Throughout instrument I was taught the three different holding speeds (e.g. 0-6,000' MSL is 200 KIAS) and now that I'm starting CFII I am curious about what regulation someone would be breaking if they were to exceed that maximum. The only two places I could find these speed limits are the AIM 5-3-8 and the Instrument Flying Handbook which in the handbook it references the AIM. The AIM isn't regulatory, it's essentially a guide book the information pertaining to basic flight information and ATC procedures. FAR 91.117 is the primary regulation for aircraft speed. However, it doesn't discuss these holding speeds. So, if someone were to fly above this speed, would they simply be making ATC's job harder, or would there be repercussions to them exceeded said limit and what would the regulation be? Thank you!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The holding area (protected airspace around the holding) is calculated based on the holding speed. If you exceed the designated holding speed, your holding pattern will be larger than expected, and you may inadvertently lose obstacle clearance, enter restricted airspace or end up conflicting with nearby traffic. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2023 at 7:44

2 Answers 2


The regulations that cover holding patterns are covered by 14 CFR §97 Standard Instrument Procedures, specifically Subpart C-TERPS Procedures:

§ 97.20 General.

(a) This subpart prescribes standard instrument approach procedures and takeoff minimums and obstacle departure procedures (ODPs) based on the criteria contained in FAA Order 8260.3, U.S. Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPs), and other related Orders in the 8260 series that also address instrument procedure design criteria.

Subparagraphs (b) and (c) go on to specify that the published procedures are incorporated into this part by reference. But specific to holds, it is beneficial to refer to the TERPS, currently Order 8260.3F Chapter 16 Basic Holding Criteria, which covers the design of charted holds.

Of particular interest to this question is section:

16-1-8. Air Traffic Operations. ATC assumes responsibility for obstacle clearance when giving authorization for an aircraft to hold at other than a charted holding pattern, above the maximum altitude considered in the holding pattern design, or at airspeeds above those considered in the design. When depicting holding pattern airspace areas ATC will only use the primary area.

And the following section provides more detail on holding airspeeds:

16-2-3. Maximum Holding Airspeed.

a. Develop holding patterns based upon maximum airspeeds of table 16-2-1, with the exception of Increased Airspeed Holding Operations defined in section 16-12. Holding patterns developed at other than the standard airspeeds must be annotated in order for pilots and controllers to know that either slower airspeeds are required, or higher airspeeds are allowed.

Table 16-2-1. Maximum Holding Airspeeds

Maximum Holding Airspeed through 6000 feet | 200 KIAS

Above 6000 feet through 14000 feet | 230 KIAS

Above 14000 feet | 265 KIAS

Note: At USAF airfields, the maximum holding airspeed is 310 KIAS unless otherwise noted. At USN airfields, the maximum holding airspeed is 230 KIAS unless otherwise noted. Annotate procedures at Joint-Use airports, designed to accommodate increased airspeed holding, since military airspeeds cannot be assumed.

b. Where operationally necessary, restrict civil holding patterns to the following speeds when the procedure has the restriction annotated:

(1) 175 KIAS at altitudes from MHA to 18000 feet MSL, as part of an instrument approach procedure that is restricted for use by CAT A and B aircraft only. A 175 KIAS holding pattern is non-standard and is highly discouraged. Development of 175 KIAS holding patterns must only be accomplished to avoid obstacles and terrain.

(2) 210 KIAS at altitudes above 6000 feet through 14000 feet MSL.


In the US, there are no regulatory speed limits for holding patterns, in general, only for IFR. However, keep in mind:

  • The FARs are not the only way to prescribe regulatory mandates. People oftentimes believe that just because something is not in the FARs, there is nothing in "the regs" (whatever that is supposed to mean). The FAA can still mandate things for you outside of the FARs.
  • There can still be FAA-prescribed speed limits in specific cases, for example some IAPs have charted holding patterns that have a non-standard speed limit written inside the racetrack or outside of it. That is now mandatory for you, because it is published on the IAP.
  • "The AIM is not regulatory". Two points on this. a) The AIM includes many regulatory items, so you can not construe this as "nothing in the AIM is regulatory". Yes, the regulatory items, for example, are regulatory, despite them being in the AIM. b) If you deviate from the AIM or other FAA sources, for example ACs, in a "wild" manner, you cannot simply say "That's not regulatory". You should then be able to explain that you had good reasons to deviate from the AIM or AC, and explain these reasons. If you can, it's all good, the FAA will agree with you and attaboy you for superior judgment. But you cannot construe "not regulatory" as willful disregard or laziness or "just don't care". You can always deviate from the norm with superior reasons, but it's not a free-for-all to defy the rules. It could also be seen as a hazardous attitude (macho) or a violation of 91.13, careless and reckless.
  • Another example of regulatory despite not being in an FAR is the TPA. People sometimes think they don't have to obey the TPA because it's not in the FARs. But it's published in the AFD. So now it's regulatory.
  • More examples of regulatory despite not being an FAR are the official letters of interpretation form the Chief Counsel's office. There are several of these, one I happen to remember is that it's only the pilot's prerogative to determine the visibility if there is no ground-reported weather. If there is, you are bound by it, regardless of what you think the vis is.
  • By logical conclusion, although I have never seen any reasoning along these lines, is that regulatory despite not in the FARs should also be decisions by the administrative law judges. Their decisions are binding, also against the FAA, so that would be another source for binding despite not in the FARs. And I think this may get interesting in the future, Thomas and Gorsuch have indicated they want to overturn the Chevron Deference, that means conceivably there could be more action against the FAA in courts than before, with more cases decided by ALJs becoming permanent law. But that's speculative on my part.
  • You are referring to 91.117 although you also mention an IFR context (are working on your CFII, refer to the IFH, etc.). You correctly say that 91.117 is the general speed limits, and say that it says nothing about holding pattern speeds. You cannot expect much there in 91.117 for holding patterns. VFR holds don't happen a lot, and they don't require lateral or speed limits, because it's VMC. What makes holding interesting is in IFR / IMC. So you should expect more in the IFR section of part 91, which starts at 91.167. Keep in mind, specific always supersedes general. So anything about speed limits in IFR holds couldn't be in 91.117, it couldn't possibly be in anything below 91.167.

In short: there are regulatory sources outside of the FARs, these include: AFD, ACs, letters of interpretation, charts, and (I believe) ALJ decisions.

Would also be careful to disregard the FAA manuals, including, but not limited to, the AFH, IFH, AIH, PHAK, Chart User's Guide, Mountain Flying Handbook, etc. The FAA can't fault you for being in compliance with their own publications, but that also means you shouldn't grossly deviate from them without good reason. I personally think these handbooks are even much better than the AIM and have better explanations and better illustrations. Also some of the newer ACs are extremely good, such as the one about avoiding wake turbulence after departing aircraft. After the damage you can't say "didn't read that AC".

  • $\begingroup$ can you cite a reference for your claim that the FAA can regulate outside of 14 CFR? Your assertion that a non-standard holding speed limit is regulatory because it is published on a chart is incorrect. $\endgroup$
    – Timbo
    Dec 5, 2023 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Timbo: Are you saying NOTAMS, TFRs, ACs, ADs, etc. are rooted in the CFRs? If they are I am willing to rephrase. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2023 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreasLauschke yes. NOTAMs and TFRs there are sections that say "the Administrator will issue NOTAMs in case of blah and you can't operate within the area designated by the NOTAM unless mumble". ADs there's a section that just says "ADs are part of the CFR." $\endgroup$
    – hobbs
    Dec 6, 2023 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ @hobbs: Thanks, I have rephrased. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Re "The AIM is not regulatory". Two points on this. a) The AIM includes many regulatory items, so you can not construe this as "nothing in the AIM is regulatory". Yes, the regulatory items, for example, are regulatory, despite them being in the AIM." -- this is what is known as a "straw man" argument. The people who say "the AIM is not regulatory" do not mean that the AIM contains no information about regulations. They certainly do not mean that if something is in the AIM, then it cannot also be in the regulations! $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 18:22

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