Departure Procedures (Part Twelve)

Visual Climb Over Airport (VCOA)

A visual climb over airport (VCOA) is a departure option for an IFR aircraft, operating in VMC equal to or greater than the specified visibility and ceiling, to visually conduct climbing turns over the airport to the published “climb-to” altitude from which to proceed with the instrument portion of the departure. A VCOA is a departure option developed when obstacles farther than 3 SM from the airport require a CG of more than 200 ft/NM.


These procedures are published in the Take-Off Minimums and (Obstacle) Departure Procedures section of the TPP. [Figure 1-36] Prior to departure, pilots are required to notify ATC when executing the VCOA.

Figure 1-36. Examples of takeoff minimums obstacle clearance.

Figure 1-36. Examples of takeoff minimums obstacle clearance. [click image to enlarge]

Noise Abatement Procedures

As the aviation industry continues to grow and air traffic increases, so does the population of people and businesses around airports. As a result, noise abatement procedures have become commonplace at most of the nation’s airports. 14 CFR Part 150 specifies the responsibilities of the FAA to investigate the recommendations of the airport operator in a noise compatibility program and approve or disapprove the noise abatement suggestions. This is a crucial step in ensuring that the airport is not unduly inhibited by noise requirements and that air traffic workload and efficiency are not significantly impacted, all while considering the noise problems addressed by the surrounding community.

While most DPs are designed for obstacle clearance and workload reduction, there are some SIDs that are developed solely to comply with noise abatement requirements. Portland International Jetport is an example of an airport where a SID was created strictly for noise abatement purposes as noted in the DP. [Figure 1-36] Typically, noise restrictions are incorporated into the main body of the SID. These types of restrictions require higher departure altitudes, larger climb gradients, reduced airspeeds, and turns to avoid specific areas. Noise restrictions may also be evident during a radar departure. ATC may require you to turn away from your intended course or vector you around a particular area. While these restrictions may seem burdensome, it is important to remember that it is your duty to comply with written and spoken requests from ATC.


Additionally, when required, departure instructions specify the actual heading to be flown after takeoff, as is the case in Figure 1-37 under the departure route description, “Climb via heading 112 degrees…” Some existing procedures specify, “Climb runway heading.”Over time, both of these departure instructions will be updated to read, “Climb heading 112 degrees….” Runway heading is the magnetic direction that corresponds with the runway centerline extended (charted on the airport diagram), not the numbers painted on the runway. Pilots cleared to “fly or maintain runway heading” are expected to fly or maintain the published heading that corresponds with the extended centerline of the departure runway (until otherwise instructed by ATC), and are not to apply drift correction (e.g., RWY 11, actual magnetic heading of the runway centerline 112.2 degrees, “fly heading 112 degrees”). In the event of parallel departures, this prevents a loss of separation caused by only one aircraft applying a wind drift.

Figure 1-37. Noise abatement SID.

Figure 1-37. Noise abatement SID. [click image to enlarge]

Procedural Notes

An important consideration to make during your flight planning is whether or not you are able to fly your chosen departure procedure as charted.


DP Responsibilities

Responsibility for the safe execution of DPs rests on the shoulders of both ATC and the pilot. Without the interest and attention of both parties, the IFR system cannot work in harmony, and achievement of safety is impossible.

ATC, in all forms, is responsible for issuing clearances appropriate to the operations being conducted, assigning altitudes for IFR flight above the minimum IFR altitudes for a specific area of controlled airspace, ensuring the pilot has acknowledged the clearance or instructions, and ensuring the correct read back of instructions. Specifically related to departures, ATC is responsible for specifying the direction of takeoff or initial heading when necessary, obtaining pilot concurrence that the procedure complies with local traffic patterns, terrain, and obstruction clearance, and including DP as part of the ATC clearance when pilot compliance for separation is necessary.

The pilot has a number of responsibilities when simply operating in conjunction with ATC or when using DPs under an IFR clearance:

  • Acknowledge receipt and understanding of an ATC clearance.
  • Read back any part of a clearance that contains “hold short” instructions.
  • Request clarification of clearances.
  • Request an amendment to a clearance if it is unacceptable from a safety perspective.
  • Promptly comply with ATC requests. Advise ATC immediately if unable to comply with a clearance.
  • You are required to contact ATC if you are unable to comply with all-engines-operating climb gradients and climb rates. It is also expected that you are capable of maintaining the climb gradient outlined in either a standard or non-standard DP. If you cannot maintain a standard climb gradient or the climb gradient specified in an ODP, you must wait until you can depart under VMC.

When planning for a departure, pilots should:

  • Consider the type of terrain and other obstructions in the vicinity of the airport.
  • Determine if obstacle clearance can be maintained visually, or if they need to make use of a DP.
  • Determine if an ODP or SID is available for the departure airport.
  • Determine what actions allow for a safe departure out of an airport that does not have any type of affiliated DPs.

By simply complying with DPs in their entirety as published, obstacle clearance is guaranteed. Depending on the type of departure used, responsibility for terrain clearance and traffic separation may be shared between pilots and controllers.