Pilot's tip of the week

Obstacle Departure Procedures


Subscriber question:

"Are pilots required to fly an Obstacle Departure Procedure (if one is available) when departing into IMC?" - Dave T.


“Obstacle departure procedures or ODPs are one way to depart an airport safely in IMC conditions.

When an instrument approach is initially established for an airport, the need for departure procedures is assessed. The procedure designer conducts an obstacle analysis. If a departing 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 obstacle departure procedure is established. The fact that an obstacle departure procedure is established means there is something in the way of departing aircraft like maybe a big pile of rocks.

Obstacle departure procedures are not mandatory unless of course, it was included with the ATC clearance. Typically the ATC clearance will not include the ODP unless the controller assigns it for separation. It is the pilot’s responsibility to avoid obstacles until at or above the minimum vectoring altitude.

The Aeronautical Information Manual spells out best practices for pilots. Here is what it says about departure procedures.

Each pilot, prior to departing on an IFR flight should:

  • Consider the type of terrain and other obstacles on or in the vicinity of the departure airport.
  • Determine if an ODP is available.
  • Determine if obstacle avoidance can be maintained visually or if the ODP should be flown.
  • Consider the effect of degraded climb performance and the actions to take in the event of an engine loss during the departure. (I guess this assumes you have more than one engine.) Pilots should notify ATC as soon as possible of reduced climb capability in that circumstance.

So, while ODPs are not mandatory, they sure look like a good idea to me. If you choose to do it on your own, just remember those rocks and towers won’t be getting out of your way and it now becomes your job to figure out how to miss them.”

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