Allentown Queen City airport (XLL) has a VOR-B Circling approach procedure from the west. Circling south of runways 7/25 is not authorized ("NA"). If the wind is favoring runway 25 is it legal to circle north under IFR using "right" hand traffic and land on runway 25 considering the following?:

  1. XLL does not have a control tower and is in Class G airspace (uncontrolled airspace).

  2. It is published that runway 25 uses "left" traffic.

  3. FAR 91.126(b)(1) requires that all turns be made to the left unless airport displays (light signals or visual markings) show turns should be to the right. This is NOT the case for XLL.

VOR-B approach: VOR-B approach

Map of XLL in Class B Airspace: enter image description here

Traffic Pattern Info for Rwy 25: enter image description here

FAR 91.126: (full regulation here) enter image description here


Yes, it is legal to circle north under IFR using "right" hand traffic and land on Runway 25.

"Left traffic" refers to VFR traffic. Traffic patterns are generally flown at 1000' AGL. IFR aircraft don't fly traffic patterns unless they cancel IFR or are doing a visual approach under direction of an active control tower.

An IFR aircraft on a circling approach can maneuver at any altitude (above the published minimum altitude), and in any direction, in order to align itself with the landing runway. .

When you are issued an IFR clearance at an uncontrolled airport, the IFR airspace around the airport belongs to the IFR aircraft. I think FAR 91.126 (a) General. "Unless otherwise authorized or required" would supersede the left traffic requirement.

In this case it is mandatory to circle right because Circling south of runways 7/25 is not authorized. ("NA")

If the weather was above VFR limits, and there was also a VFR aircraft in the area, they would have to fly a left traffic pattern and communicate to avoid conflicts.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's not as clear as that. See my answer - at least in the general case, IFR traffic must circle in the same direction as VFR. $\endgroup$ – NathanG Mar 5 '18 at 0:12

This is a somewhat tricky situation. The FAA has issued multiple legal interpretations that IFR traffic are bound by the same rules for traffic pattern direction as VFR traffic, even when circling: see Murphy (2009), Collins (2013), Krug (2014).

From the Collins (2013) interpretation:

As your letter states, under 14 C.F.R. § 91.126(b)(l), a pilot approaching to land at an airport without an operating control tower in Class G airspace is required to make all turns to the left unless approved light signals or visual markings at the airport indicate that turns must be made to the right. However, as your letter also points out, 14 C.F.R. § 91.126(a) allows pilots to deviate from the requirements of § 91.126 if "otherwise authorized or required." Therefore, a pilot approaching to land at an uncontrolled airport may make right turns if such deviation is "authorized or required."

The FAA emphasizes, however, that the circumstances in which this deviation from § 91.126(b)(l) is "authorized or required" are very limited. The phrase "authorized or required" itself does not give pilots the discretion to deviate from§ 91.126. Such deviation must be "authorized or required" by the approach guidelines of a specific airport or by another FAA regulation.

If XLL were class E airspace to the surface, or circling minima were greater than 700 AGL, you could ask ATC to authorize right traffic for 25. (You could do this by ignoring the FIPDI minima, though circling 260' higher than you otherwise would). That's the method most in line with the FAA's interpretations.

Otherwise, there are two ways to view this situation: one is that the fact that circling south of 7/25 is NA implicitly authorizes right traffic for 25.

The other view is that, with circling south of 7/25 unavailable but left traffic being required, runway 25 is effectively not available from this approach: you'd have to land on 7, or make left traffic to 15 or 33. There's no official guidance on the matter, so until there's a more definitive ruling from the FAA, this is an unanswered question.

  • $\begingroup$ @NathanG- I've read all of the applicable interpretations and agree that a definitive ruling is necessary to conclusively answer this specific question. From the Collins letter, the term "approach guidelines" is quite ambiguous applied against the facts in this question. If it were tested it's possible that since circling south of 7/25 is explicitly "NA" the "guidelines" are therefore authorizing circling north. BTW, if XLL was Class E to the SFC, it's unlikely ATC would approve or deny any circle direction. No twr, so ATC is sitting in a radar room 50 miles away. Appreciate your response. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Mar 4 '18 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree that a definitive ruling from the FAA is needed. If circling is specifically allowed, and if circling South is specifically prohibited, then the only alternative is to circle North. What other interpretation is needed? $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 30 '19 at 17:56

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