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Circuit etiquette

I recently had to go around because I was getting too close to the preceding aircraft, a 3-axis microlight of some sort that was practicing touch-and-goes. I was flying into an unfamiliar information airfield and turned deadside before climbing back to circuit height and staying at 70 knots to avoid overtaking the thing. Somewhat to my consternation, I found that it was on course to get very close as it climbed back up to circuit altitude and so turned further into the deadside, before carrying out a very wide circuit.

I trained fairly recently in an ATC airport, and so the situation was one that I had never encountered and that I don't believe I remember reading anything about in air-law. I presume that what I did was reasonably sensible under the circumstances, but wondered what else I might have to learn in this department.

e.g. What do you do for a runway with no deadside? Can you ever overtake a preceding aircraft under these circumstances? What if deadside is to port? It seems impatient, but at the same time I ended up flying such a wide circuit to be certain of landing after the microlight the next time round, that I may not have been easily visible to other aircraft within the circuit, which has its own dangers.


This seems to be one of those national/regional differences again. In my part of the world (Germany) most airfields have prescribed traffic patterns. Many have different traffic patterns for microlights, gliders and normal powered aircraft thereby eliminating situations as the one you describe. Generally, overtaking other aircraft is not permitted on final. And we have no "deadside", whatever that may be.

But by far the easiest way to resolve this kind of conflict is to talk to each other over the radio!

Happy landings max

EDDS - Stuttgart

Isn't the idea of a circuit that the planes organize themselves in a daisy chain, i.e. establish the order and keep it until landing? I don't think the concept of overtaking exists in a circuit nor should it. Once I learn that I am behind a red PA28, I am going to focus on that aircraft and make sure I keep my distance. I wouldn't want you to squeeze yourself in between, no matter which manoeuver you come up with.

Yes one should "follow the one in front" but if you find yourself behind somebody doing 70kt, and your own Vs is 59kt (the figure for most IFR SEP tourers) then you can have a problem...

I have sometimes extended the circuit downwind, to waste some time, but if you find one of these in front of you early in the downwind leg then you may catch up. In that case I would turn away from the circuit and leave the circuit and start all over again.

There are other solutions e.g. an orbit but those have other issues.

The UK suffers from occassional dreadful pilot training and one does get people flying all kinds of circuits. I am based at Shoreham (EGKA) and could swear some people in the circuit should carry a passport If somebody disappears into French airspace then it's reasonable to turn in on the inside of them.

If you catch up with somebody on the final leg then going around is the best way i.e. remain at circuit height and fly over the runway, turn downwind, etc. I've had to do that a number of times, seeing the one in front slow down to maybe 40-50kt...

These things can be debated for ever...

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

The "dead side" is the non-circuit side of the runway.... If I understand Kwif correctly he was unable to go slow enough to avoid over-running the Microlight on final and so he went around....right thing to do....and he positioned to the dead side...again right thing to means that (in the case of a LH circuit he would have flown the upwind to the right whilst the microlight climbed and turned left onto crosswind...Kwif should then extend the downwind so that by the time he turned x-wind and downwind there would be sufficient distance between them...

A dead side does not exist when there are parallel runways (like Jandakot or Bankstown) in at those airfields the procedure on going around is to alter course to the circuit side whilst the aircraft taking off would fly upwind along the runway centreline...

EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom

AFAIK "deadside" is indeed a UK-only thing, and I never saw any good in it (but perhaps, here again, ignorance is bliss). And at most places I know, the deadside is a no-flyzone! Other fields have the motorised circuit to one side, gliders on the other, so that's another reason to avoid the "dead" side.

I learned: After the radio call "OO-xxx (beginning of) (righthand) downwind" you should neither overtake nor be overtaken. If you get too close to the preceding plane, a 180 away from the runway and rejoin downwind at its beginning. At certain a/d's, a 360 can be made, but strictly speaking one should only rejoin the circuit at the beginning of downwind. Yes, with the 180 you LEAVE the circuit! I never yet had to apply this ultimate measure, but have routinely gone around from final, when someone lined up in spite of my radio calls, or, the usual case, when a glider showed up for his final from his much smaller circuit. Full power, reduce flaps, and to circuit altitude, remain on runway axis, join crosswind and downwind as usual.

In some cases, if you know it doesn't upset the locals, you can somewhat relax the problem by extending downwind a bit, as Peter already said. I have done this in my 3-axis, a couple of times, with a still slower thing, a trike perhaps, plodding away before me.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

Turning 180 or opposite direction orbits may be ok at a controlled airfield where approved or requested by ATC, but at an uncontrolled airfield this kind of unpredictable behaviour is not clever...the third aircraft joining behind you may be caught unawares or wonder what the bloody hell you are doing!

But it is in the UK and Europe pilots are not that used to flying at airfields with a congested traffic pattern. Where self spacing becomes second nature...even at controlled Jandakot there are usually 5 to 6 aircraft in the circuit from twins to 152s...and parallel runway ops....keeps you on your toes!

EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom

What do you do for a runway with no deadside?

You apply full power climb to circuit height and go around!

You apply full power climb to circuit height and go around!

Yes but if you are on the runway centreline and the preceding aircraft is doing a touch and go (or has a missed approach) and is now climbing underneath you....that is the point of moving left or right of the centreline when you are forced to go around because of a preceding aircraft

EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom

What if deadside is to port?

I was taught that the correct procedure on going round is to move slightly into the dead-side (if there is one) no matter which side that is. The idea is to observe the whole active circuit out of one window, even if it is on the RHS.

Booker EGTB, White Waltham EGLM
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