Checking Departure Procedures

For you instrument-rated pilots, and even you VFR-only fliers, how often do you look up the published departure procedure for a given airport before taking off into clear blue skies — or maybe not-so-clear skies?

The answer should be every single time. Over the years a number of fatal accidents have been attributed to controlled flight into terrain after pilots received their instruments clearances, took off, turned on course and hit the side of a mountain — despite the availability of clear guidance to adhere to special instructions. Some of these accidents happened in day VFR conditions.

Instrument departure procedures exist to provide obstruction clearance during that dangerous flight segment while transitioning from the terminal area to the start of the en route structure. Sure, DPs can also help reduce delays at busier airports, but their primary function is to keep you from running into anything before reaching your minimum en route altitude.

Maybe the reason some pilots neglect to check takeoff minimums and departure procedures has to do with the fact that they're published separately from approach procedures — in the front of U.S. Terminal Procedures books or, if you're a ForeFlight user, under a separate menu.

In the FAR/AIM, the FAA recommends pilots practice IFR procedures even when flying VFR as a way to maintain proficiency. Most of the time we take this to mean flying under the hood with a safety pilot and shooting practice instrument approaches, but adhering to published departure procedures can and should be a part of this routine as well. After all, a properly flown DP is just as important to flying safety as being able to shoot that ILS or WAAS LPV approach to minimums.

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