Departure Procedures (Part Six)

Departure Procedures

Instrument departure procedures are preplanned IFR procedures that provide obstruction clearance from the terminal area to the appropriate en route structure. Primarily, these procedures are designed to provide obstacle protection for departing aircraft. There are two types of Departure Procedures (DPs):

  • Obstacle Departure Procedures (ODPs) and
  • Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs).

When an instrument approach is initially developed for an airport, the need for an ODP is assessed. If an aircraft may turn in any direction from a runway within the limits of the assessment area and remain clear of obstacles that runway passes what is called a diverse departure assessment, and no ODP is published. A diverse departure assessment ensures that a prescribed, expanding amount of required obstacle clearance (ROC) is achieved during the climb-out until the aircraft can obtain a minimum 1,000 feet ROC in non-mountainous areas or a minimum 2,000 feet ROC in mountainous areas. Unless specified otherwise, required obstacle clearance for all departures, including diverse, is based on the pilot crossing the departure end of the runway (DER) at least 35 feet above the DER elevation, climbing to 400 feet above the DER elevation before making the initial turn, and maintaining a minimum climb gradient of 200 ft/ NM, unless required to level off by a crossing restriction, until the minimum IFR altitude is reached. Following ODP assessment, a SID may still be established for the purposes of ATC flow management, system enhancement, or noise abatement.


Design Criteria

The design of a departure procedure is based on FAA Order 8260.3, United States Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS), which is a living document that is updated frequently. Departure design criterion begins with the assumption of an initial climb of 200 ft/NM after crossing the DER at a height of at least 35 feet. [Figure 1-14] The aircraft climb path assumption provides a minimum of 35 feet of additional obstacle clearance above the required obstacle clearance (ROC), from the DER outward, to absorb variations ranging from the distance of the static source to the landing gear, to differences in establishing the minimum 200 ft/NM climb gradient, etc. The ROC is the planned separation between the obstacle clearance surface (OCS) and the required climb gradient of 200 ft/NM. The ROC value is zero at the DER elevation and increases along the departure route until the ROC value appropriate for en route flight is achieved. The appropriate ROC value for en route operations is typically achieved about 25 NM for 1,000 feet of ROC in non-mountainous areas, and 46 NM for 2,000 feet of ROC in mountainous areas.

Figure 1-14. Previous TERPS departure procedures.

Figure 1-14. Previous TERPS departure procedures. [click image to enlarge]

If taking off from a runway using a diverse departure (a runway without a published ODP), beyond these distances the pilot is responsible for obstacle clearance if not operating on a published route, and if below the MEA or MOCA of a published route, or below an ATC-assigned altitude. [Figure 1-15]

Figure 1-15. Diverse Departure Obstacle Assessment to 25/46 NM.

Figure 1-15. Diverse Departure Obstacle Assessment to 25/46 NM. [click image to enlarge]

Recent changes in TERPS criteria make the OCS lower and more restrictive. [Figure 1-16] However, there are many departures today that were evaluated under the old criteria that allowed some obstacle surfaces to be as high as 35 feet at the DER. [Figure 1-14] Since there is no way for the pilot to determine whether the departure was evaluated using the previous or current criteria, and until all departures have been evaluated using the current criteria, pilots need to be very familiar with the departure environment and associated obstacles, especially if crossing the DER at less than 35 feet.

Figure 1-16. New TERPS departure procedures.

Figure 1-16. New TERPS departure procedures. [click image to enlarge]

All departure procedures are initially assessed for obstacle clearance based on a 40:1 Obstacle Clearance Surface (OCS). If no obstacles penetrate this 40:1 OCS, the standard 200 ft/NM climb gradient provides a minimum of 48 ft/NM of clearance above objects that do not penetrate the slope. The departure design must also include the acquisition of positive course guidance (PCG), typically within 5 to 10 NM of the DER for straight departures. Even when aircraft performance greatly exceeds the minimum climb gradient, the published departure routing must always be flown.


Airports publish the declared distances in the A/FD section of the CS. These include takeoff runway available (TORA), takeoff distance available (TODA), accelerate-stop distance available (ASDA), and landing distance available (LDA). These distances are calculated by adding to the full length of paved runway any applicable clearway or stop-way and subtracting from that sum the sections of the runway unsuitable for satisfying the required takeoff run, takeoff, accelerate/stop, or landing distance as shown in Figure 1-16.

Optimally, the 40 to 1 slope would work for every departure design; however, due to terrain and manmade obstacles, it is often necessary to use alternative requirements to accomplish a safe, obstacle-free departure design. In such cases, the design of the departure may incorporate a climb gradient greater than 200 ft/NM, an increase in the standard takeoff minimums to allow the aircraft to “see and avoid” the obstacles, a standard climb of 200 ft/NM with a specified reduced takeoff length, or a combination of these options and a specific departure route.

If a departure route is specified, it must be flown in conjunction with the other options.

The obstacle environment may require a climb gradient greater than 200 ft/NM. In these cases, the ROC provided above obstacles is equivalent to 24 percent of the published climb gradient. The required climb gradient, for obstacle purposes on ODPs and SIDs, is obtained by using the formulas:

These formulas are published in FAA Order 8260.3 for calculating the required climb gradient to clear obstacles.

The following formula is used for calculating SID climb gradients for other than obstacles (i.e., ATC requirements):

Note: The climb gradient must be equal to or greater than the gradient required for obstacles along the route of flight.


The published climb gradient, obstacle or otherwise, is treated as a plane which must not be penetrated from above until reaching the stated height or has reached the en route environment (e.g., above the MEA, MOCA). Departure design, including climb gradients, does not take into consideration the performance of the aircraft; it only considers obstacle protection for all aircraft. TERPS criteria assume the aircraft is operating with all available engines and systems fully functioning. Development of contingency procedures, required to cover the case of an engine failure, engine out procedures (EOPs) or other emergency in flight that may occur after liftoff, is the responsibility of the operator. When a climb gradient is required for a specific departure, it is vital that pilots fully understand the performance of their aircraft and determine if it can comply with the required climb. The standard climb of 200 ft/NM is not an issue for most aircraft. When an increased climb gradient is specified due to obstacle issues, it is important to calculate aircraft performance, particularly when flying out of airports at higher altitudes on warm days. To aid in the calculations, the front matter of every TPP booklet contains a rate of climb table that relates specific climb gradients and typical groundspeeds. [Figure 1-17].

Figure 1-17. Rate of climb table.

Figure 1-17. Rate of climb table. [click image to enlarge]