FAA Administrator’s Letter to Pilots on Non-Towered Airport Ops

An open letter from the FAA administrator addressing the issue of non-towered airports.


DOT LogoU.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration

Office of the Administrator
800 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20591


Several recent occurrences at non-towered airports (either airports without control towers or airports where control towers do not operate continually) have given rise to concerns about operations at airports without operating control towers. The loss of life from a November 20 collision between an air carrier and general aviation aircraft at Quincy, Illinois, gives us all reason to renew our commitment to vigilance when operating at non-towered airports.

As pilots you have been trained to “see and avoid,” and there is no need to remind you of that duty, We need to take stock of our traffic scanning and radio communications technique, particularly when operating at non-towered airports. Transmitting on UNICOM or on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency while operating at non-towered airports particularly during busy periods of operation or during early morning or dusk can mean the difference between a safe operation and an accident or incident. For aircraft without radio, of course, a pilot’s scanning technique at non-towered airports is a necessity and his or her best insurance against involvement in a collision on the ground or in the air.

Information for pilots to review on operations at non-towered airports can be found in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), specifically, paragraph 4-1-9 on traffic advisory practice at airports without operating control towers, and Chapter 4, Section 2, Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques. There are also three advisory circulars (AC) dealing with operations at non-tnwered airports and with collision avoidance: AC-90-42F, Traffic Advisory Practices Airports without Operating Control Towers; AC 90-48C, Pilots’ Role in Collision Avoidance; and AC 90-66A, Recommended Standard Traffic Patterns and Practices for Aeronautical Operations at Airports without Operating Control Towers. All of these AC’s are free from U.S. Department of Transportation, Subsequent Distribution Office, Ardmore East Business Center, 3341 Q 75th Avenue, Landover, Maryland 20785. You can fax an order to (301)386-5394.

Editor’s Note: All of the materials referenced in the preceding paragraph are available on-line here on AVweb.

During your next biennial flight review (BFR) or dual instruction to qualify for the Pilot Proficiency Award Program (WINGS), we urge you to ask your instructor to evaluate your scan technique and radio proficiency. (Instructors, if pilots do not suggest covering these topics during dual instruction, work them into the maneuvers you teach or evaluate.) If you attend a Pilot and Aircraft Courtesy Evaluation (PACE) program, ask the inspector flying with you to examine your scan pattern and radio phraseology. Check with the upcoming programs on collision avoidance and/or operations at non-towered airports. Contact the publishers of FAA Aviation News for back issues containing articles on collision avoidance and operations at non-towered airports.

We also would like to remind pilots to report any safety issues to either the Aviation Safety Reporting System or to the Aviation Safety Program’s network of Aviation Safety Counselors. With this information, FAA can design and structure new educational programs on collision avoidance and operations at non-towered airports.

We all know we must “see and avoid,” but a review of our skills makes us better and safer users of all aspects of the National Airspace System, including non-towered airports. Let’s work together for zero accidents at all airports.



Linda Hall Daschle
Acting Administrator