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The 8 Most Impressive Changes To Aviation In The USA In 2018

2018 was a big year for aviation in the USA! Here's what happened...

1) An Update To 25-Year-Old Traffic Pattern Altitudes

According to previous guidance from the 1990s, traffic patterns were to be flown between 800 and 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL). The new AC sets a clear standard of 1,000 feet AGL, eliminating 200 feet of confusion. Unless terrain or obstacles require another altitude, 1,000 feet AGL is now the standard for non-towered pattern altitudes.

The AC also clarifies that "large or turbine-powered airplanes" should enter the traffic pattern at an altitude of 1,500 feet AGL, or 500 feet above the established pattern altitude. Ultralight aircraft are to operate no higher than 500 feet below the powered aircraft pattern altitude. These standards were detailed in a recent change to the Aeronautical Information Manual, and are included in this AC.

2) Big Changes To Part 61 Training Requirements

In June, the FAA published changes to Part 61, including broader use of technology to reduce the cost of flight training. For instance, you can now use an ATD Simulator to gain instrument currency for 6 months, instead of the previous 2 months. In April, the FAA eliminated the requirement for complex airplanes on commercial pilot practical tests. Now they've taken the rule a step further, eliminating the complex aircraft requirement for commercial training altogether.

Predicted to save GA Pilots in the USA $110 Million over the next 5 years, changes to Part 61 are a big reason to be excited. Read more about the changes here.

Swayne Martin

3) FAA Issues Clarification For IFR vs VFR Traffic Priority

According to the FAA, "pilots conducting instrument approaches should be particularly alert for other aircraft in the pattern so as to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic, and should bear in mind they do not have priority over other VFR traffic. Pilots are reminded that circling approaches require left-hand turns unless the approach procedure explicitly states otherwise."

Let's say there's a layer of overcast clouds above the airport at 2,000 feet AGL. There may be numerous VFR aircraft in the pattern flying well below the clouds. When an IFR aircraft on an instrument approach pops out of the clouds on final approach, they do not get automatic priority or right-of-way ahead of VFR traffic that might be on downwind, base, or final. Instead, they need to sequence themselves with the flow of other traffic.

4) ADS-B Out Rebate Continues

"Ahead of the January 2020 equipage deadline, the FAA reopened the ADS-B Out rebate, incentivizing even more pilots to adopt the new technology and keep our skies safer and more efficient... AOPA has worked with the FAA and manufacturers through the Equip 2020 Working Group to develop lower-cost solutions especially for pilots flying legacy aircraft. Pilots can claim the $500 rebate until Oct. 12, 2019, or until all 10,000 remaining rebates are claimed."


5) ATC Privatization Bill Eliminated

According to AOPA, "If the proposed legislation had passed, it would have threatened the safest, busiest, and most complex airspace; cost tens of billions of dollars; been devastating for small airports; and created a 'too big to fail' monopoly requiring taxpayer bailouts."

"More than 300 aviation organizations, state and local officials, airports, manufacturers, labor unions, businesses, management associations, and consumer groups stood united against the so-called 'privatization' of ATC... Thanks to a relentless group of pilots, more than 200,000 phone calls, emails, and messages were sent to lawmakers, and the bill never made it to the floor of the House..."


6) Updated Procedure For VFR Traffic Pattern Entries

Section 11.3 of the AC clarifies traffic pattern entry procedures. Unlike previous guidance, the FAA has expanded their guidance for entering the pattern when you're crossing over midfield. The preferred method is the "midfield overhead teardrop entry" (left diagram), and the second option is then "alternate midfield entry" (right diagram).

If you're crossing midfield to get to the downwind leg, the FAA recommends that you cross pattern altitude at 500+ above pattern, fly clear of the traffic pattern (approx 2 miles), and then descend to pattern altitude and make a teardrop entry to the midfield downwind.


7) Updated Guidance For CFIs Giving Flight Reviews

According to the FAA, Loss Of Control (LOC) was the number one cause for GA fatalities from 2001 through 2010. So what exactly is LOC? It happens when aircraft accidents result from situations when a pilot should have maintained (or should have regained) aircraft control but failed to do so. And unfortunately, when LOC happens, it usually doesn't end well.

The new guidance focuses on three areas: traffic pattern operations, stabilized approaches, and flight through IMC. Read more about the new flight review guidance.

8) Five Major Weather Forecast Improvements Added

Using ADS-B for free in-flight weather updates is a life saver, and it got a whole lot better this past June! Here's are the new additions...

  • Lightning Strikes
  • Turbulence
  • Icing Forecasts
  • Cloud Tops
  • Center Weather Advisories (CWA)


What other big changes happened during 2018? Tell us in the comments below!

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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