Unit 3 – Tower Controlled Airport Traffic Pattern

Objective: In this unit, you will develop the knowledge and skill to obtain a taxi clearance, obtain a takeoff clearance for closed traffic, and obtain a landing clearance at a tower controlled airport.

Completion Standards: You have completed this unit when you can consistently:

  • Obtain clearances from ground and tower control without needing to request ‘Say Again’ for each clearance.
  • Fly the traffic pattern at at a tower controlled airport, following the visual glide slope indicator to the runway, and exit the runway.


With the reduced visual system, you will need to fly the traffic pattern by relying more on the altimeter and heading indicator. Research the Camarillo Airport (KCMA) and create a diagram that identifies the headings and altitudes for each leg of the traffic pattern. On the diagram:

  • Determine the runway heading, crosswind, downwind and base headings
  • Plan to turn crosswind at 700 above field elevation
  • Plan to turn downwind at 1000 above field elevation (traffic pattern altitude)
  • Use the left hand window to determine your abeam landing position. Start your descent by reducing power.
  • Turn base when you have descended 300 feet (700 AGL)
  • Turn final when you have descended 600 feet (400 AGL).

Radio Phraseology

Communicating with Air Traffic Control requires you to learn a new language – well, almost. It’s English, but its Aviation English. Here are some of the common phrases and terms used in communication with ATC that you need to be familiar with to ensure you understand its meaning and you use the correct the terminology.

  • ABEAM − An aircraft is “abeam” a fix, point, or object when that fix, point, or object is approximately90 degrees to the right or left of the aircraft track. Abeam indicates a general position rather than
    a precise point.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE − Let me know that you have received and understood this message.
  • ADVISE INTENTIONS − Tell me what you plan to do.
  • BLOCKED − Phraseology used to indicate that a radio transmission has been distorted or interrupted due to multiple simultaneous radio transmissions.
  • CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF − ATC authorization for an aircraft to depart. It is predicated on known traffic and known physical airport conditions.
  • CLEARED FOR THE OPTION − ATC authorization for an aircraft to make a touch-and-go, low
    approach, missed approach, stop and go, or full stop landing at the discretion of the pilot. It is normally used in training so that an instructor can evaluate a student’s performance under changing situations.
  • CLEARED TO LAND − ATC authorization for an aircraft to land. It is predicated on known traffic and known physical airport condition.
  • GO AHEAD − Proceed with your message. Not to be used for any other purpose.
  • GO AROUND − Instructions for a pilot to abandon his/her approach to landing. Additional instructions may follow. Unless otherwise advised by ATC, a VFR aircraft or an aircraft conducting visual approach should overfly the runway while climbing to traffic pattern altitude and enter the traffic pattern via the crosswind leg.
  • HAVE NUMBERS − Used by pilots to inform ATC that they have received runway, wind, and altimeter information only.
  • HOW DO YOU HEAR ME? − A question relating to the quality of the transmission or to determine how well the transmission is being received.
  • IDENT − A request for a pilot to activate the aircraft transponder identification feature. This will help the controller to confirm an aircraft identity or to identify an aircraft.
  • IMMEDIATELY − Used by ATC or pilots when such action compliance is required to avoid an imminent situation.
  • LINE UP AND WAIT − Used by ATC to inform a pilot to taxi onto the departure runway to line
    up and wait. It is not authorization for takeoff. It is used when takeoff clearance cannot immediately be
    issued because of traffic or other reasons.
  • MAKE SHORT APPROACH − Used by ATC to inform a pilot to alter his/her traffic pattern so as to
    make a short final approach.
  • READ BACK − Repeat my message back to me.
  • REPORT − Used to instruct pilots to advise ATC of specified information; e.g., “Report passing Hamilton VOR.”
  • ROGER − I have received all of your last transmission. It should not be used to answer a
    question requiring a yes or a no answer.
  • RUNWAY HEADING − The magnetic direction that corresponds with the runway centerline extended, not the painted runway number. When cleared to “fly or maintain runway heading,” pilots are expected to fly or maintain the heading that corresponds with the extended centerline of the departure runway. Drift correction shall not be applied; e.g., Runway 4, actual magnetic heading of the runway centerline 044, fly 044.
  • SAY AGAIN − Used to request a repeat of the last transmission. Usually specifies transmission or portion thereof not understood or received; e.g., “Say again all after ABRAM VOR.”
  • SPEAK SLOWER − Used in verbal communications as a request to reduce speech rate.
  • STAND BY − Means the controller or pilot must pause for a few seconds, usually to attend to other duties of a higher priority. Also means to wait as in “stand by for clearance.” The caller should reestablish contact if a delay is lengthy. “Stand by” is not an approval or denial.
  • UNABLE − Indicates inability to comply with a specific instruction, request, or clearance.

You can look up any term in the Pilot/Controller Glossary, which is also included in copies of the FAR/AIM.

Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS)

Similar to an AWOS, most tower controlled airports utilize an ATIS to disseminate non control information to arrival and departing aircraft. This serves to reduce frequency congestion on the controller frequencies and improve controller effectiveness through the reduction of transmitting repetitive information.

ATIS information includes the time of the latest weather sequence, ceiling, visibility, obstructions to visibility, temperature, dew point (if available), wind direction (magnetic), and velocity, altimeter, other pertinent remarks, instrument approach and runway in use. The ceiling/sky condition, visibility, and obstructions to vision may be omitted from the ATIS broadcast if the ceiling is above 5,000 feet and the visibility is more than 5 miles or you may hear, “the weather is better than 5000 and 5,”. The departure runway will only be given if different from the landing runway except at locations having a separate ATIS for departure. The broadcast may include the appropriate frequency and instructions for VFR arrivals to make initial contact with approach control.

Pilots of aircraft arriving or departing the terminal area can receive the continuous ATIS broadcast at times when cockpit duties are least pressing and listen to as many repeats as desired. ATIS broadcast must be updated upon the receipt of any official hourly and special weather. A new recording will also be made when there is a change in other pertinent data such as runway change, instrument approach in use, etc.

Here’s an example ATIS broadcast:

Dulles International information Sierra. 1300 zulu weather. Measured ceiling three thousand overcast. Visibility three, smoke. Temperature six eight. Wind three five zero at eight. Altimeter two niner niner two. ILS runway one right approach in use. Landing runway one right and left. Departure runway three zero. Armel VORTAC out of service. Advise you have Sierra.

As you’ll see through this lesson, obtaining the ATIS is the first step when departing or arriving a tower controlled airport. When making an initial contact with ATC, pilots should notify controllers on initial contact that they have received the ATIS broadcast by repeating the alphabetical code word appended to the broadcast.

Information Sierra received.

Some airports make their ATIS available via the phone. You can call 805-484-3351 and listen to the Camarillo ATIS. Do this now and practice writing down the ATIS information.

Taxiiing and Ground Control

At a tower controlled airport, movement of aircraft on taxiways and inactive runways is controlled by the ground controller. A clearance from the ground controller is required prior to taxi on these surfaces. Areas that are not controlled by ground control include same ramp areas, especially around hangars, tiewdowns and FBOs. You should pay attention to when you cross from the non-movement area (free to move without a clearance from ATC) to the movement area which does require a clearance. The movement area is dilineated by a single solid line paired with a single broken line (you can think of this as half of a hold short line).

movement area
Movement across the solid side to the broken side requires a clearance from ground control. Movement areas are not typically marked on airport diagrams, however you can generally assume that areas behind the main ramp taxiway will generally be marked as non-movement areas.

Control Tower Table

A table is included on the border of the sectional chart that includes the names, times of use, and frequencies of all tower controlled airports within the airspace depicted on the chart. This is helpful to look up the ground control frequency as its not depicted in the airport data next to the airport on the chart.

Control Tower Table

Airport Diagrams

Reviewing airport diagrams is a mandatory preparatory step for departing or arriving at an airport. All tower controlled airports, and some uncontrolled airports will have an airport diagram available in the A/FD. EFBs such as ForeFlight make finding the airport diagram extremely easy, and even can automatically display the diagram when you arrive at the airport.

Examine the airport diagram for Camarillo. Note that frequency information, field elevation, runway length and width information is available. Taxiways are identified by letters and some buildings may be identified.


Obtaining Taxi Clearance

In this lesson, you still start in a tiedown just east of the tower on the main ramp. Before obtaining a taxi clearance, you would obtain the ATIS, writing it down and configuring your altimeter and considering how the winds will affect the airplane on takeoff and in the pattern. Then review the airport diagram to determine the most likely route from your current position to the active runway. This will help you to more easily interpret the taxi clearance from the ground controller. With a pencil in hand and ready to copy your taxi clearance, you would tune the ground controller frequency and transmit:

Camarillo Ground, Cessna 123AB is just east of tower on the main ramp, ready to taxi for closed traffic, with Information Sierra.

Note that this initial call-up followed the same sequence of the 4 W’s used for self-announcement procedure. ‘just east of the tower’ is our location, and ‘ready to taxi for closed traffic’ is our intentions.

Note that we did not say Camarillo at the end of the transmission. You are no longer broadcasting in the blind, but are initiating a conversation. Also, since you are transmitting on a semi-unique frequency and the controllers are actively listening for communication, appending the facility name to the end of the transmission is not necessary.

If runway 26 was the runway in use, ground control would issue you a taxi clearance similar to this:

Cessna 123AB, Camarillo Ground, taxi to runway 26 via Foxtrot and Alpha.

You would then readback to ensure that you have received the correct message:

Cessna 123AB taxi to runway 26 via Foxtrot and Alpha

And the controller would then hearback, verifying you have received the correct message, but will not transmit again unless your readback is incorrect. You may then taxi to the run-up area adjacent to taxiway Alpha just prior to runway 26.

This is also a good time to review the Airport Sign and Marking Quick Reference. You will see many of these signs and markings as you taxi from parking to your assigned runway. Using the signs, heading indicator/compass and your airport diagram will be critical to ensuring you don’t get lost while taxiing.

Takeoffs, Landings and Tower Control

After completing your run-up, you are ready to request a takeoff clearance from the tower. A clearance is required before taking off or landing on a runway. The tower controls operations associated with the active runway. You would request this by transmitting:

Camarillo Tower, Cessna 123AB, holding short runway 26, closed traffic.

Note again that this initial call-up follows the 4 W’s; ‘holding short runway 26’ is your location, and ‘closed traffic’ is your intentions. The tower controller will typically issue you one of two responses. If another aircraft has already been cleared to land and there is not time for you to depart in front of the arriving aircraft, you will hear:

Cessna 123AB, Camarillo Tower, hold short of runway 26 for landing traffic.

You must always readback hold short instructions, whether they are associated with a taxi clearance or a request for a takeoff clearance. Your response should be:

Cessna 123AB holding short of runway 26.

When the arriving aircraft has landed and has cleared the runway, the tower will then issue you a takeoff clearance:

Cessna 123AB, cleared for takeoff runway 26, closed left traffic, report midfield downwind.

You would then readback:

Cessna 123AB, cleared for takeoff runway 26 for closed left traffic.

Note that you do not report each leg of the traffic pattern at a tower controlled field, only the leg requested by the tower. Enter the runway, start your takeoff roll, liftoff and then enter closed left traffic. When established on the left downwind left, approximately midfield, report:

Cessna 123AB is midfield left downwind for runway 26, full stop.

The controller will respond:

Cessna 123AB, cleared to land runway 26.

And you readback:

Cessna 123AB, cleared to land runway 26.

If there are other aircraft arriving, departing or in the traffic pattern, you may hear variations of these instructions:

Cessna 123AB, traffic departing prior to your arrival, cleared to land runway 26.

Cessna 123AB, you're following a Cherokee turning left base, number two, cleared to land runway 26.

Cessna 123AB, there's a Cirrus on a two mile final, report in sight, cleared to land runway 26, number two.

In each of these cases, you need to readback the landing clearance and confirm that you have the reported traffic in sight. If you do not have the traffic in sight, report ‘Negative Contact’ and ask the controller to ‘call your base’. By asking for this sequencing assistance from the controller you are avoiding turning base inside the other traffic and potentially causing a conflict.

After landing, clear the runway at the first safely available taxiway. If the tower controller is not too busy, you will hear:

Cessna 123AB, say parking.

If you finished with your closed traffic, you would request taxi to the ramp, but in this case, you are intending on flying additional patterns. Request:

Cessna 123AB request taxiback for closed traffic.

If you had exited runway 26 at taxiway Charlie, you would hear:

Cessna 123AB taxi to runway 26 via Hotel and Alpha.

Readback those instructions, taxi to runway 26, and request another takeoff clearance from the tower controller.

Depending on the operations tempo at the time you exit the runway, the tower controller may instruct you to contact the ground controller to obtain your taxi clearance.

Reference: AIM 4-3. Airport Operations.


Class D Airspace

Class D airspace is generally airspace from the surface to 2,500 feet above the airport elevation (charted in MSL) surrounding those airports that have an operational control tower. Unless otherwise authorized, each aircraft must establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic services prior to entering the airspace and thereafter maintain those communications while in the airspace. While in Class Delta airspace, the maximum indicated airspeed is 200 knots.

Class D Airspace is indicated by a dashed blue line.

Class D Airspace Border

Class Delta airspace lateral dimensions are tailored to include all instrument approaches to the airport. The vertical dimensions is typically 2,500 AGL. All Class Delta airspace will have the MSL ceiling of the airspace depicted in a dashed blue box.

Class D Airspace Altitude

Here are some examples of the variations of Class Delta airspace you may encounter.

Class Delta Airspace Class Delta Airspace with a Class E Transition Class Delta Airspace with a Class D Transition Class Delta Airspace underlying Class Charlie Airspace, with a cutout for an uncontrolled airport
Class Delta Airspace - Plain Vanilla Class D Airspace with Class E Transition Class D Airspace with Class D Transition Class D Airspace underneath Class C


  • Arrival extensions are used to protect IFR aircraft on instrument approaches as they approach the Class D airport.
  • When Class Charlie airspace overlies Class Delta airspace, the Class Delta airspace ceiling is indicated by [-XX], which indicates Class Delta airspace extends from the surface and up to, but not including the altitude in brackets. Class Charlie airspace starts at the altitude indicated in the bracket.

Source: Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, pp. 14-2.

VFR Weather Minimums in Class D Airspace

As Class Delta airspace is controlled airspace, the standard 3 mile visibility and 1,000 ft above, 500 ft below, 2000 ft horizontal apply.

Airspace Requirements and Services

Class Delta airspace is controlled airspace, and does require pilots to establish communication prior to entering the airspace, and must maintain communication while in the airspace. Establishing this communication requires a two-way radio, the only equipment required to operate in this airspace. Note that a Mode C transponder is not required. This is because a Class D tower was typically a visual tower, without a radar. Today, many towers do have a radar, but not all. ATC provides traffic advisories in Class D airspace, and provides separation for runway operations, meaning only one aircraft will be cleared to be using the runway at any given time. One of the primary tools that ATC uses to ensure the efficient use of runway is through sequencing arriving aircraft through traffic pattern entry instructions.

Equipment Requirement Entry Requirement ATC Services
Two-way radio Establish communication prior to entering airspace, maintain communication while in airspace Traffic Advisories (workload permitting), Runway Operations Separation

Airspace/Airport Review:

Examine Camarillo airport on the Los Angeles Sectional chart and the Southwest US Airport/Facility Directory and answer these question below.
Hover over the question to check your answer. If you were not correct, please references the resources below

Resources – Aeronautical Chart User GuideAirspace Summary

What type of airport is Camarillo airport?
What is the field elevation of Camarillo airport?
What is the traffic pattern altitude at Camarillo airport?
What is the length of the longest runway at Camarillo airport?
What is the Control Tower frequency at Camarillo airport?
What does the * and the CTAF symbol indicate after the CT frequency?
What are the runway identifiers and traffic pattern directions at Camrillo airport
What type of visual glideslope indicators does each runway have?
Determine what type of airspace is directly over the airport.
What are the VFR weather minimums associated with this airspace?
What is the ATC communication requirement to operate in this airspace?
What is the equipment requirement to operate in this airspace?
What type of services does ATC provide in this airspace to VFR aircraft??
What type of airspace is above the airport airspace?
What is the floor of this airspace?
What are the VFR weather minimums associated with this airspace?
What is the ATC communication requirement to operate in this airspace?
What is the equipment requirement to operate in this airspace under VFR?
What type of services does ATC provide in this airspace to VFR aircraft?


You can check weather at Camarillo by calling the ATIS using the phone number listed in the A/FD, using a web site such as http://www.aviationweather.gov/metar or by using any app on a phone or tablet that provides METAR data for airports.

Aviation weather products use abbreviations to communicate a lot of information in a small format. You can study this guide to interpret METAR and AWOS report.


  1. Review the traffic pattern diagram you made in the preparation section earlier. Keep this diagram on your kneeboard so that you can refer to it while flying the traffic pattern.
  2. Console: Ensure Panel Master switch is on, throttle is at idle and mixture is rich.
  3. Launch Microsoft Flight Simulator.
  4. Select ‘Cessna 172 – KCMA – East Ramp’ flight file.
  5. Print and review this airport diagram to determine the aircraft’s position on the runway and route to taxi to the runway.
  6. Launch PilotEdge and connect to the PilotEdge network.

Experience Checklist

  1. Obtain the ATIS in the simulator; enter the KCMA ATIS into the Comm 1 radio and switch it to the active frequency. Practice writing down the ATIS as fast as it is heard. Determine the runway to be used based upon the reported winds.
  2. Enter the Camarillo Ground frequency into the Comm 1 Radio.
  3. Request a taxi clearance from Camarillo Ground. Be sure to state your location, intentions (closed traffic) and current ATIS.
  4. Readback the taxi clearance received from the ground controller.
  5. Taxi to the assigned runway.
  6. Complete the runup and before takeoff checks.
  7. Enter the Camarillo Tower frequency into the Comm 1 Radio.
  8. Request a takeoff clearance from the tower controller. Be sure to state your location and intentions (closed traffic).
  9. Readback the takeoff clearance. Take note of the leg you need to report each circuit.
  10. Perform a collision avoidance scan to ensure the runway is clear at all air and ground incursion points.
  11. Enter the runway, takeoff and fly the traffic pattern using the headings and altitudes you determined during preparation for this lesson.
  12. At the requested leg, report your location to the tower controller and intentions (full stop).
  13. Readback the landing clearance, complete the pattern, land and clear the runway.
  14. Request a taxi back for another departure.
  15. Continue to fly left traffic until you can consistently fly the traffic pattern and communicate with the tower controller without needing to request ‘Say Again?’
  16. If you are having trouble obtaining alignment with the runway when turning final, use the heading indicator to determine a heading to fly back to the airport. If you lose complete sight of the airport, reset the simulator and start again.


Reflect on which aspects of hearing and interpreting the controller instructions were easier than others. Bring these reflections to your next session with your flight instructor.