Pilot's tip of the week

Deadly IFR Trap


Subscriber question:

"This is a comment more than a question. I am a CFII and one thing I make sure ALL my instrument students have a clear understanding of are Obstacle Departure Procedures. Not understanding them or knowing when they should be used can be a fatal mistake. I think it's worth covering in a tip" - Daniel F.


“Sure. Think about this little scenario regarding that. It starts this way, a newly-minted instrument pilot departing IFR from a strange airport with a 600-foot ceiling, three miles visibility, and good weather just a few miles away. Just the kind of situation this guy thought he got his instrument rating for.

Just a few minutes on instruments, I’ll be on top, and then sunshine all the way to my destination in good weather.

His ATC clearance was direct to a local VOR about five miles southwest of the airport. After that, as filed. The pilot was departing to the west on Runway 27 and as expected, he entered the clouds about 600 feet.

Soon thereafter, he began his turn towards the VOR. When the pilot failed to contact Departure Control, a search was begun. It was ultimately determined that the aircraft struck a tower located southwest of the airport at an elevation of 1,200 MSL.

He actually did comply with his ATC clearance, but he failed to notice that small black  on the NACO Approach Charts for the departure airport.

Failing to note that little symbol turned out to be a deadly mistake for this pilot. The symbol indicates that either there are non-standard take-off minimums or an Obstacle Departure Procedure for the airport.

To determine if there, in fact, was an Obstacle Departure Procedure, the pilot is required to look up the airport in the front of the Approach Plate Book. In fact, the procedure for Runway 27 called for him to climb on runway heading to 2,000 MSL before proceeding on course.

These Obstacle Departure Procedures are provided at airports with instrument approaches anytime there is an obstacle problem in the departure path. They provide a safe way to depart the airport under IFR conditions and the trap is that they are not normally part of the ATC clearance.

We as pilots must incorporate a review of the Obstacle Departure Procedures as part of our planning. Since we also don’t know what specific runway we’ll use at that time, it’s also necessary to always make Obstacle Departure Procedures a part of your pre-takeoff briefing.”

Additional tips:

AeroNav products (government charts) list Obstacle Departure Procedures (ODPs) in the front of each regional booklet in the section titled “Takeoff Minimums”. The airports are listed alphabetically by city, rather than airport name, so you’ll find All-State Regional in the town of Zanesville would be all the way at the end.

Fortunately, Foreflight and most of the other electronic flight planning tools list the ODPs under the Procedures tab of the airport. Click on Departures and then Takeoff Minimums. You still have to scroll through several pages of text to find the procedure if it is not a named graphic procedure.

Jeppesen makes it easy by publishing the Obstacle Departure Procedure directly on the bottom of the approach plate with the takeoff minimums for each runway.

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