Non-Tower Advisory Circular Makes a Perfect Spring Tune-up

A little self-study can pay huge dividends.

This story on non-towered airports comes from Jetwhine, a blog that began in 2006 as my experiment into what was then a new world of self-publishing. In the 12 years since, Jetwhine has never failed to regularly publish a story about some aspect of the aviation industry that wasn't available anywhere else. Few other blogs have withstood this test of time.

In this article, Jetwhine editor Scott Spangler, founding editor of Flight Training magazine and later editor-in-chief of EAA publications, takes pilots cooped up all winter on a brief spin around the patch of a nearby non-controlled airport. As we saw in the recent fatal accident at Marion IN, paying attention to nearby traffic on the radio is likely the easiest aspect of operating at an airport without traditional ATC service. Scott, also a U.S. Navy vet, reminds pilots of some of the bigger challenges.

If you enjoy what you read here and want to see how the stories we publish each month offer a slightly different perspective on the industry both Scott and I have spent our lives around, visit Jetwhine and subscribe. It's free.

Rob Mark, Jetwhine publisher

Ah, springtime. And I think it finally stopped snowing. As the white stuff melts, puddles, and sublimates from airport operation areas, airplanes will emerge from their T-hangar hibernations and start sniffing the sky on sunny weekends. In preparation for these first flights of 2018, on March 13, 2018, the FAA conveniently published the perfect spring tune-up for pilots, Advisory Circular 90-66B. Non-Towered Flight Operations.

Preferred entry when crossing over midfield
Preferred entry when crossing over midfield.FAA

This should be required reading for all pilots. According to the recent Administrator's Fact Book, the United States has 5,116 public-use airports. Only 521 of them have control towers. That makes all the rest non-towered. And non-towered is what the 254 airports with contract control towers become when their controllers call it an operational day. Add to this number the 14,168 private airports, and the reason pilots should refresh their data banks on non-tower ops should be clear.

The new AC does an excellent job of it, and the authors deserved high praise for their concise and clear prose. It starts with the title. What would be more clear and concise than Non-Towered Flight Operations? Or consider that the new AC replaces these two: AC 90-66A, Recommended Standard Traffic Patterns and Practices for Aeronautical Operating Control Towers, dated August 26, 1993; and AC 90-24F, Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers, dated May 21, 1990.

Single Runway diagram from the Aeronautical Information Manual
Single Runway diagram from the Aeronautical Information Manual.FAA

If I might be blunt, regardless of what you fly – jet, engine, bug smasher, glider, anything lighter-than-air, or yourself after leaving some winged confines—read this AC because it covers the operational and communication aspects of all of them at non-towered airports. If you’re feeling all smug about your aeronautical knowledge, draw me a picture of the recommended traffic pattern that safely combines any two aviation activities at a non-towered airport.

Then answer me this: Does the non-towered airport you call home (or visit often) combine two or more aviation activities? The two most common combinations are fixed-wing flyers with either gliders or sky divers. And often ultralights are part of the fixed-wing flyers. What’s their pattern look like? If you don’t know or are unsure, click the link at the head of this story. It’s not a long read, just 18 pages with the appendixes. Do it now, in the privacy of your own screen. I’ll never tell. – Scott Spangler, Editor