So, this question's answer says that, absent a published ODP, I should be 35' above DER, and on a 200'/NM climb.

But the airfield in the town I grew up in, 26MA, has no ODP; but 200'/NM isn't even half of the climb angle you need to avoid the trees. (You'll be okay-ish on RWY24, but the trees blocking the way off RWY6 are twice as high. You need to get 65' up in 650' of ground, or more than 600'/NM.) Moreover, from experience growing up there, I know the whole town has mountains and trees everywhichway.

If I am going to fly IFR (because I have to wait until it's dark so the skydiving has stopped, for example), what should I be using as a stand-in for ODP? Should I just assume the departure procedure is, "Don't hit those trees on your way out?" (Thus, >600FPNM, leaning heavily into the 'at least 200FPNM' language) But otherwise fly runway heading until 400' AGL? Then level off into 200FPNM, heading my discretion? I would assume this is a constraint on where they put the runway, since there's no other way for me to know what else might be lurking out there.

What's this going to sound like in my clearance from Boston Approach?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Night doesn't mean IFR, you can fly visually at night. But in the case of actual IFR without a procedure where there's obstacles around the departure procedure is don't. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Mar 25, 2022 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD I keep forgetting you can VFR at night. So if I wanted to fly IFR, it's VCOA or no-go? $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2022 at 20:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The "diverse departure assessment," ODP or SID (referenced in the link in your question) is only made for airports that have an instrument approach procedure (IAP). MA26 does not have an IAP. So, the pilot is responsible for obstacle clearance during departure since no obstacle evaluation has been made by the FAA. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Mar 25, 2022 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga Okay, that's kind of what I was suspecting, then. Does that basically preclude an IFR flight plan departing from Pepperell? If not, what's the first part of the route in my clearance going to sound like? $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2022 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ Seems critical to specify what class airspace is at the surface, and how high you can climb before getting into another class. Yes, I know we can look it up, but it ought to be in the question. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2022 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: There are no instrument procedures into 26MA, so there are no instrument procedures out of it either. Proceed with extreme caution. Departure in non-VFR conditions is not recommended.

As @757toga mentioned in a comment, the FAA only conducts a "diverse departure assessment" at airports for which it has responsibility to design instrument procedures.

FAA JO 8260.46, 2–1–1a

(1) Where IFR departure procedures are authorized by the approving authority conduct a diverse departure assessment for those airports with approved instrument approach procedures. ODPs are developed by FAA Service Providers at locations where they have instrument procedure development responsibility.

(2) ODPs may also be required at private airports where the FAA does not have instrument procedure development responsibility. It is the responsibility of non-FAA Service Providers to ensure a terminal instrument procedures (TERPS) diverse departure obstacle assessment is accomplished and an ODP developed, where applicable.

ODPs and/or non-standard takeoff minimums are developed "when obstructions penetrate the 40:1 departure obstacle clearance surface (OCS) as described in Order 8260.3." From a brief look at Google Earth, you are definitely correct that this is an airport which would qualify; even setting aside the trees, there is a hill approximately 4750 feet from the departure end of Runway 24, for example, and that hill is 300 feet higher than the field elevation at 26MA. The FAA's standard takeoff minimums presume an obstacle rise of no more than 152 feet per nautical mile from the runway; this hill is 2.5 times higher than that!

However, if neither an FAA Service Provider nor a non-FAA Service Provider has developed an instrument approach procedure for 26MA, then no one has conducted that diverse departure assessment and created non-standard takeoff minimums. This means there is nothing you can rely on but your own knowledge of the area when deciding whether to depart from such an airport under Instrument Flight Rules and in Instrument Meteorological Conditions.

It is not ATC's responsibility to know this information nor to police your activities, which is a common theme throughout JO 7110.65. ATC clearances are predicated on known and observed traffic; the pilot-in-command is presumed to have all appropriate certifications and currencies, to be flying a properly certificated and airworthy aircraft, to be operating in compliance with the applicable FARs, etc, etc. Even if an ODP does exist at an airport, ATC will not assign it unless it is necessary to ensure separation (JO 7110.65 4–3–2c2), and unless it is assigned "compliance with such a procedure is the pilot's prerogative."

So the clearance you would receive from Boston Approach would be the same as the clearance you would receive when departing any other Class G airport, whether public or private, and would—in accordance with 4–3–2c1(c)—sound something like this:

November 12345, cleared to [destination] airport as filed. Maintain three thousand, expect five thousand one-zero minutes after departure. Departure frequency 124.9, squawk 1111. [If necessary: When entering controlled airspace, fly heading 260.] Hold for release.

But this is assuming you would be issued a clearance off-the-ground at all. Note how close 26MA is to ASH, and to the ASH Class D surface area, and note how (according to the Skyvector link you posted) the airport has been analyzed to be "NOT OBJECTIONABLE IN ACCORDANCE WITH VFR." I don't want to say it would be impossible for you to get an IFR clearance while still on the ground at 26MA; nothing is impossible. But I could easily imagine it being unlikely.

For completeness: If you did take off from 26MA and attempted to pick up your IFR clearance airborne, you would need to either be at-or-above the minimum vectoring altitude when receiving the clearance, or you would need to confirm—per 4–2–8d—that you are able to "maintain your own terrain and obstruction clearance" until reaching the MVA, even if you may go IMC before that altitude. Obviously this is something that you should only agree to if you are very confident of your location and the location of any nearby terrain and obstructions, and the performance capabilities of your aircraft. It would not be the recommended Plan A.

The difference between getting your IFR clearance while you are on the ground at an airport and getting it after you have departed is, of course, the assumption that the area around the airport has been analyzed and an ODP or non-standard takeoff minimums have been published. That assumption does not hold true in this case, but the 7110.65 does not take account for that.

CONCLUSION: Although I do not believe this is a requirement per 14 CFR Part 91, the smartest thing would be to apply the "can I file IFR to this airport" rule in reverse. Namely, as you alluded to, the safe move would be to only attempt a departure from 26MA—or any airport which does not have a published instrument approach procedure—if the ceilings are no lower than the local Minimum Vectoring Altitude, meaning you can climb visually to that safe altitude. ATC procedures do not make distinctions between airports that are and are not served by instrument procedures and you cannot rely on ATC to provide a sanity check in this situation.

  • $\begingroup$ I tried to ask the airport operator. But the airport manager's email bounces. Sooooooo... $\endgroup$ Mar 26, 2022 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ I'm wondering, in your example clearance phraseology "...When entering controlled airspace, fly heading 260," how this could be done unless the aircraft was radar identified and at or above the minimum vectoring altitude? ATC cannot issue a heading without knowing where the aircraft is just because the aircraft has entered controlled airspace. The aircraft could enter controlled airspace at 700 ft, not even seen on radar yet and be below the minimum vectoring altitude. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Mar 26, 2022 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @757 I wonder that myself, to be honest. And yet it is listed as approved phraseology in Chapter 4. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 26, 2022 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @757, edited to address your last point. Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 27, 2022 at 5:01

You really need to question whether departing in IMC from an airport with lots of obstacles is a good idea. But it could be completely feasible: IMC doesn't mean zero visibility.

Let's say the bases are at 1500 AGL and visibility is unlimited, for example. 26MA is class G with E at 1200 AGL' and in daytime if you remain in class G then you only need to be clear of clouds. You couldn't enter class E without an IFR clearance, though, because VFR you need to be 500' below the clouds, and you only have 300'.

In that scenario you could file an IFR flight plan as usual. ATC will ask you if you're able to maintain terrain and obstruction clearance until you reach controlled airspace (class E) and/or whatever minimum altitude they can provide ATC services at.

See the ATC Orders 4-2-8(d):

When VFR aircraft operating below the minimum altitude for IFR operations requests an IFR clearance and the pilot informs you, or you are aware, that they are unable to climb in VFR conditions to the minimum IFR altitude:

  1. Before issuing a clearance, ask if the pilot is able to maintain terrain and obstruction clearance during a climb to the minimum IFR altitude


EXAMPLE− “November Eight Seven Six, are you able to provide your own terrain and obstruction clearance between your present altitude and six thousand feet?”

Your exchange might go something like this:

N12345: Boston Approach, N12345
Appch: N12345, Boston Approach, go ahead
N12345: N12345 is on the ground at 26MA, request IFR to ORH [Worcester Regional]
Appch: N12345, are you able to provide your own terrain and obstruction clearance until reaching 3000?
N12345: Affirm, N12345
Appch: N12345 is cleared to ORH via own navigation, radar vectors, then as filed. On entering controlled airspace, climb and maintain 3000, squawk 3434, departure frequency 124.9. Clearance void if not off by 1330 Zulu, time now is 1320 Zulu.
N12345: [readback]
Appch: N12345, readback correct

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Gotta love a departure procedure that implies "look at your life, look at your choices" as step 0. Thank you for this and the cite! That's the doc I didn't look at. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2022 at 21:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Downvote for gross misinterpretation of the .65. The section you quoted deals with the case where a VFR aircraft is already airborne and requests a pop-up IFR clearance (which could have been already filed, or not). A departure getting their IFR clearance off the ground would be dealt with per 4–3–2c1(c) and would sound nothing like what you quoted. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 26, 2022 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ I gotta agree with @randomhead. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Mar 26, 2022 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ +1. I think it would be more like "maintain VFR until ORH, you can expect your IFR clearance from there as requested..." $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2022 at 16:23

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