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Obstacle Departure Procedure

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Well-known member
Jan 1, 2002
I posted this on ILSApproach and got a variety of responses. I would appreciate the views of people here. With the airport in question you're in radar contact by the time you're at 800' AGL. the original text of my question is below. The question is basically are you required to follow an obstacle departure procedure while on a IFR flight Plan either in or out of IMC.?


There's a controversy brewing here at the FBO where I work as to whether it is mandatory to fly the published obstacle clearance procedure for our airport. Our airport CVO (Corvallis, OR) has an obstacle clearance procedure that has you circle up to the VOR on the field to 3000' MSL (2750'AGL). There are mountains about 10 miles to the west as high as 4000' and everything to the east is flat flood plain. I think most people flying out of Corvallis and up and down this valley fly directly east to the enroute structure or pick up vectors shortly out of the traffic pattern.

Some people here at work that researched this have been told by the local FSDO for one, that when you file IFR here you are required to use this obstacle procedure despite the fact you have a totally flat plain from 360 degrees to maybe 170 degrees. My reading of the AIM seems to imply that you could visually provide your terrain clearance till you're in radar contact which around here is about 1200 MSL or sooner.

Could any of you who have experience with this kind of obstacle procedure, please comment. I don't know what difference it makes but our airport is uncontrolled with Class G to 700' and we're served by Cascade Approach with Radar 25 miles to the south in Eugene.

Thanks for your input.
Interesting. I think AIM 5-2-6 will answer your question. Are you getting an IFR clearance before departure (void time)? If so, does it include a DP? If you want to assume responsibility for obstacle clearance, I believe you can file 'no DP' and depart as you wish. Once in controlled airspace, ATC will let you know how they want you to proceed. I'm sure avbug can answer this one with some proof.
The IFR departure procedure published on the back of the Jepp 10-9 page or 11-1 page is simply an approved departure in the case of an airport which has an obstruction in the 152"/nm plain off any runway.....From an ATC standpoint they really don't care if you follow this or not. I have operated into CVO several times in actual IMC and Cascade approach has no problem with a departure climbing on couse eastbound. If you are cleared on a specific DP with it's own plate (formally known as a SID), this becomes a totally dfifferent matter.....you are required to follow the procedure that is in your clearance.....

Another way of looking at this is that a clearance from an airport served by an obsticle DP will often contain the phrase "Cleared via" ....this means that you proceed to the fix you are cleared via any way you want.... The obsticle DP is simply one methosd of getting to that fix if avoiding terrain is something you care about (ie. it might be a fine idea).

Some airports that are tower controlled and are non-radar....such as RDM in your neck of the woods, expect that IFR departures will use the published DP from a local ATC standpoint. As long as you don't have a MCA or a fully depicted DP, you are good to go....

Clear as mud????
Departure proceedure? We don't need no stinking departure proceedure. Besides, a real man would just take off no matter what. I'm not that tough...in fact, I'm a bit of a weenie...I close my eyes for every takeoff.

Don't call the FSDO for answers. They can't help you, and can offer only an opinion. That opinion does NOT represent the viewpoint of the Administrator, and inspectors at the FSDO level cannot interpret the regulation. Take what you get with a grain of salt (and a slight dash of oregano, but only a slight one).

This sounds like an operation conducted under Part 91. If this is the case, there is no requirement to fly the departure proceedure at all. This is the case regardless of weather in instrument conditions or out, with radar coverage, or without. This differs from Parts 121 or 135, where the certificate holder is obligated to fly the departure proceedure when operating under IFR, regardless of weather instrument conditions might exist.

If you happen to be operating from an airport with an operating control tower, or Class D in general, you are required to follow the departure proceedure. This is described in 91.129(g)(1), copied below. Following this copy, I have included a Legal Interpretation detailing the requirement (and lack thereof) to fly the departure proceedure under IFR.

It's worth noting that if your clearance contains a departure proceedure, you are obligated to fly the proceedure by 91.123(a).

§ 91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions.

(a) When an ATC clearance has been obtained, no pilot in command may deviate from that clearance unless an amended clearance is obtained, an emergency exists, or the deviation is in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory. However, except in Class A airspace, a pilot may cancel an IFR flight plan if the operation is being conducted in VFR weather conditions. When a pilot is uncertain of an ATC clearance, that pilot shall immediately request clarification from ATC.

§ 91.129 Operations in Class D airspace.

(g) Departures. No person may operate an aircraft departing from an airport except in compliance with the following:

(1) Each pilot must comply with any departure procedures established for that airport by the FAA.

November 30, 1993
Dear Mr. McBride and Mr. Birdsong:

This is in response to your letter of June 30, 1993, in which you request an interpretation of Section 91.129(f) of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) (14 CFR Section 91.129 (f)).

Section 91.129(f) states, in part, that no person may operate an aircraft taking off from an airport with an operating control tower unless he complies with any departure procedures established for that airport by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) departure procedures are established to provide a safe and efficient route from an airport to the minimum enroute altitude.

The FAA establishes IFR departure procedures in accordance with criteria set forth in the United States Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPs). IFR departure procedures established under the TERPs are designed to ensure terrain and obstacle clearance provided a pilot adheres to them.

In your letter, you ask whether a pilot must adhere to an IFR departure procedure when cleared for takeoff at an airport with a published IFR departure procedure. You specifically ask whether a pilot is required to adhere to such a procedure under various operating conditions.

Under Section 91.113(b), when weather conditions permit, a pilot must operate his aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft regardless of whether the flight is conducted under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or under IFR. However, under Part 91, a pilot generally is not required to adhere to a published IFR departure procedure. Under Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), a pilot should, but is not required to, follow an IFR departure procedure. When outside of radar coverage, however, a pilot remains responsible for terrain and obstacle clearance.

Furthermore, Section 91.123 provides that a pilot may not deviate from an Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance except in an emergency or unless an amended clearance has been obtained. Accordingly, a pilot operating under Part 91 must follow an IFR departure procedure when it is part of the applicable ATC clearance.

Under Part 121 or Part 135, a pilot is required to follow any published IFR departure procedure regardless of whether the flight is conducted under VMC or under IMC.

If you have any further questions regarding this matter, please contact Patricia R. Lane, Manager, Airspace and Air Traffic Law Branch.


Donald P. Byrne
Assistant Chief Counsel
Regulations Division
Like all items on this board, why don’t we take a look at what is legal, what is practical and what is reality.

Avbug gave the legal stuff above. Basically, if you are not told to follow a D.P. by ATC you don’t have to do it. This is consistent with all of our FAR’s. We can do what we want until it becomes careless and reckless.

Let’s talk practical. You’re an IFR pilot or a CFII. What are you going to practice or preach in your flying. For example, I have no idea about Eugene, Oregon. So it’s my first time at a strange airport and the weather is IFR but not to minimums. Do I just take off and talk to ATC? Do I ask the high school kid behind the counter about the procedures? Or maybe, I look at the published charts and see if there is a D.P. It’s not the legality of the matter, it’s the habits I am forming in myself and in others. Come on east and I’ll show you the procedures for Shenadoah Valley Regional or maybe Cumberland, MD. We don’t have big mountains but they feel the same when you run into them or the antennas on top.

OK, now to reality. We have schedules to keep and miles to go before we sleep – my apologies to Mr. Frost. So we’re on the clock and we hate circling over airports or even flying a 210 heading when our target airport is direct on the 180 heading. What is the smart thing? Well, ATC does have radar coverage but wait a minute don’t they have restrictions? Well yes they do – they are called Minimum Vectoring Altitudes or MVA’s. So, if I can reasonably maintain an obstacle clearance till reaching the MVA, I could use radar to help me get on the way sooner. So I have this great plan. But what could go wrong with the plan? Well I could have a radio failure and I could have an electrical failure. So in this new plan, do I have (1) a method to navigate directly to a fix without help from ATC while now maintaining an MSA or MEA? And (2) do I have a method to keep the plane flying safely if I have an electrical or other instrument failure?

So when arguing all the legalities of taking shortcuts we should always keep in mind that its our responsibility to keep the flight safe. In the scenario that started this thread, if I can climb VFR to the MVA and then assure myself that I can get to a fix without ATC assistance, then I’m OK with making my own procedure. If the weather is to minimums, I’m going to chicken out, spend ten minutes flying in a circle and follow the published procedures.

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