What ATC’s ‘Make Closed Traffic’ Clearance Means


“Cessna 9130 Delta, Pensasoda Tower, make right closed traffic. Runway 11, cleared for takeoff.”

What has ATC just authorized you to do? More importantly, what has ATC not authorized you to do? The answers are not as straight-forward as you would think.

You have declared an emergency with ATC. Then, it occurs to you. You might not have a situation that requires emergency status.

If your emergency turns out to be a false alarm, or if you resolve the emergency before landing, are you permitted to cancel your emergency with ATC? We’ll nail down the answer to that question in this week’s show.

Cinch your seatbelt a little tighter because we are about to takeoff. The forecast for this show is a rough ride in moderate turbulence. Ready? Let’s go!

Show Notes:

Closed Traffic

AIM Pilot/Controller Glossary

CLOSED TRAFFIC− Successive operations involving takeoffs and landings or low approaches where the aircraft does not exit the traffic pattern.

CFR 91.129 Operations in Class D airspace.

(i) Takeoff, landing, taxi clearance. No person may, at any airport with an operating control tower, operate an aircraft on a runway or taxiway, or take off or land an aircraft, unless an appropriate clearance is received from ATC.

Canceling an Emergency


  • Note how there is nothing in CFR Part 91.3 (below) that requires you to declare an emergency; or prohibits you from canceling an emergency. All the reg says is, you are the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft.

  • Note how the FAA may need a written report from you only if you deviate from Part 91 due to an emergency.

14 CFR 91.3

a. The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

b. In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

c. Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

A previous show that talks about the lack of consequences for declaring an emergency can be found at this link.

Your Question of the Week:

You are taxiing out to the runway for a practice session of touch-and-goes and low approaches. When you called for taxi, you said, “Rapscallian Ground, Piper 405 Echo Lima, ready to taxi from the North Ramp and we’ll remain in the pattern.” The ground controller acknowledges this and gives you taxi instructions.

Next, the tower controller says, “Piper 405 Echo Lima, Rapscallian Tower, make left traffic, Runway 7, cleared for takeoff.”

We know from our earlier discussion that you will require a separate clearance from Tower prior to each touch and go or low approach. Here’s your question. Given your initial clearance from Tower, after your first touch and go, will you need clearance from Tower to fly another circuit around the pattern?

When you think you know the answer to that question, go to ATCcommunication.com/answers. There you’ll find a complete answer along with a full explanation of how that answer was derived.


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3 thoughts on “What ATC’s ‘Make Closed Traffic’ Clearance Means”

  1. Hi Jeff, FWIW several months ago I bumped into this exact situation at Beverly Municipal (KBVY). I’ve been away from flying for some time, and during this period the required radio communications in locally controlled airspace have improved. While I was familiar with the Cleared Closed Traffic I actually thought (erroneously) that this was a clearance to fly my patterns without further approval. Finally, after the 3rd pattern a slightly annoyed (but very professional) controller said “Cessna 12345 you’ve flown three patterns without reporting midfield downwind.” My response was of course “Beverly Tower, Cessna 345 will report midfield left downwind for runway 16. Thank you.” Needless to say I haven’t made this mistake again.

    BTW I really enjoy the radio show and have read your VFR book and continue to plow through the workbook. You’ll be happy to know while listening to KBOS tower I can hear the sloppy vs. professional communications. It’s really amazing how ATC can keep things safe given the variability in phraseology – even with the pros!



    1. Drew,

      I’m not sure about this. We might be comparing apples to orange. “Cleared closed traffic” does authorize you to fly continuous circuits around the airport pattern without further approval. However, even with approval for closed traffic, a controller may ask you to report at the midfield downwind point.

      Controllers often request a downwind report as an alert or reminder to issue a landing clearance to the reporting pilot. Reporting midfield downwind has nothing to do with a clearance for closed traffic. Also there is no requirement for a pilot to report a midfield downwind unless the controller tells you to do so.

      I’m hoping, in your circumstance, the controller said, “Chestnut 233 Romeo Charlie, make left closed traffic. Report a midfield downwind.” If he didn’t, but still tweaked you for not reporting, I’d think that would be worth a phone conversation with the tower supervisor.

      All the best,


      1. Hi Jeff:

        Interestingly each time I’ve flown Closed Traffic since the controller has instructed me to report midfield downwind. Per your point both in the podcasts and books, it’s always better to clarify and seek clarification when needed.

        Thanks for the reply.


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