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Air Carrier Obstacle Clearance Requirements (Part One)

in Aircraft Performance

Regulations require that large transport category turbine powered aircraft certificated after September 30, 1958, be taken off at a weight that allows a net takeoff flightpath (one engine inoperative) that clears all obstacles either by a height of at least 35 feet vertically, or by at least 200 feet horizontally within the airport boundaries and by at least 300 feet horizontally after passing the boundaries. The takeoff flightpath is considered to begin 35 feet above the takeoff surface at the end of the takeoff distance, and extends to a point in the takeoff at which the aircraft is 1,500 feet above the takeoff surface, or at which the transition from the takeoff to the en route configuration is completed. The net takeoff flightpath is the actual takeoff flightpath reduced at each point by 0.8 percent for two engine aircraft, 0.9 percent for three-engine aircraft, and 1.0 percent for four-engine aircraft.

Air carrier pilots therefore are responsible not only for determining that there is enough runway available for an engine inoperative takeoff (balanced field length), and the ability to meet required climb gradients; but they must also assure that the aircraft will safely be able to clear any obstacles that may be in the takeoff flightpath. The net takeoff flightpath and obstacle clearance required are shown in Figure 10-37.

Figure 10-37. Takeoff obstacle clearance.

-Click to Enlarge- Figure 10-37. Takeoff obstacle clearance.

The usual method of computing net takeoff flightpath performance is to add up the total ground distances required for each of the climb segments and/or use obstacle clearance performance charts in the AFM. Although this obstacle clearance requirement is seldom a limitation at the normally used airports, it is quite often an important consideration under critical conditions such as high takeoff weight and/or high density altitude. Consider that at a 2.4 percent climb gradient (2.4 feet up for every 100 feet forward) a 1,500 foot altitude gain would take a horizontal distance of 10.4 NM to achieve.

Summary of Takeoff Requirements

In order to establish the allowable takeoff weight for a transport category aircraft, at any airfield, the following must be considered:

  • Airfield pressure altitude
  • Temperature
  • Headwind component
  • Runway length
  • Runway gradient or slope
  • Obstacles in the flightpath

Once the above details are known and applied to the appropriate performance charts, it is possible to determine the maximum allowable takeoff weight. This weight would be the lower of the maximum weights as allowed by:

  • Balanced field length required
  • Engine inoperative climb ability (second segment limited)
  • Obstacle clearance requirement

In practice, restrictions to takeoff weight at low altitude airports are usually due to runway length limitations; engine inoperative climb limitations are most common at the higher altitude airports. All limitations to weight must be observed. Since the combined weight of fuel and payload in the aircraft may amount to nearly half the maximum takeoff weight, it is usually possible to reduce fuel weight to meet takeoff limitations. If this is done, however, flight planning must be recalculated in light of reduced fuel and range.


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