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For a given airport (general mix of traffic & runway setup/configuration), how can I determine/define which areas around the airport can expect to be situated under the traffic pattern for that airport?

(I'm asking because I'm working on some stuff related to urban planning in the vicinity of airports, and it seems that while instrument approach paths are well-defined due to the obstacle-free airspace zones they require, the size of the traffic pattern for any given runway isn't so well defined. If there's something in the way airport noise studies or the likes are implemented I can point to to determine what areas are subject to noise/risks from aircraft in the VFR pattern, that would be quite appreciated!)

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the urban plan can include a plan to notify people constructing and buying new houses about the pre-existing airport and proximity to it? One of the troubles in aviation is the continual push by newcomers to close preexisting airports, because the newcomers didn't do their homework and figured out there was airplane noise after deciding to buy a house, instead of before deciding (possibly, to not buy the house). It's enough of a recurring problem that the FAA tries to ban airpark-style housing at the edges of public airports. $\endgroup$
    – Azendale
    Commented May 23 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Azendale -- yeah, public notice is definitely a good thing for sure but the problem is that homebuyers already get a haystack of notices, which causes any given needle to get lost 90% of the time >.> $\endgroup$ Commented May 24 at 2:15

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Generally speaking, the traffic pattern will be a box shape where one side is the runway itself, plus about one mile beyond each end; the parallel side will be about a mile from the runway, and there will be two connecting sides. This holds for the most common aircraft that fly a pattern around and around the airport, which are small single-engine propeller-driven trainers. Aircraft which are larger, or which have more engines, will fly larger patterns.

Someone recently posted on reddit about this website: ADS-B Exposed. It seems to be exactly what you're looking for: a heatmap of aircraft position reports, color-coded according to altitude. Zooming in, we can very easily see where aircraft are flying in the pattern around airports. For example, here is the Delaware, Ohio Municipal Airport (DLZ):

ADS-B heatmap showing the traffic pattern around Delaware Municipal Airport. The airport's single East-West airport is visible as a bright red line in the middle of the image. There are two box-shaped traffic patterns visible as fuzzy rectangles which are made up of red and yellow dots; one rectangle is on the North side of the runway and the other rectangle is on the South side. Both rectangles share a common side, to wit, the runway itself. The same image as above, showing the traffic pattern heatmap around the Delaware Municipal Airport, but with the overlay made translucent to better see the road map of the Delaware, Ohio area.

As an example of airports where jet aircraft fly traffic patterns, here is Vance Air Force Base (END). Note how there are differently-sized traffic patterns for each runway, smaller ones and larger ones, including the very large "radar patterns" in which aircraft are vectored for multiple practice instrument approaches.

As above, image showing airport traffic patterns represented by heatmaps. This is Vance Air Force Base which has two parallel North-South runways. The red-and-yellow traffic patterns are on the West and East sides of the airport. There are multiple traffic patterns of different sizes. The image of Vance Air Force Base and its traffic patterns, made more translucent to show the road map underneath.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 this website you have linked is a gem. Thank you! $\endgroup$ Commented May 23 at 15:46
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It turns out the FAA does define the traffic pattern airspace!

As it turns out, the traffic pattern airspace area is a well-defined entity, at least for US civil airports. The FAA definition can be found in Figure 6-3-9 of FAA Order 7400.2, as reproduced below:

FAA Order 7400.2 Figure 6-3-9, defining the traffic pattern airspace as a box whose size depends on approach category

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