Debate: when are you “established” in the hold?

The other day, a relatively inexperienced pilot associate of mine – who has recently obtained an instrument rating – asked permission to accompany me on a private flight I was scheduled on from the Norfolk area to New York’s Republic Field in an older cabin-class turbo-prop aircraft, and was given the okay to do so.

During the flight, as we neared the busy northeast quadrant of the country flying northeastward on Victor 139, we were instructed to hold northwest (who would have ever guessed) at Sea Isle Vortac on Victor 166 for a short time. The last sentence the controller uttered to us was: “Report established in the hold.”  This is a common phrase heard very often from ATC, as we all know.

IFR holding pattern entries
You’ve passed the holding fix – are you “established” yet?

Holding at Sea Isle is not unusual at certain periods of the day, but the specifics of these particular holding instructions themselves were a little odd, I thought; I had never before been instructed to remove myself from Victor 139 while holding at Sea Isle. Anyway, I slowed down as we approached the VOR in preparation for the delay and asked my friend what pattern entry we would use. He examined the chart and reasoned correctly that we should use a “parallel” entry if we were to fly a standard holding pattern – right turns, one-minute legs. I agreed.

Upon passing the VOR I called the Center controller to inform him that we were entering the hold at Sea Isle and was immediately called on the carpet by my pilot friend with me. He informed me that the controller told us to call him when we were “established” in the hold – not when we were passing the VOR.

I had to admit that he was technically correct; however, am I not correct when I quote the Aeronautical Information Manual when I say that it requires pilots to report to ATC when they “reach a holding fix?” Additionally, who or what is to say where exactly you are when you do finally report “established in the hold” – passing the fix for the second time? Why wait until then? You’ve been holding already for about three minutes or more…

My reasoning is that if you follow the AIM and report when you cross the holding fix for the purposes of holding at that fix (not proceeding any further along your flight-planned route until you have a clearance to do so) you are “established in the hold.” Now, you may or may not be within the confines of the artistically depicted little race track pattern – depending on the type of entry you are executing – when you make that call, but ATC is not asking you to wait until you are “anchored between the lines while coloring;” they just want to know you’re holding and they want to know as soon as possible. If you are in radar contact they’ll see if you are holding on the correct side or not.

Talk to several professional air traffic controllers; I would wager that most of them would tell you that they want you to call them when you cross the fix for the first time for the purposes of holding at that fix. I would further wage that most of them would rather you sit down and remain quiet after that, too. “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”

Now, what say you?

41 Comments

  • I would call at the same time the poster did. When passing the holding fix the first time when beginning the entry.

  • You both are correct. According to the AIM you are required to report entering the hold (time, alt, fix), although you you’ll probably get a bland or who cares ATC response. Regardless it is required even in a radar environment and it’s what we teach in airline training.

    In your case a second call is also required as the controller wanted an “established” call.

    Hope this helps.

    Airline CHKAM

    • I disagree about the second call. The controller only wants to know when you arrive at the fix. After that you are in the hold regardless of where in the protected area you are. He has put you on the shelf and is done with you until your EFC or when you are ready to exit. Why would he care about what leg you are on.

  • You are established in a hold when you cross the holding fix for the first time going in the correct (holding) direction. The tear drop entry did not qualify as as established in holding.

  • Controllers are required to issue a time for an EFC or an EAT when ordering a hold. I believe the “established” verbiage is unwarranted and the reporter did exactly the correct thing by reporting “entering holding”.

    • I agree. Report entering the hold is the common and standard verbiage. Reaching the fix is just that

  • The aircraft is “established” when crossing the holding fix. The type entry is arbitrary. Do what you please, just do it on the holding side. BTW, holding patterns rarely look like racetracks. A standard rate turn at each end coupled with the effects of wind yields a pear-shaped pattern. ATC could care less what your hold looks like, just keep it within the confines of the airspace you were assigned to hang out in! Let’s not overcomplicate this very simple maneuver…”hey pilot, go hang out over there for awhile, call me when you get there and I call you when it’s your turn to proceed”…simple stuff!

    • This is the best explanation I have ever been given!!! It takes an experienced genius to simplify what often times seems complicated…your words are golden … Thank you!

      Question: “If” we fly the “Racetrack Hold” as depicted on our iPads at our assigned altitude…
      Would this be accurate?
      Please, for purposes of discussion, don’t scold me by saying we must not rely on iPads and instead be situationally aware and maintain spatial orientation…that’s what I usually get at BFR’s and in my Instrument Recurrency Training.

      R. A. Loechinger II
      Commercial, Instrument, Multi

      • Richard;

        I guess ipads are the wave of the future; we might as well trust in what they indicate electronically as much as we trusted what was printed with ink on paper…? If you can fly (manually) your airplane accurately around the depicted race track pattern – remaining on the lines – then you are a much better pilot than I am. The protected airspace is very large – very, very large. But I know what you mean: we all want to be perfect if we can.

      • Do whatever you want just be sure to do in protected airspace. There are no “hold police” grading your racetrack. If you’re talking about “flying the magenta line” I have no clue what the scale of a depicted hold is. I held twice on a trip last month while waiting for the fog to lift at ISP. First hold was out over the Atlantic at high altitude to conserve fuel, then as the fog started to lift I dropped down to 11,000 nearly on top of ISP while waiting my turn for the approach. In the first hold ARTCC “built” a fix for me 35 miles south of HTO, the second was an RNAV fix near the airport. In both cases I requested 10 mile legs. That defined the airspace for me. ARTCC/TRACON could care less what my racetrack looked like!

  • Keep in mind that holding is common in many areas and at same time, unusual. ATC “protects” a volume of airspace on all sides of a fix based on aircraft category [speed] so that there will be no midair collisions. Category A & B can use almost any entry method they want as long as they do not violate air space.
    The report established in the hold is a reminder for the controller that he has an aircraft holding and and EFC time is in effect.
    When a pilot “times” in a hold the time abeam or over the fix matters. Pilots can ask for DME or GPS defined holding with 5, 10 or even 20 mile legs. In icing conditions slowing down to recommended holding airspeeds may violate the approved speeds for icing conditions.
    This is similar to the established on an approach question. You’re established when on a published segment that says NOPT or the needle is off the peg and you’re intercepting the final approach course.
    You’re holding when you enter the protected holding airspace and intend to remain in that protected airspace.

    • Certainly NOT an expert, but for the last 65 years of IFR flying, I have always told the FEDs wnen I first crossed over the holding fix and took action to stay in the protected airspace. Seems to have been acceptable to all.

      Happy Skies,

      Old Bob

      • Hey, Old Bob;

        I’m with you on this one. I think most controllers – if they ask anything at all – will ask you to report “entering the hold”, not “report established….” From what I read from these comments here, I think most pilots agree with that assessment, too. The entry maneuver (parallel, teardrop, direct), IS part of the holding process. Therefore, when you commence the turn for the entry leg you are holding. This is very basic stuff, I think.

        Dave

    • A pilot’s timing for staying in the holding pattern with a 1 minute inbound leg is wings level outbound or abeam the fix outbound, but ATC wants to now when you entered the protected airspace and are going to hold.
      If they have radar, they still want the confirmation.

  • Asking the pilot to “Report established in the hold” is rather unusual. I’ve been instrument rated for 41 years and have never heard a controller use that term. I have done my share of holding. In this case, 2 reports should be made. A report “Entering the hold at Sea Isle, 5000 feet, at 25 past the hour” is required even while in radar contact. Then a report “Established” in the hold (whatever that means) must be made per the controller’s request. A thorough review of the Instrument Procedures Handbook does not contain any discussion or definition of being “Established” in a hold.

    • Discussing procedures and expressing opinions is a good thing. Going to the current AIM and reviewing is best practice.
      I hear pilots saying ” I learn that from an article”.
      With all due respect for this article, it is imperative for pilots to know where to find the most accurate/ current information.
      Asking my instructor helps me learn how and where to find the information so I can become self sufficient.
      Learning to fish is learning how to survive.
      Go to :http://www.faasafety.gov/default.aspx create an account and start ” fishing”.
      I really enjoy doing just that !!!!

    • Hi Larry;

      You still playin’ the sax? Hey, I think you’re exactly right; “Report established in the hold” is not a common request from ATC – in my humble opinion…. I included the phrase in the article because I have heard it on occasion from ATC(although it’s been years…), and because there seems to be confusion out there among very experienced pilots – as well as newer IFR students – about when and what to say when it comes to holding. Reading these comments confirms that assessment. For some strange reason this has always been a gray area; some guys say “call when you get there”, others say “wait until your wings are level” on some particular leg or other…. But you’re right; there is no mention of the phrase “report established” anywhere in officialdom.

    • If you report “entering the hold at xxxx altitude” you are very much right as per AIM. Reporting the time is a throw back to the old days when radar contact was ify or non existant. Personally, I don’t feel I have to insult the controller by telling him the time which he already knows. Should you decide to wait but just a minute to comply with the classic tried and true 5 T’s, you have been properly mindful of the universal instrument priorities of “aviate, navigate and communicate”.
      Indeed there is no legal definition of being “established” in the hold. Does it mean tracking exactily inbound on the holding course? Being in the flow of the depicted hold pattern? Only applicable to utilising a direct entry method? This is NOT crucial! It is a reporting requirement FOR THE CONTROLLERS BENEFIT simply to convey you are in the ALLOCATED AIRSPACE and intend to remain until the EFC/EAC. First reporting as you pass the fix and then reporting again as you deem yourself established is ridiculous and most likely to piss off the controller (I heard you the first time!) The first report plenty suffices as the mandated report requirement PERIOD. A smart pilot who wants to minimize maneuvering and who has proper equipment at his disposal – especially GPS, will automatically request reasonable leg lengths in distance and properly monitor an acceptable parallel relationship sideways from the hold course to facilitate an effecient inbound intercepting turn. Flying the electronic merry-go-round need not be as stressful as lots of folks tend to make it – if basic fundamentals and common sense are integrated.
      Submitted by an active current senior instructor for Professional Instrument Courses

  • As a DPE I get to watch this confusion in action. IFR candidates continue to orbit anxiously waiting to achieve an official one minute inbound to report “established”. I guess until we achieve perfection we are holding “unestablished?” What about the “report established” on final approach course? http://goo.gl/q0U065 (FAA/ICAO: half scale deflection trending toward center) Perhaps pilots focus too much on details and miss the bigger SA picture? Aviate-Navigate-Communicate…all flying is a continuous series of corrections!

  • The only requirement when holding at a holding fix is to remain on the correct side of the radial or (bearing to) and within a timed distance from the holding fix at whatever speed you happen to be flying. I think the request to report established in the hold was an error on the part of the controller. He should have asked to report “entering the hold”, since there is no required track while in the hold.

    CFII

  • There already exists a requirement to report entry into holding. If the controller gives a more specific instruction as in this example, I would think he had waived the boilerplate call and expects a call “when established” as defined in the GP. I don’t believe the entry into holding is what the controller is looking for but establishment on the holding track. Just my $.02.

    • There is NO track defined in a holding pattern!

      The only thing that is defined is the entry point, the side of the radial or bearing to hold on, and the time on the legs. You can make figure 8’s in a holding pattern if you want to.

      The instrument manuals all describe a recommended way to do a hold, and how to enter it, but that is not regulatory.

      CFII

  • Once while flying as an airline passenger with my hand-held GPS at a window, I saw us enter a holding pattern. It turned out to be a perfect racetrack with every trace on top of the previous one. On the way out of the aircraft I congratulated one of the pilots and he said it was simple since the aircraft – a glass cockpit Boeing – could be programmed to enter and maintain a holding pattern. On the other hand, in a similar situation in a 727 I’ve seen definite variances each time around!

  • The FAA’s automation system puts the aircraft into HOLD status when it closes within an adaptable number of miles from the hold fix. They are required to report the number of delay minutes, and the clock starts ticking when you leave your route to start holding – upon initial crossing of the fix.

    • To AI S;

      Many thanks. I think this says it all very concisely. From now on I will teach my students this one train of thought about holding and disregard the maneuvering around to reach a “established in the hold” point. When you cross the fix you’re in the hold.

      Dave

  • I see this is a bit late for this thread but just wanted to add to this. First of all I am an instrument examiner so not just someone throwing down a guess from tv or the Internet. There have been a lot of good points made but as we can all see a persons interpretation tends to guide their opinion here. It is easy to take things literal when it comes to this stuff or to read it another way when digging deeper. For one thing entry into a holding pattern is an expected call as which has been brought up so technically this never has to be requested. Now to throw out my opinion here. When you call into holding you are expected to say the time you entered. My opinion on this is the fact that it tells you to do this because as you fly you should first aviat, navigate, then communicate. If it takes you a minute to make your turn and climb/descend and get yourself straight you can do that before you call within reason. That is why you tell the time you got to the fix. This is for all intensive purposes established. Which is why I believe the controller made the request the way he did. He is expecting just one call not two. And if you call thme moment you get to the fix you are no more right or wrong then the guy who takes a bit longer to call after getting everything straight. You can look in the AIM or for military aviators look in the FIH under additional reports. Again this is my interpretation and I am sure that others may have a different opinion.

    • If you report “entering the hold at xxxx altitude” you are very much right as per AIM. Reporting the time is a throw back to the old days when radar contact was ify or non existant. Personally, I don’t feel I have to insult the controller by telling him the time which he already knows. Should you decide to wait but just a minute to comply with the classic tried and true 5 T’s, you have been properly mindful of the universal instrument priorities of “aviate, navigate and communicate”.
      Indeed there is no legal definition of being “established” in the hold. Does it mean tracking exactily inbound on the holding course? Being in the flow of the depicted hold pattern? Only applicable to utilising a direct entry method? This is NOT crucial! It is a reporting requirement FOR THE CONTROLLERS BENEFIT simply to convey you are in the ALLOCATED AIRSPACE and intend to remain until the EFC/EAC. First reporting as you pass the fix and then reporting again as you deem yourself established is ridiculous and most likely to piss off the controller (I heard you the first time!) The first report plenty suffices as the mandated report requirement PERIOD. A smart pilot who wants to minimize maneuvering and who has proper equipment at his disposal – especially GPS, will automatically request reasonable leg lengths in distance and properly monitor an acceptable parallel relationship sideways from the hold course to facilitate an effecient inbound intercepting turn. Flying the electronic merry-go-round need not be as stressful as lots of folks tend to make it – if basic fundamentals and common sense are integrated.
      Submitted by an active current senior instructor for Professional Instrument Courses

  • PS. In the course of performing at least a hundred training holds annually (for the past 40 years) I have heard controllers request “report ESTABLISHED in the hold” about 20% of the time and “report ENTERING the hold” 80%. This is not intended to be a critical symantics issue! Reporting just as you pass over the fix OR within a minute (having SEQUENTIALLY performed the trusty 5 T’s) are equally in full compliance with reporting mandates. (Time to relax anal purists!)

    • PS. Not to open up another bag of worms but how say you to this hold question: When and to what speed should the pilot initiate his slow down?

  • Not a current pilot, but from a perspective formed aver 30 years ago as a pilot and someone with a bit of ATC training (not a controller) , the controller’s concern is protected airspace so that he or she can provide separation services, with or without radar. Regardless of the phrase used, ATC wants to know that you are in the box and will stay there. Period.

      • As an instrument rated commercial pilot, and FAA employee, When you call in to “report entering/established” he writes, or now types, that time on his flight control strip for your flight. That then allows the controller to asses your EFC/EAC, and how long you were in the hold.

  • I usually report crossing the fix and then when I’m done with the entry portion and crossing the fix report “established”. I figure I’m telling them where I am and if they don’t like me telling them what’s going on they can tell me to shut up (or clear me on).

    • Dennis,

      I think the common train of thought is to call when you’re ‘entering the hold’ – (crossing the fix for the first time with the intention of holding there). Many pilots (theoretically speaking), would take many, many minutes getting to the point where they would be able to tell the controller that they are actually established in the hold without fear of uncontrolled laughter from the radar room… I’m just sayin’.

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