Flight Training

Flight training in Arizona is popular due to its great flying weather offering some of the best year-round flying conditions. There are several flight training schools based at Scottsdale Airport, and many others at valley airports. It is common for flights schools to visit other Valley airports. Most flight schools operate a propeller-driven aircraft, like Cessna 172s, and can be seen practicing at the airport and in the surrounding area.

The City of Scottsdale has a robust noise abatement program aimed at mitigating noise impacts while serving the needs of airport users. Having a basic understanding of flight training operations can be beneficial to understanding what is permitted and common procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions

Airport traffic patterns are developed to ensure that air traffic is flown into and out of an airport safely. Each airport traffic pattern is established based on the local conditions, including the direction and placement of the pattern, the altitude at which it is to be flown, and the procedures for entering and exiting the pattern. To assure that air traffic flows into and out of an airport in a safe and orderly manner, an airport traffic pattern is established based on local conditions, to include the direction and altitude of the pattern and the procedures for entering and leaving the pattern. The objective is to keep air traffic moving with maximum safety and efficiency.

The Traffic Pattern Altitude is set at 1,000' for propeller aircraft, 1,500' for large and turbine (jet), and 500' for helicopters. Theses are set in place by the FAA's aeronautical information manual. It is a standard and common practice at most airports. Although, there is leeway provided for special circumstances or to create more spacing between aircraft. Pilots usually descend to traffic pattern altitude before entering the pattern for safety reasons. Pattern altitude is typically maintained until at least is in position for the approach end of the landing runway.

More information on altitudes

  • There are different altitude layers for various types of planes. This is done for proper separation of aircraft and safety purposes.
  • The use of a common altitude at a given airport is the key factor in minimizing the risk of collisions at airports without operating control towers.

The FAA requires that all aircraft (except helicopters) maintain a minimum altitude of at least 500-feet above ground-level, 1,000-feet aside over congested areas, aside from takeoffs and landings. Planes are required to fly at 1,000 ft above the runway to stay under the levels of planes flying through the area -- or 500-700 ft above ground level in some areas.

Typical Flight Pattern

typical flight pattern

The traffic pattern around an airport keeps the flight paths of airplanes in the vicinity predictable. Flight trainers and even other aircraft practicing procedures will follow a predictable and efficient path around the airport. This is for safety and efficiency purposes. It helps keep proper spacing, alerts pilots of other aircraft in the area, creates an efficient flow of traffic and helps air traffic controllers better manage aircraft traffic. Aircraft on approach will generally descend to pattern altitude, this makes it easier for other aircraft to see them. This pattern work can also be flown on the flip end of the runway. Read more in FAA Regulations Handbook.

Note: There can be other times when it appears that an aircraft is flying in a circle around the airport area. When the airport is busy, Air Traffic Control may ask a pilot to do a "360" and come back. That means the pilot needs to wait but a plane can't wait stationary, so it will do a 360-degree slow turn (maybe 1-2 miles in diameter) and return to the pattern when able. Due to the McDowell-Sonoran Mountains being located in close vicinity to Scottsdale Airport, the airport are not able to extend too far from the airport. 5-10 minutes.

The most critical phases of flight are takeoffs and landings. It's important to practice these critical phases as often as possible. A touch-and-go operation is a specific maneuver in which an aircraft lands on a runway and takes off again without taxiing off the runway first. Usually the pilot then circles the airport in a defined pattern known as a circuit and repeats the maneuver. A common lesson may include three to six landings or touch and goes. At a towered airport, like Scottsdale Airport, the pilot must receive Air Traffic Control permission to perform a touch-and-go landing.

Touch-and-go operations are prohibited at the airport between 9:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. at Scottsdale Airport. This prohibition was instituted at Scottsdale Airport before Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act in 1990, which now makes it extremely difficult for airports to initiate curfews or restrict airport access. Aviation staff monitor flight activity during these hours for “touch and go” violations.

Aside from touch and gos, there are other procedures that appear similar, like low approach, full-stop taxi backs, and go arounds. A landing can be a "full stop" or "touch and go" or "go around."

These procedures are all part of training to fly.

Full stop
can end in parking or a taxi back to the runway for take off.
Touch and go
means just touching the runway for few seconds and then taking off again. Scottsdale Airport only allows this procedure between 6 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.
occurs when the pilot intends to land but something occurs that prevents that -- like an airplane in front is too slow leaving runway, gusty winds put the landing plane into an unsafe condition, etc.
happens when the airport is too busy for touch & goes and the ATC needs to remove some planes from the pattern for a while. Full-stop landings and emergency landings get #1 priority.

The typical traffic pattern is set up for a reason. Predictability. Aircraft can fly across the valley or across the country; pilots and air traffic control can expect the same traffic pattern and performance from all aircraft. That distance is about one mile and parallel to the runway for a Cessna 172. By changing one flight/procedure, it impacts other aircraft operations.

Most flight trainers (about 85%) fly Cessna 172s. Cessna has been building the same plane since the 1950s. Sometimes it may seem like the same plane flying around and around, but it may be a different operator.

There are FAA requirements for a minimum number of hours flying at night or for a minimum number of night landings to keep your license current. A pilot license can go on "non-currency", meaning it has been too long since they did the minimum night landings or hours flying at night. A pilot cannot just not land at night for months and then go do it again. So, pilots will fly at night and land at night to avoid needing to go get an instructor to fly with them to bring their license current.

"Night" is defined by the FAA as "That period of time between the end of evening civil twilight (one hour after sunset) and the beginning of morning civil twilight (one hour before sunrise) for logging a flight as “night”. A pilot must do these for logging takeoffs and landings for "recent experience currency" in their flight log books.

In general, the most noise impact from aircraft occur when the aircraft is on full power at low altitudes on takeoff. During the summer months with the hot temperatures, aircraft do not perform well. Their climb gradient is slower. On take-off, due to the atmospheric temperature and aerodynamics, the aircraft need more time to reach pattern altitude. Often at the end of the runway, they will be at a lower altitude in the summer versus the winter.

Contact Information

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Scottsdale Airport
 - Administrative Offices
15000 N. Airport Drive, suite 100             
Scottsdale, AZ 85260 
P: 480-312-2321             
F: 480-312-8480

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