Why do airplanes circle three times in a holding pattern? I tried to look for information about it, but I did not figure out why a pilot would specifically do it three times?

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ How do you come to the conclusion that they circle three times? $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Oct 19 '20 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ I was asked it as a question by the pilot after I saw one do that, and they did not give me an answer. $\endgroup$ – Robert Oct 19 '20 at 21:47
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation! Airplanes will hold as many times as ATC requires. Often it's only once. $\endgroup$ – Raffles Oct 19 '20 at 21:54
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I suspect it was a joke, referencing the idea that dogs always turn around three times before lying down. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Oct 19 '20 at 22:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Now I'm gonna have to watch my dogs for the next week and if I see them turning 2 times, or 4 times, well, you'll be hearing from me! $\endgroup$ – John K Oct 20 '20 at 3:59

They don't, necessarily. A holding pattern is a way for air traffic control to slow down an aircraft when an airport does not have enough capacity to meet the number of inbound aircraft (essentially, a traffic congestion). It can also be used in other situations, for example when the weather is too bad for an aircraft to land, and they need to wait for improvement before making an approach.

A standard holding pattern takes 4 minutes to fly. One minute inbound- and outbound legs, and one minutes in each end to turn 180 degrees (a standard turn is 3 degrees per second).

enter image description here

So, if an aircraft needs to be delayed for 12 minutes, 3 turns in a holding is appropriate. However, the actual required delay depends entirely on the situation, and so there is no standard number of turns in a holding pattern - it all depends on what is required.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.