If there seems to be very little traffic at an untowered airport, and no one's replied to any of your radio calls, is it acceptable to just fly a straight-in approach to the runway, or should you still fly the full traffic pattern to final? It just seems like it would be a waste of time and fuel when it's not really necessary. Is there anything wrong with doing so?


I like to answer your question with a short example. A few days ago I flew to Venice (untowered) and decided for a teardrop entry to set up for the 45. My calls were 10 and 5 miles out, both ending with "any traffic please advise" guess what I saw overtaking me on my 4 o'clock position only a few hundred feet away at same altitude (500 feet above pattern).

It is legal to make a straight in, but before you think about the time or fuel you waste please think about your own and even the guys who's not on CTAF and obviously heads down safety.

If you fly the 45 and the continue the pattern (it's not allways left, check your sectional and the A/FD) everybody knows what the other one is doing and if necessary can act accordingly.

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    $\begingroup$ You should never use the phrase "any traffic please advise". That is not recommended and can contribute to multiple people simultaneously stepping on each other on the radio. You should just listen and monitor for the periodic broadcasts of others. See faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim/aim0401.html -- Pilots stating, “Traffic in the area, please advise” is not a recognized Self-Announce Position and/or Intention phrase and should not be used under any condition. $\endgroup$ – bovine Jan 7 '14 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ You are right with what you're saying, but lets think about what's happening out there: A student pilot with his instructor is doing many traffic patterns at the same field, after the third pattern he maybe only annouces when hes turning base, after the fith he only keeps listenig on CTAF and after the seventh...? I already called 10 miles without adding this phrase at 5 miles I've addid it and gues what, there was one in the pattern. $\endgroup$ – Falk Jan 7 '14 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ It's not wrong, honestly absolutely right what you are saying but consider, sticking to all roules works perfectly out, but only if everyone does it. Now I ask you, does everyone stick to every rule. Let's dont blame others, let's imagine our selfs, if I would have a recording of my last flight (it even was a check ride) and the AIM beside and I would look everything up, i will honestly find more then one point where I, maybe not even violated a rule, but lets say deviated from the sugested way. $\endgroup$ – Falk Jan 7 '14 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the people who won't speak up when they hear another airplane announcing that they are entering the pattern, probably won't speak up just because you told them to either. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 11 '16 at 21:10


It includes the following which says that while the FAA recommends using the full pattern, it is not required:


a. Use of standard traffic patterns for all ‘aircraft and CTAF procedures by radio-equipped aircraft are recommended at all airports without operating control towers. However, it is recognized that other traffic patterns may already be in common use at some airports or that special circumstances or conditions exist that may prevent use of the standard traffic pattern

And then:

e. The FAA encourages pilots to use the standard traffic pattern. However, for those pilots who choose to execute a straight-in approach, maneuvering for and execution of the approach should be completed so as not to disrupt the flow of arriving and departing traffic. Therefore, pilots operating in the traffic pattern should be alert at all times to aircraft executing straight-in approaches.

f. Pilots who wish to conduct instrument approaches should be particularly alert for other aircraft in the pattern SO as to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic. Position reports on the CTAF should include distance and direction from the airport, as well as the pilot’s intentions upon completion of the approach

  • $\begingroup$ This is definitely a case of "What is legal is not always safe" -- absent good reason to do otherwise you should generally fly the standard pattern (or as is my preference, this pretty common variation that includes an overhead pass) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 6 '14 at 5:32
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7: Well, depending on your type of flying, you may very often be flying an instrument approach which is going to put you on a straight-in approach.... Especially if you are IFR, you don't want to tie up the airspace any longer than you need to either. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 6 '14 at 5:34
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    $\begingroup$ True - instrument approaches would definitely be an good reason for an exception to the "fly the pattern" rule. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 6 '14 at 5:36

It is legal. The left downwind pattern entry at a 45 degree angle is recommended in the AIM to standardize operations and is therefore not regulatory in nature. However, the reason it's not a particularly good idea is that not all aircraft are required to have radios at a non-towered airport.

A traffic pattern is quite small compared to the en route phase or an instrument approach, there's not much time or fuel to be wasted.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe it is only illegal if you go the wrong direction in a traffic patter under vfr. $\endgroup$ – xpda Jan 7 '14 at 2:12

Nobody on the radio does NOT mean no traffic. You have IFR Arrivals not yet released by approach to tower frequency, and you have 100% legal no radio aircraft. Fly the pattern so that they know where to look for you!


There are a few airports out there with this line in their AF/D page:


Such as KMBT, as seen here.

Not sure how legally binding this is, but it is written.

  • $\begingroup$ Are there any small, uncontrolled fields that have that requirement? Murfreesboro is uncontrolled, but there's a relatively large amount of traffic there for an uncontrolled field, due to the flight school at MTSU. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 12 '14 at 16:34

It is recommended in the AIM and elsewhere that you use the traffic pattern. However, the FAR requires only that you make any turns in the proper direction, not that you fly the pattern or enter the pattern on downwind. Straight in approaches are not prohibited. (91.126)

"Unless otherwise authorized or required, each person operating an aircraft on or in the vicinity of an airport in a Class G airspace area must comply with the requirements of this section.... When approaching to land at an airport without an operating control tower in Class G airspace... Each pilot of an airplane must make all turns of that airplane to the left unless the airport displays approved light signals or visual markings indicating that turns should be made to the right, in which case the pilot must make all turns to the right;"

"Otherwise authorized or required" applies to circling approaches, in which turns may be made in any direction (opening up a whole new set of risks).

Safety and common sense may dictate that you fly the pattern as a matter of practice. It is also safer to announce your position, and to announce "left (or right) downwind" and "left (or right) base", in case you or the plane you don't see happens to be going the wrong direction.

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    $\begingroup$ Per AOPA legal team regarding 91.126: aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2011/May/1/Pilot-Counsel.aspx "So, while a straight-in approach to a runway at a nontowered airport is legal under the FARs, the straight-in approach must be started some considerable (but undefined) distance from the runway and the traffic pattern to be valid, and it must not interfere with aircraft in the traffic pattern or on an instrument approach" $\endgroup$ – bovine Jan 7 '14 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ I had forgotten about that until you posted it -- a 737 pilot, if I remember right, had his license suspended for a 3-mile final after a right turn. $\endgroup$ – xpda Jan 7 '14 at 22:56

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