Descend to pattern altitude?

When I was flying into Miami yesterday (Expert server) I heard ATC give an aircraft the instruction to “Descend to pattern altitude” I have never heard this before and was wondering if anyone knew what pattern altitude is.



Take a look here


Pattern altitude:

1,000 Feet AAL (Above Aerodrome Level) for GA aircraft

1500 Feet AAL for Jets.

Any further questions look in the tutorial linked above by the kind gentleman.

Have a great one!


1000 feet for Light aircraft helicopters are 500.

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Does it also depend on the specific airport?

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To simplify, when you get “Descend to pattern attitude”, it generally means “hey you appear to be too high and you may not make the intercept”

For example, calling inbound at 18,000 20 miles out.


The elevations given are in AGL, so, yes, if you’re at LEMD, and were flying patterns at 1500 feet, you’d be in trouble, given that the ground is at 2000 feet MSL. So pattern altitude would be 3500 feet for a commercial jet, which is 1500 AGL.

We give this constantly because for some reason people think 10000 feet is an appropriate pattern altitude.


10000ft would be an appropriate pattern ALT if the altitude of the airport was 8500ft (for example some airports near KDEN are above 8000-9000ft MSL)

So most of the time, no, but for some airports, its ok!

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I specified AGL several times, but thanks

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Wouldn’t pattern altitude be too low (1500 AGL) for intercept though (circa 3000 AGL) assuming we’re intercepting at the normal distance out ?

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But you’re not intercepting the normal distance out.

That’s the problem. VFR patterns aren’t done 11 miles from the threshold.

The cone is a visual aid, not an actual chute in the sky you have to enter. Doing patterns that far out is a major inconvenience to the other traffic. That’s the point of staying low and turning base at 4 to 5 miles.


@Brandon_Sandstrom. MaxSez:

“Helicopters” is this a subliminal suggestion, an indication of a future addition to the inventory or just wishful thinking my friend? Comment like this lead the great unwashed to jump to conclusions. Particularly from a reliable IF source like you . Just curious.LOL

Don’t be silly, the IFC never jumps to conclusions or takes an off-hand remark to be a signifier of great importance and imminence of things to come.


@Tim_B. MaxSez: Noted, KISS Pls, consider your audience. Regards Old ComPadre…

I was being sarcastic. Of course your fears are completely warranted. They do it all the time.


I mean in the context of the OP’s original post, I think he meant that he was on a normal approach, and not doing pattern work, in which case pattern intercept wouldn’t apply? Would he not be given a holding pattern to lose altitude until at a corresponding altitude with the normal traffic, then slotted in, rather than told to intercept from 1500. I might well be wrong.

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@Chief305. MaxAsk; AAL, above airdrome level. A new term for me don’t recall it’s use in the FAR or AIM. AGL & MSL are familure but AAL has me flummoxed. Pls state source I’m always willing to learn.

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@danielsun36… MaxSez: Appels and Oranges Dan. Pattern Altitudes are found in Flight Information Pubs and relate to flying a pattern Procedure and interrelate with Approach procedures.
Approach procedures which include inbound altitudes are found in the Approach Plate series. Suggest you review the free FAA publication “The Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge” which is available for the asking at… G’day

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He heard it given to another pilot I think.

I know Chris mentioned that occasionally it’s used on approach because it’s the only thing we have to say “why in the world are you still at 12k feet 5 miles from intercept” but that’s due to a lack of other options and not technically correct usage, though it gets the job done; generally it’s used for, and intended to be used, when a pilot is in the pattern and continues to climb when they should have leveled off long long ago.


further to other replies, check out this topic on Pattern Altitude as well MaxFacts: Recent FAA Change; Traffic Pattern Procedure.

as others have said if you hear that comment on ATC to “Descend to Pattern Altitude” then you are too high for the approach and need to have a think about your planning and flight profile.

Happy Landings


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