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9 Answers

Class D pattern flying with 1000′ ceiling….

Asked by: 9465 views Aerodynamics, Airspace

I know a class D airport will go "VFR" with a 1,000ft ceiling and 3 SM viz. I'll see other airplanes in the pattern doing touch and goes when it's 1,200 overcast.   But if the pattern altitude is 1,000ft and you have to remain 500ft below a cloud in Class D airspace, is what they're doing legal? The pattern is over a densely populated area.   Thanks,   Karl

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9 Answers

  1. Brian on Dec 21, 2011

    Hi Karl,
    I’ve never seen and was unable to find an LOI on 91.119. My personal belief is that this is unsafe and I haven’t and probably won’t be doing it. That said, the regulation in question does say “except for the purposes of landing.” Whether or not that is a valid argument, I don’t know.
    As for the cloud clearance regulation, you could always request special VFR. In which case your requirement is only to remain clear of clouds. If you wished to fly in these conditions, requesting SVFR would at least protect you from the cloud clearance regulation. Thus providing you sufficient altitude to abide by 91.119. If you’re even breaking 91.119 to begin with (see above).

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  2. John D. Collins on Dec 21, 2011

    FAR 91.119 specifies the minimum safe altitude “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing … Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.”  FAR 91.155 requires the following for Class D airspace: 3 miles of visibility, with cloud separation of 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet laterally. So if the weather is 1200 feet overcast, and aircraft were flying the pattern at 1000 feet AGL, they would be in violation of 91.155.  If they flew the pattern at 700 AGL they would be legal and not violate 91.155 and the exception for taking off and landing would apply for 91.119.  As long as the  tower doesn’t object to flying the pattern at 700 feet AGL, you could satisfy 91.155, although you might not be considered a good neighbor.

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  3. MaggotCFII on Dec 21, 2011

    Adding to the above replies:  Our Class D tower will not allow T&Gs at the 1000/3.  Nor will a SVFR be approved.  The reason for the latter was given as, “SVFR” cannot exist when IFR traffic is in the “D”.
    Noise abatement restrictions take care of the lower pattern altitude at our airport.
    Good time to do some of that neglected Ground Instruction!

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  4. Kris Kortokrax on Dec 21, 2011

    There is no regulatory requirement to maintain any traffic pattern altitude.  The AIM states that the traffic pattern altitude should be altered if necessary for cloud clearance requirements.
    91.129(e) contains language to authorize large or turbine aircraft the ability to fly lower than the required 1500 AGL altitude if required by cloud clearance requirements.
    As others have stated there is an exception in 91.119(a) for aircraft during takeoff and landing.
    Is it just T&G, or does your tower not allow takeoff and landing operations at all?
    Also, what airport are you at?  In the course of doing traffic reporting in a helicopter, I have requested and been granted a Special VFR clearance at O’Hare airport.  Also, have operated SVFR into Indianapolis International.  I’m sure they had IFR traffic.

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  5. MaggotCFII on Dec 21, 2011

    Kris: No to the T&Gs as SVFR Ops, in and out of “D” on SVFR OK. Located East of NYC, CT coast and use SVFR to escape costal fog which sits on the shoreline 1/2 mile from the runway 2 or 3 times a year.

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  6. Brian on Dec 21, 2011

    ” In the course of doing traffic reporting in a helicopter, I have requested and been granted a Special VFR clearance at O’Hare airport.  Also, have operated SVFR into Indianapolis International.  I’m sure they had IFR traffic.”
    But the class B equipment differs from most class D, in that most class D (at least that I’ve toured) don’t have radar capabilities required to meet radar separation minimums.
    Radar separation: 5-9-5 Approach Separation Responsibility
    Non-Radar separation: 6-3-1 Separation Minima
    Non-radar environments require the airspace be cleared of all IFR (I can’t find anything saying SVFR or VFR) traffic before being cleared to leave a fix no less than 4 miles away inbound. Now I’m not an ATC guy and certainly haven’t read every word in the controllers manual. So take what I’ve presented here with a grain of salt and do your own research, but I hope I’ve helped. 🙂

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  7. Matthew Waugh on Dec 23, 2011

    As others have said – pattern altitude is not regulatory – and a good job too otherwise there wouldn’t be a crop-dusting pilot with a license left.
    I imagine if a higher power was asked to look at the policies of the tower described above they’d change pretty quick. Local ATC often makes up it’s own rules because it’s easier for them. Once somebody points out to them the fallacy of their ways they fall in line.

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  8. Anrboy on Jan 10, 2012

    Stay 500 below the clouds and as long as you are taking off or landing you are okay. Last time I checked thats all t&gs are. It would probably be best though to just skip out on flying that day. It most likely isn’t life or death that you fly and the homes around would really appreciate not hearing a plane buzzing 500ft above them every minute. Don’t ask for SVFR because if they decide not to give it to you your taxi to the runway and runup was for nothing.

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  9. Jason Hoffman on Jan 26, 2012

    Sorry..late answer on this, but wanted to chime in. I read 91.129(b) Deviations to say that flight in VFR conditions (1000 and 3) while in class D airspace is permitted without adhering to the usual cloud clearance requirements as long as it’s authorized by ATC, i.e. “cleared for takeoff”.

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