Approach & Departure Charts

When it comes to instrument flying and training, you get introduced to a lot of new material which can be a mouthful to learn and getting adopted too.  One of the biggest (and probably most challenging) thing about learning instrument flying is reading and understanding approach and departure procedures. Over the course of this semester, I’ve had to adapt to getting use to reading those charts and thought it would be cool to give a basic introduction of how to read these procedures (keep in my mind I will only do a basic introduction since there’s a lot of information.

Departure Procedures

As the name implies, the departure procedure is used for all aircrafts that are leaving an airport to its next destination. Before you can begin the departure procedure, you first must pick up your IFR clearance from clearance delivery to your next destination. When you call for your IFR clearance, you will receive a lot of information to read back, so here’s a basic acronym that my ground instructor has taught me so that I know what to expect from clearance delivery; and that acronym is CRAFT and here’s what each word stands for

C- clearance- The first thing you will here is the clearance to your destination, so let’s so were flying to Oklahoma City you would here “cleared to Will Rogers World Airport (KOKC)

R- route of flight- When it comes to the rout of flight you will typically hear what you will be flying whether if it’s tracking VOR’s, Waypoints, Departure routes and a lot more.

A-Altitude- You then will be given an assigned altitude to climb to once you’ve departed and then another altitude for a later time. Example “fly runway heading climb and maintain 6,000 and expect 14,000 10 minutes after departure.

F- Frequency- Next, will be the frequencies you will be talking too once you’re on the departure leg of your flight. Example “departure frequency is 124.2”

T-Transponder- and finally you will be given a transponder code so that ATC can identify you and your route of flight. Example “squawk 7642”.

Now let’s look at an actual departure procedure in the chart form which pretty much all pilots use especially with the Foreflight App.

Here we have the Leona One departure out of Houston Hobby airport. As you can see you can identify the VOR’s, frequencies, flight levels and how far these legs are from one another. So, for example when we are ready for takeoff out of Hobby, we will take to tower on 118.7, then switch to departure on 132.25. As you can see once we hit Humble we then go to Willis, and then Leona. Depending on which direction we are going we will then go to Cedar Creek or Doley. You can also see the altitudes we are flying by identifying the number over the route of flight like where you 10,000 and Fl 180 (18,000 ft.). The great thing about these altitudes is that you do not have to wait for ATC to dive you these assigned altitudes; in fact, you are required to follow these departure assignments as stated by the FAA, the only way you can deviate from these instructions is if you are in an emergency or cause you to violate an FAA regulation.

Arrival Procedure

Again, as the name implies, the arrival procedure is used for aircrafts that are approaching and landing at their destination. As you will see here in a second the arrival procedure looks almost exactly like a departure procedure, yet the arrival focuses on getting to the airport rather than getting away from it. So, let’s look at an arrival procedure in the chart form.

Again, you see that the arrival procedure looks at exactly like the departure procedure, but you will see more procedures like holding patterns, radial tracking and assigned altitudes; in fact speaking of altitudes I’m sure some of you have noticed lines above, below or in between the altitudes and all those basically say if the line is under the altitude it basically means be at or above, if it’s below like at PETER it means be at or below, and finally between like at LOVES means be at the assigned altitude. And just like the departure procedure, you also see the frequencies you can expect and who you will most likely talking to once you are arriving at your destination.

Once you’re nearing your airport you then will go to the specified arrival for the runway which will be either a ILS, Localizer, or an RNAV approach into whatever airport you are arriving in. For example below is the ILS approach into runway 4 at Houston Hobby Airport.

The top third of the chart you can see multiple things like the frequencies for the tower, weather information, ground control, airport elevation, course approach and much more. The next third shows the actual course approach and what points you will fly over before reaching the runway. And then right below you see sort of the step-down view of the approach and the altitudes you will fly at before you begin the final descent into the airport. The final feature I want to point out on this chart is the missed approach procedures if you must declare one. If you notice just below the step-down portion you will see 1,600 feet and RAYCI. This means that if you have to declare a missed approach you will climb and maintain 1,600 feet, fly runway heading and proceed to RAYCI and hold as published and wait for further instructions from ATC.

As you can see, it’s certainly a lot to learn, and it can get confusing quickly, but just like any other skill that you learn the more practice you get the better you become at it. Like I said in this is only a basic introduction into approach and arrival charts and believe me there’s a lot more features and terminology in these charts.

Well guys that’s it for this week’s blog, Also, make sure to check out  for other great blogs and featured stories on other pilot stories as well as other reviews on aviation related articles. As always guys remember that “adventure is out there!”




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