Is there any difference between them or they are only synonymous?

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    $\begingroup$ I was expecting a joke about a race ending after so many laps... $\endgroup$
    – Matt Young
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 19:18

3 Answers 3


What's the difference between racetrack and holding pattern? Are they only synonymous?

When used in the context of holding, racetrack pattern and holding pattern refer most of the time to the same pattern, because a holding pattern is a usually designed as a racetrack. Holding terminology:

  • Holding (or flying a hold) is a maneuver designed to delay an aircraft already in flight.

  • A holding pattern is the pattern used to hold, regardless of the design of the pattern.

  • A racetrack holding pattern is a specific design of holding pattern. From Wikipedia:

    A holding pattern for instrument flight rules (IFR) aircraft is usually a racetrack pattern based on a holding fix.

Holding patterns are defined relative to a holding fix and are usually timed because aircraft have to remain within a given protected space around the fix.

However a holding procedure which uses a racetrack pattern and a racetrack procedure which uses a racetrack pattern are two different things aimed at two different purposes.

Racetrack procedure

ICAO makes a specific use of the phrase "racetrack procedure" in Doc 8168 (PANS-OPS):

Racetrack procedure: A procedure designed to enable the aircraft to reduce altitude during the initial approach segment and/or establish the aircraft inbound when the entry into a reversal procedure is not practical.


A racetrack procedure consists of: a) a turn from the inbound track through 180° from overhead the facility or fix on to the outbound track, for 1, 2 or 3 minutes; followed by b) a 180° turn in the same direction to return to the inbound track.

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For ICAO, a racetrack procedure is a turn procedure, or course reversal procedure, in the instrument approach procedure, comparable to other procedural turns, and has nothing to do with delaying the aircraft. The procedure turns come in different flavors:

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Holding procedure

Holding procedure definition from ICAO Doc 8168 (PANS-OPS):

A predetermined maneuver which keeps an aircraft within a specified airspace while awaiting further clearance.

It can be used to delay the aircraft, but also to change its altitude using a holding pattern and stack. Note there is no reference to a specific pattern.

enter image description here

However, when holding, the pattern followed is often a racetrack pattern (more details about this in: How is a standard holding pattern flown?)

Depiction on instrument plates

  • Holding patterns are depicted using regular lines, they are optional

  • Procedure turns patterns are depicted using bold lines, meaning they are mandatory. Exceptions are noted "NoPT" with indication of the arriving course.

enter image description here
Adapted from AirNav.com.

  • $\begingroup$ Where I can find information about procedure turns? $\endgroup$
    – wiaim
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @wiaim: You may start with FAA documentation, page 4-49 of Instrument Procedures Handbook (which has been referenced in @ JScarry 's answer). Then you may find numerous documents, e.g. by searching instrument approach "procedure turn"|"course reversal". $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ An important practical distinction is that a holding pattern includes the necessity of correcting for wind drift in order to continually circle back to cross one specific fix and remain in protected airspace. A racetrack pattern does not alwayd include that necessity, though other applications such as aerial refueling often do. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 18:49

Holding patterns are used to delay aircraft when there are other aircraft ahead of them for landing at an airport. The holding pattern looks like a racetrack with either standard right turns or non-standard left turns.

FAA-H-8083-25B Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

Holding pattern. A racetrack pattern, involving two turns and two legs, used to keep an aircraft within a prescribed airspace with respect to a geographic fix. A standard pattern uses right turns; nonstandard patterns use left turns.

Holding patterns are also used on an approach to reverse course and possibly to lose altitude.

FAA-H-8083-16 Instrument Procedures Handbook

Course Reversal

If the course reversal is depicted as a racetrack or a teardrop on the chart you must fly it as depicted. Otherwise you have a choice of how to fly it.

AIM 5-4-9 On U.S. Government charts, a barbed arrow indicates the maneuvering side of the outbound course on which the procedure turn is made. Headings are provided for course reversal using the 45 degree type procedure turn. However, the point at which the turn may be commenced and the type and rate of turn is left to the discretion of the pilot (limited by the charted remain within xx NM distance). Some of the options are the 45 degree procedure turn, the racetrack pattern, the teardrop procedure turn, or the 80 degree <--> 260 degree course reversal.

Holding patterns are also used when flying a missed approach. I don’t recall ever seeing a missed approach hold that is not depicted as a racetrack.

  • $\begingroup$ No, if a procedure turn is authorized, you must fly it in the manner depicted by the procedure turn barb on the plate. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione I'll clarify my answer. If there is a procedure turn barb, you must fly it in the direction of the barb, but you have a choice of how to do the procedure turn. If it is a teardrop or racetrack, you have no choice as to the type of turn. Entry method for racetrack is up to you, but there are suggested methods for each direction of approach. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 15:50

One in the same. Sometimes a traffic pattern around an airport can be called a racetrack or a circuit depending on where you are.


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