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5 Answers

Circle To Land Procedure

Asked by: 2077 views Flight Instructor, General Aviation, Instrument Rating

Whenever you have to Circle to Land at an uncontrolled airport, you are supposed to make calls like "N12345... Final RWY 23, Circle to Land RWY 30" for example.

Now, depending on how you get to the final of RWY 30, do you always have to use this "Circle" phrase, or can you also just announce  where your at in the Traffic pattern, like "Lt/Rt downwind RWY ...., Lt/Rt Base RWY.... or simply what you are going to do?

Even if others expect me to be where they think i am or will be, wouldn't those kind of calls be safer, specially if there are more around the airport or in the pattern and maybe the WX condt. Are just above the APP mini. (Low VIS)?

Thank you!

5 Answers



  1. Sam Dawson on Jan 07, 2013

    Two points. First assume other pilots in the pattern are not instrument rated if you are doing a circling approach and, if you use non-standard traffic pattern communication they will have no idea where you are or what you are doing. So during a circling approach I will state my location in relation to the airport and my intentions, such as “…5 north of the airport on the VOR-A, I will be entering a left downwind for 30, XYZ traffic.”
    Second, you are still expected to comply with the FARs and the AIM. So if the airport uses left traffic you MUST use left traffic during your circle. Whatever radio calls are recommended in the AIM you should comply with.

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  2. John on Jan 07, 2013

    Although I agree 100% w/Sam Dawsons responds, you can NOT go wrong if you shoot the Alpha approach (at least) one more time w/an CFII.

    Good Luck Dave!

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  3. Heather H on Jan 07, 2013

    What Sam mentioned above happened to me on my first flight as a licensed pilot.

    “First assume other pilots in the pattern are not instrument rated if you are doing a circling approach and, if you use non-standard traffic pattern communication they will have no idea where you are or what you are doing.”

    I was holding short of the runway he mentioned so I had to actually ask the guy circling back to the active runway where he was and what he was doing, at the time I felt like a moron but he quickly “converted” it to non IR pilot speak. :)

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  4. John D. Collins on Jan 07, 2013

    I agree with Sam’s statement, at least according to a 2009 General Counsel’s opinion on the matter where they state that all turns on the circling maneuver must be in the same direction as is defined for the pattern. However, I disagree with the General Counsel’s opinion and believe it is incorrectly decided. I am in the process of challenging the opinion and requesting that it be reviewed. The FAA General Counsel’s opinion is not in agreement with the AIM or the most current version of the Instrument Flying Handbook – 2012. I brought this to the attention of the FAA organization responsible with writing the AIM and the IFH and am reviewing the issue with them. If there are any experienced instrument instructors who would like to review my rational, I will send them a copy of the email that I propose sending to the General Counsel challenging their prior 2009 decision. Email me directly at johncollins@carolina.rr.com if you wish to constructively challenge my position or have additional arguments that should be raised. BTW, this post is dated 1/7/2013 and I intend to send the email to the General Counsel’s office no later than a week from now.

    For those reading this post, I am not challenging the wisdom or regulations of circling in the same direction as the VFR traffic pattern, I am challenging that it is an absolute requirement in that there are circumstances where it is not appropriate and that the regulations anticipate that, at least in my opinion and apparently in the AIM and IFH.

    The opinion that I am challenging can be found at http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/pol_adjudication/agc200/interpretations/data/interps/2009/Murphy.pdf

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  5. Bill Trussell on Jan 07, 2013

    In support of Mr. Collins opinion I offer that there are examples of circling approaches that contain restrictions on what side of the airport or runway the maneuver is authorized (conversely and more accurately, what side such a maneuver is not authorized). Example is VOR B into KXLL where such a maneuver is Not Authorized south of RWY 25 due to terrain and obstructions. In this case such a maneuver is done on the North side of the airport using a right hand traffic pattern for runway 25.

    More to the point of the original question about communications, it should always be “who you are, where you are, and what you are doing” using the terminology that meets the Pilot controller glossary. When in doubt ASK! If you hear something that you are not sure what it means, ask for clarification. It never hurts and there are no extra points for withholding questions.

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