Let's say, hypothetically, that you enter the pattern for a small, non-towered airport (my local one, 3DW, may be a good example.) But as you get into the pattern you find out that the runway is occupied by another craft and, for whatever reason the runway will probably be occupied for another 20 minutes, much longer than it will take you to complete the pattern. So you'll have to delay landing.

But you've already entered the pattern, so what should you do? Is there a standard holding pattern for small airports that incorporates parts of the pattern (maybe some little loop where the base leg and downwind meet)? Or do you just fly away form the airport a bit and make up your own holding pattern?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know the answer but; you hope that everyone is making position calls. You hope that they are accurate (are they calling downwind abeam the threshold or mid-runway, or just after turning downwind?). You hope that everyone knows the procedure. You hope that you will only do one or two orbits and hope that no-one else joins the pattern in the meantime. All of those hopes, perhaps multiplied 2 or 3 times as you fly around, suggest that regardless of some official pattern, flying someone quiet and nearby to make up your own hold might be prudent. $\endgroup$ – Simon Aug 11 '15 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ No well behaved craft should hold a runway for 20 minutes. If a plane is not exiting a runway, they shouldn't be on the ground any longer than a stop-n-go, or perhaps a back-taxi on the runway, which should still be relatively short. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Aug 11 '15 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky I once landed with a flat tire that stopped me dead in the middle of the runway at a non-towered airport. I was stuck there for about 20 minutes until they could get a tug to drag me off. The airport was closed during that time. So it happens. $\endgroup$ – Mr. T Aug 11 '15 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ "... you find out, via radio ..." Then presumably you mean that you found out from the pilot on the runway? Or are you saying you found out over the radio from someone else? If you found out from the plane on the runway, then why not ask him how long he plans to be there? If he's gone in a few minutes, you could linger around, and if he has a heart attack, perhaps you could HELP by informing ATC over the radio to send an ambulance? Why not ask? $\endgroup$ – Andreas Lauschke Aug 11 '15 at 21:49

There's no "standard holding pattern" at any airport, towered or not. If the runway is occupied or temporarily closed for some reason, you might was well leave the traffic pattern and go putt around for a while someplace where there are fewer aircraft. At a towered airport, the controller will likely tell you what to do - but again, you can make both his life and yours easier by just leaving the pattern and going somewhere else until the situation is resolved.


Given that you want to stay in the pattern you could use the upwind leg to avoid flying over the runway. This is, from base go to upwind, then crosswind, etc.

As others posted there is no standard holding pattern. For VFR traffic there are no holds either.

The pattern may become congested quickly. Your best bet is to divert until the situation improves.


As far as I know, there's no such thing as a "standard holding pattern" for uncontrolled fields, though I suppose Center might put you in some holding pattern if you're IFR. For VFR, though, if I found out that the runway was going to be unavailable for 20 minutes (and was reasonably likely to be open again after that time and I had plenty of fuel,) I'd just leave the pattern and fly a few miles away from the airport for a while. I'd then continue to monitor the CTAF to hear what's going on and if/when the runway is open again. If it seemed like it was going to be a while, I'd just go land at another nearby airport.

Most of the time, however, delays at uncontrolled fields will be brief (i.e. someone is back-taxiing, is taking off, is on final, or just landed) and you can just either make a 360 or a 270 degree turn to base (to the opposite direction as normal) to waste time until the runway is clear. Normally, this won't be more than a couple of minutes at a time. Normal checks, configuration changes, etc. should be made before entering the runway, so you won't normally encounter longer delays unless there's an actual problem of some sort.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you just fly in a circle at the start of the base leg for a couple minutes as well? I'm guessing so long as everyone is talking that's not a big deal right? I mean, if it was 20 minutes you might as well fly off, but if it was going to be, like, 5 minutes, maybe just do a couple circles at the entry to the base? $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Aug 11 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr Yes, like I said, you can just fly past the base leg, then turn the opposite direction of the pattern in a 270-degree turn that will have you end up on the base leg. If the runway still isn't clear by the time you're about to enter the base leg, you can just keep turning and do another 360. In a standard rate turn, a 270 degree turn takes 1.5 minutes and a 360 followed by a 270 would take 3.5 minutes, which is more than plenty time under most circumstances. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 11 '15 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ As a matter of procedure I'm not a fan of making spacing turns in the pattern at uncontrolled fields, especially if there's other traffic around (there's no guarantee they're aware of what your'e doing - remember some of them might not even have radios). Also at least in the US there's the small matter of 91.126 "All turns must be made to the left" (or approved direction per the segmented circle) when operating in the vicinity of an (uncontrolled) airport. If something happens that disrupts your traffic pattern it may be better to break out (climb away) and come back to rejoin the pattern. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Aug 11 '15 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 Hmm... That rule is particularly interesting, since it directly contradicts the AIM's instructions to enter the pattern at a 45 degree angle (which requires a turn opposite the pattern to turn on to the downwind.) $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 11 '15 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab Asking for internal consistency from the FAA? You must be new here! :) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Aug 11 '15 at 19:32

In order to answer this question the terminology and procedures must be clarified.

If an airplane is in the airport traffic pattern and the runway won't be available by the time by the time it would reach it, the airplane can extend the traffic pattern to give the runway time to be available for landing. If it's going to take 20 minutes the airplane would need to depart the pattern and return later.

The use of the word hold is out of context here. As defined by the Instrument Flying Handbook:

Holding is a predetermined maneuver which keeps aircraft within a specified airspace while awaiting further clearance from ATC.

The way the question is asked it reveals that the person asking assumes that a hold is something performed in an airport traffic pattern, but it is not. A hold would be used at an enroute altitude and outside the immediate terminal aerodrome environment where traffic patterns are flown.

If a runway were unavailable for 20 minutes and an airplane were enroute on an IFR flight plan, ATC might issue that airplane a hold which is published on an instrument approach procedure for that airport. The airplane might hold there for 20 minutes until the runway became available again. This scenario would happen before the airplane reached the traffic pattern or after it departed it.


A holding pattern just means circling the airport. If you had to wait there, that is what you would do, circle the airport. If there are so many aircraft, that the pattern altitude is full, then you start stacking 2000 feet, 3000 feet, 4000 feet, etc.


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