Departure Procedures (Part Eleven)

SID Altitudes

SID altitudes can be charted in four different ways. The first are mandatory altitudes, the second, minimum altitudes, the third, maximum altitudes and the fourth is a combination of minimum and maximum altitudes or also referred to as block altitudes. Below are examples of how each will be shown on a SID chart.

Some SIDs may still have “(ATC)” adjacent to a crossing altitude as shown in Figure 1-33 which implies that the crossing altitude is there to support an ATC requirement. A new charting standard has begun a process to remove, over a period of time, the ATC annotation. The Cowboy Four Departure (RNAV) shown in Figure 1-34 depicts the new charting standard without ATC annotations. When necessary, ATC may amend or delete SID crossing altitude restrictions; when doing so, ATC assumes responsibility for obstacle clearance until the aircraft is re-established laterally and vertically on the published SID route.

Figure 1-33. Crossing altitude is there to support an ATC requirement.

Figure 1-33. Crossing altitude is there to support an ATC requirement. [click image to enlarge]


Figure 1-34. New charting standard without ATC annotations.

Figure 1-34. New charting standard without ATC annotations. [click image to enlarge]

Pilot Responsibility for Use of RNAV Departures

RNAV usage brings with it multitudes of complications as it is being implemented. It takes time to transition, to disseminate information, and to educate current and potential users. As a current pilot using the NAS, you need to have a clear understanding of the aircraft equipment requirements for operating in a given RNP environment. You must understand the type of navigation system installed in your aircraft, and furthermore, you must know how your system operates to ensure that you can comply with all RNAV requirements. Operational information should be included in your AFM or its supplements. Additional information concerning how to use your equipment to its fullest capacity, including “how to” training, may be gathered from your avionics manufacturer. If you are in doubt about the operation of your avionics system and its ability to comply with RNAV requirements, contact the FAA directly through your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). RNAV departure procedures are being developed at a rapid pace to provide RNAV capabilities at all airports. With every chart revision cycle, new RNAV departures are being added for small and large airports. These departures are flown in the same manner as traditional navigation-based departures; pilots are provided headings, altitudes, navigation waypoint, and departure descriptions. RNAV SIDs are found in the TPP with traditional departure procedures.


Radar Departures

A radar departure is another option for departing an airport on an IFR flight. You might receive a radar departure if the airport does not have an established departure procedure, if you are unable to comply with a departure procedure, or if you request “No SIDs” as a part of your flight plan. Expect ATC to issue an initial departure heading if you are being radar vectored after takeoff; however, do not expect to be given a purpose for the specific vector heading. Rest assured that the controller knows your flight route and will vector you into position. By nature of the departure type, once you are issued your clearance, the responsibility for coordination of your flight rests with ATC, including the tower controller and, after handoff, the departure controller who will remain with you until you are released on course and allowed to “resume own navigation.”

For all practical purposes, a radar departure is the easiest type of departure to use. It is also a good alternative to a published departure procedure, particularly when none of the available departure procedures are conducive to your flight route. However, it is advisable to always maintain a detailed awareness of your location while you are being radar vectored by ATC. If for some reason radar contact is lost, you will be asked to provide position reports in order for ATC to monitor your flight progress. Also, ATC may release you to “resume own navigation” after vectoring you off course momentarily for a variety of reasons, including weather or traffic.

Upon initial contact, state your aircraft or flight number, the altitude you are climbing through, and the altitude to which you are climbing. The controller will verify that your reported altitude matches that emitted by your transponder. If your altitude does not match, or if you do not have Mode C capabilities, you will be continually required to report your position and altitude for ATC.

The controller is not required to provide terrain and obstacle clearance just because ATC has radar contact with your aircraft. It remains your responsibility until the controller begins to provide navigational guidance in the form of radar vectors. Once radar vectors are given, you are expected to promptly comply with headings and altitudes as assigned. Question any assigned heading if you believe it to be incorrect or if it would cause a violation of a regulation, then advise ATC immediately and obtain a revised clearance.

Diverse Vector Area

ATC may establish a minimum vectoring altitude (MVA) around certain airports. This altitude, based on terrain and obstruction clearance, provides controllers with minimum altitudes to vector aircraft in and around a particular location. However, at times, it may be necessary to vector aircraft below this altitude to assist in the efficient flow of departing traffic. For this reason, an airport may have an established Diverse Vector Area (DVA). This DVA may be established below the MVA or Minimum IFR Altitude (MIA) in a radar environment at the request of Air Traffic. This type of DP meets the TERPs criteria for diverse departures, obstacles and terrain avoidance in which random radar vectors below the MVA/MIA may be issued to departing traffic.


The existence of a DVA will be noted in the Takeoff Minimums and Obstacle Departure Procedures section of the U.S. Terminal Procedure Publication (TPP). The Takeoff Departure procedure will be listed first, followed by any applicable DVA. Pilots should be aware that Air Traffic facilities may utilize a climb gradient greater than the standard 200 ft/NM within a DVA. This information will be identified in the DVA text for pilot evaluation against the aircraft’s performance. Pilots should note that the DVA has been assessed for departures which do not follow a specified ground track, but will remain within the specified area. ATC may also vector an aircraft off a previously assigned DP. In all cases, the minimum 200 ft/NM climb gradient is assumed unless a higher is specified on the departure, and obstacle clearance is not provided by ATC until the controller begins to provide navigational guidance (vectors). Lastly, pilots should understand ATC instructions take precedence over an ODP [Figure 1-35].

Figure 1-35. Diverse vector area establishment criteria.

Figure 1-35. Diverse vector area establishment criteria. [click image to enlarge]