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I have been studying the STAR procedures, as published by FAA, and I am trying to understand the way that the altitudes are defined for each fix/route. Take, for example, CAMRN4 of JFK.

I see the MEA (Minimum En-route Altitude) of the segment from SEA ISLE to BOTON. Then, no altitude restrictions are applied except when reaching HOGGS, where there is an expected altitude of FL180. The next waypoint with a defined expected altitude is CAMRN, with an expected altitude of 11000ft.

What happens in the intermediate segments (HOGGS --> PANZE --> KARRS...) in terms of altitude? When along a controlled arrival, for example in this specific STAR (CAMRN4), how is the altitude controlled between waypoints when nothing is explicitly stated on the procedure diagram?

The main reason I am asking is because I have been trying to understand Arrival/Departure Procedures and I see that altitude information is often sparse or even completely lacking from some of the diagrams.

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Some STAR procedures provide altitude limits on them, so ATC would say:

Descend via the X arrival

All of the needed restrictions are published on the chart. Since the CAMRN4 does not provide hard limits (just "expect" altitudes), ATC will provide pilots with altitude restrictions per other traffic and their SOP, such as:

Cross HOGGS at FL180

For most arrival procedures, it wouldn't be critical to restrict altitude at every fix along the route. Any important restrictions would be included. If a fix doesn't list altitude restrictions, then no special restrictions apply. It's up to ATC to provide additional restrictions as required. Once an aircraft gets to the approach phase, altitude becomes more critical, and there will be more restrictions noted.

If you imagine a flight path through space, only two points are required to define a line. You could even consider the top of descent as one of the points, determined by the aircraft's rate of descent. Altitudes at the other points can be determined by that path. A modern Flight Management Computer is able to provide Vertical Navigation guidance, so that an airplane will basically follow that path to cross fixes at the required altitudes. Without this system, pilots would be expected to either manually adjust rate of descent to follow the restrictions, to perform an idle descent to the next restriction. On the CAMRN4, it would be fine by the chart to dive to 11000 after HOGGS, but this would not be expected or efficient. Some arrival procedures may be steeper or shallower than an open descent.

Note that the CAMRN4 says it is applicable to turbojet aircraft only, and pilots should expect FL180 at HOGGS and 11000 at CAMRN. Pretty much any aircraft on this STAR will be well above that 6000 MEA. If they do happen to be that low, the MEA should keep them clear of the Atlantic City class C that extends up to 4100 ft. Other than that the general minimum altitudes in the area would apply.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, it is not (theoretically or practically) possible for a pilot to figure out the altitudes by himself without ATC's guidance while navigating through a STAR, if this STAR does not provide hard limits for every fix/navaid, is that right? Also, even for the STAR that you mentioned (JAIKE.THREE), there are some fixes where no altitudes are mentioned (e.g. FUBRR and BUZIE). Doesn't this mean that he will need ATC's guidance for these fixes, at least as far as altitudes are concerned? And how does ATC decide the altitudes when no altitude is determined in the standard procedure? $\endgroup$ – Vector Zita Apr 26 '18 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @VectorZita I will edit my answer to explain more $\endgroup$ – fooot Apr 26 '18 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ I have been trying to figure out an explanation or some kind of standardization, but I stumble upon the necessity of a controller's circumstantial "judgement call". I have not been able to track down some set of rules for minimal controller intervention while performing a STAR procedure. $\endgroup$ – Vector Zita Apr 27 '18 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ Very detailed and thorough answer, I really appreciate it. $\endgroup$ – Vector Zita Apr 30 '18 at 11:29
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Put the route into skyvector.com Departure SIE Route of BOTON, HOGGS, PANZE, KARRS, CAMRN, DPK No destination. This takes you out a ways over the ocean. You would obviously be talking to ATC this whole trip, but you should plan on climbing to FL180 by HOGGS, and descenging to FL110 by CAMRN. You could ask for other altitudes for weather avoidance, or be assigned other altitudes for whatever reason. If you lost comm's enroute, you would be expected to fly as cleared and follow the STAR.

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