Aircraft Holding Procedures

Introduction:

  • Holding keeps an aircraft within specified airspace, while awaiting further clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC) or when a loss of altitude is required
  • Performed for many reasons, including but not limited to:
    • Traffic congestion,
    • Waiting for an EFC time,
    • Poor weather, or
    • Unavailability of the runway
  • Can be accomplished at a NAVAID, a fix, or an intersection
    • An intersection is defined by a single radial and a DME, or two intersecting radials

 

 

WARNING:
All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
 

Responsibilities:

  • Whenever an aircraft is cleared to a fix other than the destination airport and delay is expected, it is the responsibility of the ATC controller to issue complete holding instructions (unless the pattern is charted), an EFC time and best estimate of any additional en route/terminal delay
    • Only those holding patterns depicted on U.S. government or commercially produced (meeting FAA requirements) low/high altitude enroute, and area or STAR charts should be used
  • If the holding pattern is charted and the controller doesn’t issue complete holding instructions, the pilot is expected to hold as depicted on the appropriate chart
    • When the pattern is charted, the controller may omit all holding instructions except the charted holding direction and the statement AS PUBLISHED; e.g., HOLD EAST AS PUBLISHED
    • Controllers must always issue complete holding instructions when pilots request them
  • If no holding pattern is charted and holding instructions have not been issued, the pilot should ask ATC for holding instructions prior to reaching the fix
    • This procedure will eliminate the possibility of an aircraft entering a holding pattern other than that desired by ATC
    • If unable to obtain holding instructions prior to reaching the fix (due to frequency congestion, stuck microphone, etc.), then enter a standard pattern on the course on which the aircraft approached the fix and request further clearance as soon as possible
    • In this event, the altitude/flight level of the aircraft at the clearance limit will be protected so that separation will be provided as required

f. Pilots should report to ATC the time and altitude/flight level at which the aircraft reaches the clearance limit and report leaving the clearance limit. NOTE− In the event of two-way communications failure, pilots are required to comply with 14 CFR Section 91.185. h. Patterns at the most generally used holding fixes are depicted (charted) on U.S. Government or commercially produced (meeting FAA requirements) Low or High Altitude Enroute, Area and STAR Charts. Pilots are expected to hold in the pattern depicted unless specifically advised otherwise by ATC. NOTE− Holding patterns that protect for a maximum holding airspeed other than the standard may be depicted by an icon, unless otherwise depicted. The icon is a standard holding pattern symbol (racetrack) with the airspeed restriction shown in the center. In other cases, the airspeed restriction will be depicted next to the standard holding pattern symbol. REFERENCE− AIM, Holding, Paragraph 5−3−8j2. (d) While other entry procedures may enable the aircraft to enter the holding pattern and remain within protected airspace, the parallel, teardrop and direct entries are the procedures for entry and holding recommended by the FAA. NOTE− When the inbound course is toward the NAVAID, the fix distance is 10 NM, and the leg length is 5 NM, then the end of the outbound leg will be reached when the DME/ATD reads 15 NM. NOTE− When the inbound course is away from the NAVAID and the fix distance is 28 NM, and the leg length is 8 NM, then the end of the outbound leg will be reached when the DME/ATD reads 20 NM NOTE− The inbound course is always toward the waypoint and the ATD is zero at the waypoint. The end of the outbound leg of the holding pattern is reached when the ATD reads the specified distance. 7. Nonstandard Holding Pattern. Fix end and outbound end turns are made to the left. Entry procedures to a nonstandard pattern are oriented in relation to the 70 degree line on the holding side just as in the standard pattern. k. When holding at a fix and instructions are received specifying the time of departure from the fix, the pilot should adjust the aircraft’s flight path within the limits of the established holding pattern in order to leave the fix at the exact time specified. After departing the holding fix, normal speed is to be resumed with respect to other governing speed requirements, such as terminal area speed limits, specific ATC requests, etc. Where the fix is associated with an instrument approach and timed approaches are in effect, a procedure turn must not be executed unless the pilot advises ATC, since aircraft holding are expected to proceed inbound on final approach directly from the holding pattern when approach clearance is received. l. Radar surveillance of outer fix holding pattern airspace areas. 1. Whenever aircraft are holding at an outer fix, ATC will usually provide radar surveillance of the outer fix holding pattern airspace area, or any portion of it, if it is shown on the controller’s radar scope. 2. The controller will attempt to detect any holding aircraft that stray outside the holding pattern airspace area and will assist any detected aircraft to return to the assigned airspace area. NOTE− Many factors could prevent ATC from providing this additional service, such as workload, number of targets, precipitation, ground clutter, and radar system capability. These circumstances may make it unfeasible to maintain radar identification of aircraft to detect aircraft straying from the holding pattern. The provision of this service depends entirely upon whether controllers believe they are in a position to provide it and does not relieve a pilot of their responsibility to adhere to an accepted ATC clearance. 3. If an aircraft is established in a published holding pattern at an assigned altitude above the published minimum holding altitude and subsequently cleared for the approach, the pilot may descend to the published minimum holding altitude. The holding pattern would only be a segment of the IAP if it is published on the instrument procedure chart and is used in lieu of a procedure turn. m. For those holding patterns where there are no published minimum holding altitudes, the pilot, upon receiving an approach clearance, must maintain the last assigned altitude until leaving the holding pattern and established on the inbound course. Thereafter, the published minimum altitude of the route segment being flown will apply. It is expected that the pilot will be assigned a holding altitude that will permit a normal descent on the inbound course.

Instrument Approach Procedures Holding Patterns
Figure 1: Instrument Approach Procedures Holding Patterns

Types of Holding

  • There are 3 types of holding, depicted in the instrument approach chart legend: Figure 1
    1. In lieu of a procedure turn (BOLD)
    2. Arrival holding (solid)
    3. Missed approach (dashed)
  • Holding in lieu of procedure turn:
    • It is not really a holding pattern, just a course reversal
    • When used, you do not need to go outbound for the full DME (TACAN), after 1 minute turn back in and shoot the approach
  • Arrival pattern
    • Used to control the flow of traffic on an approach
    • Think of it as adding a delay to ensure the airport environment is clear
  • Missed Approach

 

Holding Direction:

  • Standard: Right
  • Non-Standard: Left

 

NOTE:
The holding patterns depicted in the instrument approach plate legend show both left and right turns and are in no way an indication of standards
 

Airspeeds

  • The aircraft should be at or below the maximum speed prior to initially crossing the holding fix to avoid exiting the protected airspace
    • Below 6,000′ MSL: 200 KIAS
    • 6001′ MSL to 14,000′ MSL: 230 KIAS
    • 14,001′ MSL and up: 265 KIAS
    • USAF Airfields: 310 KIAS
    • USN Airfields: 230 KIAS
    • Some holding patterns are speed restricted
      • These holding patterns are depicted with an icon indicating the maximum holding speed
    • Holding speeds are based on turn radius to keep clear of obstacles
    • Note that holding speeds change at 14,001 as well as the holding time (1.0 to 1.5 minutes)
  • Holding is performed at max endurance to conserve fuel
  • Several aircraft may fly the same holding pattern at the same time, separated vertically by 1,000′ or more
  • The arrival holding pattern is not authorized unless assigned by ATC
  • If cleared for the approach when in holding and flying outbound, you do not have to fly outbound any longer, turn in and shoot the approach
  • The following are exceptions to the maximum holding airspeeds:
    • Holding patterns from 6,001′ to 14,000′ may be restricted to a maximum airspeed of 210 KIAS
      • This nonstandard pattern will be depicted by an icon
    • Holding patterns may be restricted to a maximum speed
      • The speed restriction is depicted in parenthesis inside the holding pattern on the chart: e.g., (175)
      • Pilots unable to comply with the maximum airspeed restriction should notify ATC
    • When a climb-in hold is specified by a published procedure (e.g., “Climb-in holding pattern to depart XYZ VORTAC at or above 10,000.” or “All aircraft climb-in TRUCK holding pattern to cross TRUCK Int at or above 11,500 before proceeding on course.”), additional obstacle protection area has been provided to allow for greater airspeeds in the climb for those aircraft requiring them
      • The holding pattern template for a maximum airspeed of 310 KIAS has been used for the holding pattern if there are no airspeed restrictions on the holding pattern as specified in subparagraph j2(b)(2) of this paragraph
      • Where the holding pattern is restricted to a maximum airspeed of 175 KIAS, the 200 KIAS holding pattern template has been applied for published climb−in hold procedures for altitudes 6,000 feet and below and the 230 KIAS holding pattern template has been applied for altitudes above 6,000 feet
      • The airspeed limitations in 14 CFR Section 91.117, Aircraft Speed, still apply
  • (e) Advise ATC immediately what increased airspeed is necessary, if any, due to turbulence, icing, etc., or if unable to accomplish any part of the holding procedures. When such higher speeds become no longer necessary, operate according to the appropriate published holding speed and notify ATC.

  • ATC:[Callsign] [holding instructions], maximum holding speed is [Speed in Knots]

 

Clearance:

  • When no delay is expected, the controller should issue a clearance beyond the fix as soon as possible and, whenever possible, at least 5 minutes before the aircraft reaches the clearance limit
  • An ATC clearance requiring an aircraft to hold at a fix where the pattern is not charted will include the following information:
  1. The direction to hold from the holding fix (i.e., N, NE, E, SE, etc.)
    • This is the general compass location in terms of the eight cardinal compass points
  2. The name of the holding fix (may be omitted if included at the beginning of the transmission as the clearance limit)
  3. The radial, course, bearing, airway, or route on which the aircraft is to hold
  4. The leg length in miles if DME or RNAV is to be used
    • Specified in minutes on pilot request or if the controller considers it necessary
  5. Direction of turn, if left turns are to be made
  6. Time to expect further clearance (EFC) and any pertinent additional delay information (times are given in Zulu)
  • ATC:Hold east of the Ormond VORTAC on the 090 radial, left turns, maintain 5,000,’ expect further clearance 0+50
  • At a minimum, the only information you need is the location, the radial, and the EFC time
  • When charted, the controller may omit all holding instructions, except the charted holding direction and the statement “as published”
    • ATC:Hold east as published
  • Controllers shall always issue complete holding instructions when pilots request them
  • Request EFC time if not automatically provided by ATC

 

Timing:

  • Some aircraft will have their own timers but you can just as easily bring your own Flight Timer/watch to mount to the aircraft or kneeboard
  • Inbound Leg:
    • At or below 14,000′ MSL, legs should be timed to equal 1 minute
    • Above 14,000′ MSL, legs should be timed to equal 1 and 1/2 minutes
    • Timing inbound is measured from the point that the aircraft is wings level, inbound to the holding fix, to the time the aircraft crosses the holding fix
  • The outbound leg time will be adjusted to achieve the correct inbound timing
    • Outbound leg timing begins over/abeam the fix, whichever occurs later
    • If the abeam position cannot be determined, start timing when turn to outbound is completed
      • Abeam is when the needle drops below the 90° benchmark in the HSI, not the TO/FROM flip
    • The initial outbound leg should be flown for 1 minute or 1 1/2 minutes (appropriate to altitude)
    • Timing for subsequent outbound legs should be adjusted, as necessary, to achieve proper inbound leg time
  • Pilots may use any navigational means available; i.e., DME, RNAV, etc., to ensure the appropriate inbound leg times
  • Timing is generally associated with VOR holding, but some TACAN holds may require timing if no DME specified, based on your time inbound

 

NOTE:
In order to remember this rule, remember that no one will make you hold at 14,001′ but rather 14,000 or 15,000 most likely. The 1.5 minute leg comes to play at 15k 10% RULE: 15 = 1.5 min
 

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)/GPS Along−Track Distance (ATD):

  • DME/GPS holding is subject to the same entry and holding procedures except that distances (nautical miles) are used in lieu of time values
  • The outbound course of the DME/GPS holding pattern is called the outbound leg of the pattern
  • The controller or the instrument approach procedure chart will specify the length of the outbound leg
  • The end of the outbound leg is determined by the DME or ATD readout
  • The holding fix on conventional procedures, or controller defined holding based on a conventional navigation aid with DME, is a specified course or radial and distances are from the DME station for both the inbound and outbound ends of the holding pattern
  • When flying published GPS overlay or stand alone procedures with distance specified, the holding fix will be a waypoint in the database and the end of the outbound leg will be determined by the ATD
  • Some GPS overlay and early stand alone procedures may have timing specified
  • (See FIG 5−3−5, FIG 5−3−6 and FIG 5−3−7.) See paragraph 1−1−18, Global Positioning System (GPS), for requirements and restriction on using GPS for IFR operations

 

Orbits:

      (d) Determine entry turn from aircraft heading upon arrival at the holding fix; +/−5 degrees in heading is considered to be within allowable good operating limits for determining entry. g. When holding at a VOR station, pilots should begin the turn to the outbound leg at the time of the first complete reversal of the to/from indicator.
    • Entry Orbit: expeditiously establishes the aircraft inbound on the holding course
      • In order to determine the type of entry you can utilize many different methods:
        • Pencil Method:
          • If instructed to perform left turns:
            • Raise the left side of the pencil 20° and see where the reciprocal course lies
          • If instructed to perform right turns:
            • Raise the right side of the pencil 20° and see where the reciprocal course lies
      • There will be cases in which the reciprocal will fall on, or very close to (±5°) a sector boundary in which case the entry procedures for either section are acceptable
      • Entry Procedures:
          (b) Teardrop Procedure. When approaching the holding fix from anywhere in sector (b), the teardrop entry procedure would be to fly to the fix, turn outbound to a heading for a 30 degree teardrop entry within the pattern (on the holding side) for a period of one minute, then turn in the direction of the holding pattern to intercept the inbound holding course.
        • Direct Entry: fly directly to the fix and turn to follow the holding pattern (sector (c) of [Figure])
        • Parallel Entry:, entering from the thin, protected side, in-bound heading (sector (a) of [Figure])
          • Upon reaching the fix, turn to a heading to parallel the holding course outbound on the non-holding side for one minute
          • Turn in the direction of the holding pattern through more than 180° to return to the holding fix or intercept the holding course inbound
            • Right Turns: turn left, then left, then right
            • Left Turns: turn right, then right, then left
        • Teardrop Entry:, entering from the thin, non-protected side, in-bound heading (sector (b) of [Figure])
          • Upon reaching the fix, turn outbound to a heading for a 30° teardrop entry within the pattern (on the holding side) for one minute
          • Next, turn in the direction of the holding pattern to intercept the inbound holding course
            • Remember Left Add Right Subtract, or LARS for short
              • LARS:
                • L+30
                • R-30
          • While other entry procedures may enable the aircraft to enter the holding pattern and remain within protected airspace, the parallel, teardrop and direct entries are the procedures for entry and holding recommended by the FAA
    • No-wind Orbit: determines the initial corrections to make for existing winds
      • The second time the aircraft crosses the station commence the no-wind orbit
      • This orbit is flown as if there were no-wind for which to compensate
        • If this were true, you would (1) roll out of your inbound turn on the holding course and (2) inbound timing to the holding fix, if required, would equal the amount of time outbound
      • After passing the station, make a standard rate turn in the direction of holding and execute Ts
      • You must maintain a SRT and a constant airspeed or you will be unable to determine accurate winds due to bad air work

 

    • Correction Orbit: update and refine the wind corrections
      • The third and subsequent orbits in holding are called correction orbits
      • They are flown by applying the correction factors determined on the previous orbit to the outbound leg of the holding pattern
      • Adjust the heading by the correction factor determined on the no-wind orbit
        • TAIL-RADIAL-WIND
      • Confirm EFC 5 minutes before it is reached
      • Be as exact on corrections as possible

 

      • VOR CORRECTION FACTOR:
        • Apply full correction outbound (if off 10°, apply 10°)
        • Apply 1/3 of the wind correction inbound
      • (c) Compensate for wind effect primarily by drift correction on the inbound and outbound legs. When outbound, triple the inbound drift correction to avoid major turning adjustments; e.g., if correcting left by 8 degrees when inbound, correct right by 24 degrees when outbound.

      • TACAN CORRECTION FACTOR:
        • Use full correction into the wind on the outbound leg
        • Use half correction into the wind on the inbound leg

 

      • DME of longest leg X degrees off = correction factor you will use
    • Compensate for wind effect primarily by drift correction on the inbound and outbound legs. When outbound, triple the inbound drift correction to avoid major turning adjustments; e.g., if correcting left by 8 degrees when inbound, correct right by 24° when outbound

 

Practice:

  • Request a few turns in holding when you want practice
  • If you request 1 turn in holding, your entry doesn’t count
    • In other words when you enter holding at first and initially pass the fix (even if a direct entry), then that orbit doesn’t count
    • 1 full round in the pattern is the 1 you requested

 

TACAN Holding Differences:

  • No timing is required if using DME (usually the case)
  • Large intercept on inbound turns due to being farther from the station
  • Large wind correction factor
  • Aggressive track

 

NOTE:
In order to identify an intersection formed by two or more radials, you must use the radials that have “arrows” associated with them from the appropriate NAVAID
 

    • Treat intersection holding as if it were a VOR
    • Primary NAVAID:
      • The NAVAID and radial from that NAVAID upon which the holding pattern is oriented
    • Secondary NAVAID:
      • The NAVAID and radial from that NAVAID which defines the holding fix (intersection) on the primary radial

 

  • When flying a point-to-point to an intersection you will likely hit one radial before the other; just keep the same holding entry procedures in mind and apply them here
  • When holding at a VOR station, the reciprocal of the holding course is ALWAYS the same as the radial
  • At an intersection, however, this will only be true when the holding pattern is oriented so that the inbound leg is toward the station
  • Holding is always INBOUND to a FIX
  • When that fix is an intersection, the inbound holding course could possibly be away from the station

 

Procedure:

    1. Start speed reduction when 3 minutes or less from the holding fix. Cross the holding fix, initially, at or below the maximum holding airspeed
    2. Copy and read back holding clearance
    3. Determine the holding course and reciprocal of the holding course (radial)
      • The holding course is the inbound course to the holding fix
      • The reciprocal of the holding course (radial) is used to determine the direction of entry turn. When the holding fix is a NAVAID, the reciprocal will be the same as the radial
    4. Determine the direction of the entry
    5. Tune and ID appropriate stations
    6. Proceed direct the holding fix
      • When an aircraft is 3 minutes or less from a clearance limit and a clearance beyond the fix has not been received, the pilot is expected to start a speed reduction so that the aircraft will cross the fix, initially, at or below the maximum holding airspeed
    7. Enter orbit: perform the Ts
      • TIME: note the time
      • TURN: turn as determined to execute entry with whichever of the below require the least bank angle:
        • All turns are done at: 3 per second; or 30° angle of bank; or 25° angle of bank provided a flight director system is used, whichever requires the least bank angle
      • TIME: start timing when wings level or abeam the station (head of the needle on or below the 90), whichever occurs last
      • TYPE: put the holding course in the MFD
      • TALK: give the voice report and check EFC

UHF:

[Place], [Callsign], holding at [Location], [Time], [Altitude]

  1. After completion of outbound timing or at the specified DME, turn to intercept the holding course inbound
  2. During the last half of the turn, check the position of the head of the needle relative to the holding course
    • The head of the needle should always be in a place to fall onto the course when you’re checking your turn inbound
    • If not on course, stop the turn with a double the angle intercept for VOR holding
    • When turning to intercept the inbound course in TACAN holding, an intercept greater than double the angle will be required
    • Begin timing once wings level inbound to the fix or station
    • This is to compensate for greater spacing between radials when holding away from the station. In TACAN holding a 30 to 45° angle of intercept will establish the aircraft on the inbound course
    • Once established on course, commence tracking inbound to the holding fix
    • It is critical to establish the aircraft on course prior to crossing the holding fix
  3. Continue to the station and initiate your turn in the direction of holding
  4. Roll out of the turn on the outbound heading parallel to the holding course
  5. Start the outbound leg timing, if required, when wings are level or abeam the station
  6. At the completion of the outbound leg timing or at the specified DME, turn toward the holding radial to intercept the holding course
  7. As you roll wings level, check the position of the head of the needle to the holding course
    • If they differ, note the number of degrees difference
    • This will determine the amount of heading correction to use on the outbound leg of your correction orbit. Do this as quickly as possible
  8. If you had to set an intercept when you turned inbound, there are winds to correct for
    • TAIL – RADIAL – WIND
    • When checking the wind, resist the temptation to check wind from the head of the needle because it will be on the top of the RMI where you are looking, this will give you opposite winds causing error
  9. Establish the aircraft on the holding course and track inbound to the holding fix
  10. At station passage, note how much time has elapsed on the inbound leg
    • Determine the difference between the elapsed time and the desired inbound timing
    • You will use this correction factor for timing on the outbound leg of your correction orbit

 

AFTER EVERY ORBIT DO THE Ts. IF IT DOESN’T APPLY, IGNORE IT BUT TIME IS ALWAYS AN EFC CHECK TO GET AN UPDATE WITHIN 5 MINUTES OF THE REPORTED EFC TIME
 

    • UHF:[Place], [Callsign], departing holding

 

  • Airspeed, when departing holding for an approach, is pilot’s discretion of either slow or normal cruise

 

  • Advise ATC immediately what increased airspeed is necessary, if any, due to turbulence, icing, etc., or if unable to accomplish any part of the holding procedures. When such higher speeds become no longer necessary, operate according to the appropriate published holding speed and notify ATC

 

 

NOTE:
Do not hold for an approach you cannot legally execute. If current weather at destination is less than published weather minimums for any suitable approach, request clearance to your alternate airport
 

Procedure: (Two Nav Receivers)

  1. Copy and read back holding instructions
  2. Determine the direction of heading to turn to for the entry orbit
    • Use the sector method
  3. Using two NAVAIDs intersection procedures, ensure they are tuned and set, toggled and twisted
    • The primary NAVAID should be tuned into the fix from which the holding radial is off of
    • The secondary NAVAID should be tuned into the identifying station
  4. When 10° of the intersection, be sure you have switched to the primary NAVAID toggle (be it VOR or TACAN as set up)
  5. At the intersection, commence the Ts as with normal holding

 

NOTE:
In station side holding, inbound to the fix means away from the station. You will be using the TAIL of the needle to fly inbound
 

  • Once established, inbound switch the toggle and twist in the radial use to identify the intersection
    • Continue following the inbound radial on the HSI
    • This should be accomplished no later than 30 seconds after wings level inbound
  • Commence a no-wind orbit as with any holding and once timing starts, twist in the holding course
  • Continue to hold as normal

 

Procedure: (One Nav Receiver)

  • Similar to using two NAVAIDs however, in this case, you will be using a single receiver to monitor both the primary and secondary NAVAIDs
  1. 3 to 5 minutes prior to reaching the holding intersection, ensure the secondary NAVAID is tuned and identified to check your position
    • Keep the volume low and constantly IDing to save time in the pattern
  2. Determine the entry
  3. At the intersection, perform the Ts
  4. When timing outbound, tune and ID the primary NAVAID and toggle/twist the inbound course
  5. At the completion of outbound timing, turn in and no later than 30 seconds after rolling wings level
    • Get back on the radial
    • Tune, ID, toggle, and twist the secondary NAVAID to identify the intersection
  6. Commence a no-wind orbit the same way
  7. Commence a correction orbit the same way
    • Corrections will be done using the TACAN holding procedures, using a correction factor; however, due to airspeed, possibly changing the length of legs, be conservative

 

Departing Holding:

  • When holding at a fix and instructions are received specifying the time of departure from the fix, the pilot should adjust the aircraft’s flight path within the limits of the established holding pattern in order to leave the fix at the exact time specified
  • After departing the holding fix, normal speed is to be resumed with respect to other governing speed requirements, such as terminal area speed limits, specific ATC requests, etc.
  • Where the fix is associated with an instrument approach and timed approaches are in effect, a procedure turn must not be executed unless the pilot advises ATC, since aircraft holding are expected to proceed inbound on final approach directly from the holding pattern when approach clearance is received

 

Intersection holding steps that must be repeated:

 

Dual Nav Single Nav
Time Yes Yes
Tune No Yes
ID No Yes
Toggle Yes No
Twist Yes Yes

 

Holding Entries Overview
Figure 2: Holding Entries Overview

Practical Test Standards:

Reverse Sensing:

  • Reverse sensing is a conditions where the navigation instrument indicates the inverse of what it should
  • To avoid reverse sensing:
    • Intercept and track inbound TO
    • Intercept and track outbound FROM

 

VFR Holding:

  • While rare, there is such a thing as VFR Holding
  • Usually it is just an ATC instruction to remain clear of a particular area or airspace, or to circle a known point
  • Sometimes it is a little more indepth and part of local traffic flow such as for an event; for example, Oshkosh

References: