Responding to the article “Parallel Runway Traps” in our October 2023 issue, reader and ATP/CFI Jerrold Seckler took us to task for an image showing an airplane crossing over a non-towered airport from the upwind side and then executing a right turn to enter the traffic pattern. The FAA’s version of this image, the left panel of figure 8-3 in the Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH, FAA-H-8083-3C), is reproduced at right.
Jerrold wrote to point out the image’s recommendation would seem to be in violation of “FARs 91.126 and 91.127, which require all turns be made to the left when operating in the vicinity of an airport in Class G or E airspace unless right turns are specified.”
We published his letter in our November issue. Our response missed part of his point when we noted the right turn wasn’t executed in the pattern. Jerrold correctly pointed out the FARs require “all turns be made to the left when operating in the vicinity of an airport in Class G or E airspace unless right turns are specified.” (emphasis added)
Surrendering to his logic, we suggested he write the agency. He did, and the FAA responded, as follows. (We’ve lightly edited Jerrold’s input to the FAA and the agency’s responses.)
“While I agree that this recommendation is an excellent and safe method to join the pattern at an uncontrolled airport, it seems to me that it is a direct violation of FAR 91.126 or 91.127.
“According to those regulations, all turns in the vicinity of such airports must be made to the left, unless the airport itself requires turns to the right. I recognize that ‘vicinity’ is not defined, but the regulation clearly applies to aircraft ‘approaching to land’ and this pattern entry is going to be used by aircraft approaching to land…. So while I agree that this entry method is safe and effective, I am concerned about its legality.
“Any comments or clarification would be welcome.”
The FAA’s First Response
“Our [subject matter expert] explains that figure 8-3 (left panel), AFH, depicts a course reversal clear of the traffic pattern and approximately two miles away from the traffic pattern. This has been the recommended course reversal and traffic pattern entry method at airports without an operating control tower for a very long time. If there were any issues concerning 14 CFR part 91.126 or 91.127, they would have been brought to light during the review of this figure.
“Figure 8-3 has received scrutiny over the last year and will be re-drawn for clarity for the next revision of the AFH. Several Divisions within the FAA have provided input regarding this figure. Nobody in the FAA has an issue with entering a traffic pattern as depicted in figure 8-3 (left panel). In fact, during the review of figure 8-3 it was agreed that no regulatory violation exists when performing a traffic pattern entry as depicted.
“While it is true that all turns in the vicinity of airports in Class G or E airspace must be made to the left, unless the airport itself requires turns to the right, you already pointed out that ‘vicinity’ is not defined.
“14 CFR part 91.113 (g) states: *Landing.* Aircraft, while on final approach to land or while landing, have the right-of-way over other aircraft in flight or operating on the surface, except that they shall not take advantage of this rule to force an aircraft off the runway surface, which has already landed and is attempting to make way for an aircraft on final approach. When two or more aircraft are approaching an airport for the purpose of landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-of-way, but it shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another, which is on final approach to land or to overtake that aircraft. When flying over/past the airport prior to reversing course is not ‘approaching an airport.’ Approaching the airport occurs after the course reversal. At that point (after the course reversal) the pilot/aircraft is then approaching the airport.
“As you can see from this discussion the FAA does not believe that there is a conflict between the recommended traffic pattern entry method(s) and 14 CFR parts 61 or 91. Hopefully, this information will assist you and good luck!”
“In your reply, your quoting of FAR 91.113(g) continues past the regulation and adds something not in the regulation itself. Namely, you state that, “When flying over/past the airport prior to reversing course is not ‘approaching an airport.’ Approaching the airport occurs after the course reversal. At that point (after the course reversal) the pilot/aircraft is then approaching the airport.” That is not, at least to me, a common sense interpretation of ‘approaching the airport.’
“I’m glad that the FAA feels that way but I think, absent the qualification you stated, which is NOT in the regulation, the pattern entry described simply does not comply with 91.126/127. At the very least this issue ought to be clarified either in the AFH when the pattern entry is described or by modifying 91.126/127 to add what you stated about the meaning of ‘approaching the airport.’”
The FAA’s Second Response
“We appreciate your analysis, and we agree that language may contain ambiguity. Fortunately, that leads to a comprehensive analysis. We do not believe the FAA enforces direction of turns under the regulations you cited outside of the traffic pattern…. Since § 91.126(b)(1) requires left turns unless airport displays indicate that turns should be made to the right, the indications of a right turn requirement apply specifically to the traffic pattern turns governed by the airport displays. In addition, and for example, the first turn to enter a left pattern from a 45-degree downwind entry is a right turn to join the downwind. Therefore, we ask if it makes sense to apply the rule prior to entry into the traffic pattern.”
From this exchange, the FAA agrees the regs “may contain ambiguity,” but isn’t likely to bring an enforcement action for the right turn to join the pattern. Given the existing rules and guidance, there’s really no other answer.