was handed off by ATC 5nm out. It was 3nm and about 1100’ overcast, and there was traffic in the pattern. I was doing 145 kts (normal approach speed). I called I was 5 nm, 3 nm, 1 nm. The airport manger said I was lying b/c from the time I make the first call to the time I landed only “about 2 minutes went by.” I stared at him and said, “ya that’s about right for 145 knots, about 2.5 nm/min” He insisted it should have taken at least 4 minutes and that he was going to call the FAA, which he did while I was standing there. The Feds never called me though.


Midfield entries are proper entries per AIM.

I have seen a technique where some will overfly midfield 500 feet above pattern altitude, fly past the airport and make a RIGHT descending turn to join the downwind. This is also a proper entry per AIM.

At KEKY, they call this a teardrop turn.

I do make my midfield calls, make all left turns and listen for other traffic, and if somebody is on a 45 for downwind, I will yield to them by slowing my approach down. Typical call would be, Madison, Sundowner 1943L 3 miles west, will cross midfield for 17, Madison. My next call would be Madison, 43L, crossing midfield for 17, Madison, and then the typical downwind, base and final calls.

If the traffic happen to be on a 10 mile 45 to downwind, then common sense would say, I would go ahead and join the pattern before they get to downwind.

Bottom line to all this, it’s just common sense and courtesy, joining the pattern is no different then merging into traffic on the interstate.

You only hope everybody is driving the same direction on those calm, no wind days. :smiley:



Sorry, you won’t get any sympathy from me.

Just as us pistons are expected to keep our best speed forward in Bravo airspace, on an instrument approach under LIFR conditions, you need to consider the same thing when going to a GA airport.

Sounds like you need to evaluate your airport selection if you are having a problem conforming to the airport environment / pattern speeds. After all, you do have a choice.

If it’s an airport with high student activity, then you need to adjust to the pattern speeds, not the other way around.

After all, when in Rome, you do what the Romans do…



[quote=“FAR 91.113 (g)”]When two or more aircraft are approaching an airport for the purpose of landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-of-way, but it shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another which is on final approach to land or to overtake that aircraft.

Link to AC90-66A

Not looking for any.


Just as us pistons are expected to keep our best speed forward in Bravo airspace, on an instrument approach under LIFR conditions, you need to consider the same thing when going to a GA airport.

Conforming to the airport environment? It seems to me you have a choice also, you could circumnavigate that airspace and stay out of large airports

Um, aren’t most of these airports receiving federal $'S? And therefore public fields? Doesn’t there need to be a degree of professionalism on your part as well?

If I slowed to approach speeds that matched those in the pattern at some of these airports then I would fall out of sky. On the other hand if you flew 10 kts faster or delayed your turn to final to let me get out of the way, that would be safer. Oh, and the legal requirement!!!

From the sound of your tone, I have to guess that your one of the people that turn that base to final in front of me b/c you were in the pattern first. Even though I’m in more of a landing postion then you are.

Never asked for your symptahy, I was simply giving my opinion. Which I’m entitled to, after all we all us the same airports and airspace. Some of us more then others and some of us pay more to do so as well, in taxes, fess, and purchases.

I hate to say this about another pilot, but you sound like the people who buy a house under the approach path of an airport and then complain b/c of the noise. I fought like crazy at my home airport with on whole home owners assoc. they didn’t understand that my one Lear 45 brought enough money into the airport that the city was able to stop dipping into the cities general fund (to the tune of $30,000/yr) to support the airport. My one airplane allowed the city to hire an additional police officer and patrol car. Not to mention the other 2 pilots that moved into the city and added to the tax base by buying a home and paying property taxes, income taxes, and sales tax. All this at a GA airport. I don’t want sympathy, but if we can’t be good neighbors one of us will move. I bet they’ll miss me more!

Sorry for being a bit rude, it’s sensitive subject.

So everyone flame away, I’m a big boy I can take it.


You are right, and I do stay out of large airports when possible. But when you come in and whine about the slow pattern airspeeds at an airport more designed for pistons (uncontrolled or otherwise), you will not get any sympathy.

Quite frankly, seems to me, you jumping all over me, sure didn’t show any professionalism on your part.

I do my best to work my way in the environment the best I can without being noticed. If it means me slowing my approach to the airport to let a faster plane for SAFETY reasons or COMMON COURTESY, I do so. I’d much rather you be in front of me, then you behind me barrelling down my rear end anyway.

Then you need to select another airport as discussed earlier. Just because you fly heavier iron doesn’t mean you get higher priority or special treatment because you choose to fly into a GA airport, just as I dont’ expect any special treatment for flying into a large airport because I poke down the ILS at 90 knots.

If I can’t fly a 120 knot final (my best forward speed on my Sundowner) on an ILS when requested by ATC and a jet jockey is behind me, and I am bungling the approach up, then I should be sent to the back of the line.

My point of this is that if the airport pattern doesn’t meet your minimum safety requirements, then you need to evaluate the practicality of you flying to that particular airport.

You obviously have no clue about me or my flying abilities, so other then saying that, the above isn’t worth a response to other then saying your arrogance sure is showing

Has nothing to do with pattern entries or safety. The above sure sounds like you want preferential treatment over a piston because you pay more to fly.

Pretty bad assesment since you have never met me. I am confident that those that have met me, flown with me or even around me would know the opposite is quite true.



Well we can tit-for-tat all day long. This is what I’ll say.

I’m sorry for insulting you. I did not mean to call into question your professionalism. As an a/c owner I’m positive that you have had to deal with your fair share of idiot pilots, airport neighbors, and even airports.

I do fly larger faster a/c, and I do pay more for the same services, but that doesn’t give me any more rights then you.

I was simply trying to say(all-be-it poorly) that the airports I do go to are at least 4800’ long. That length is long enough for most (not all) corporate jets to operate in and out of. If I’m coming off an instrument approach, which safely is the best way for me to land there, I am going to be coming straight in. Trying to position myself on a downwind at 130 knots is not safe. I don’t want to cause undo stress to a student pilot or to anyother pilot either. Hearing “Dunkirk traffic, Lear 40AN is 7nm SE for a 45 to left downwind R/W 24” is stressful to me when I’m in a 172 b/c I know that he’ll be midfield in about 2 minutes.

You are correct that I need to carefully evalute what airports I go to, in regards to student and GA activity. But students and GA needs to realize that that 5000’ long 75’ wide strip of pavement is big enough to handle all of us.

There are lots of crews out there that make one radio call in bound from some intersection that only exist on some approach plate. That’s useless to everyone. I start making reports well still talking to ATC, and when I get the freq change I make postion reports in refference to the r/w ie. “Dunkirk traffic, Lear 40AN is 5 mile final, straight in for r/w 24, any traffic in the area please advise” The last part makes some people mad, but I do it so if a 172 tells me he’s on downwind I can start scanning extra hard and try to communicate to him I’ll be out of his way with in 2 minutes.

BTW if I’m approaching a field from a direction that allows me to fly a normal pattern I will do a 45 to downwind or a xwind entry. I do not take advatage of straight in approaches just b/c I’m in a jet, but at the same time the regs are clear, in that case I have the right away. And to many pilots don’t realize this.

You are correct, my tone was uncalled for and I’m sorry. There is not excuse for it.

:exclamation: Hey I noticed this is my 300th post. Weeeeeeee. Big party for me. :laughing:


Not a problem :slight_smile: One of those heat of the moment things. Like you said, a pet peeve. I just like to keep a balance on things.

Only when those students do get past the point where they realize that 3 stop and goes require them to taxi back to the end of the runway rather then using the full length of the runway will the pavement accomodate pistons and turbines :smiley:

Congrats on your 300th posting, I just passed my 400 posting marker.