The Traffic Pattern

Airport Traffic Pattern
  • Traffic patterns are standard procedures for when an airplane is arriving or departing from an airport.  Since air traffic can be greater near an airport, it is very important that pilots know where they are in the traffic pattern, where they are going, and where other airplanes are.  Some airports have Control Towers to guide pilots into and out of the airport.  Many small airports have no control towers and pilots must tell each other where they are and what they plan to do in order to avoid a collision.

    There are five segments of a standard traffic pattern.  Each is either parallel or perpendicular to the runway in use.

    The upwind leg runs parallel to the runway in the opposite direction the wind is blowing.  Pilots always want to land their airplane into the wind, so the upwind leg will be in the same direction as landing.

    The crosswind leg runs perpendicular to the runway.

    The downwind leg runs parallel to the runway in the same direction the wind is blowing, so this is the opposite the direction the plane will land.

    The base leg is perpendicular to the runway.  On this leg, the pilot will be descending to the runway and getting ready to land.

    The final leg takes the airplane on a straight line down to the runway.  The plane will be flying into the wind and descending to the runway.

    In a standard traffic pattern, all the turns are to the left.  Pilots will call this left traffic.  There are occasions when pilots will make the same pattern, but with right-hand turns.  This is called right traffic