Taking the Tests
Change Log

Home > Reference > Most common pilot deviations by ZLA pilots

Most common pilot deviations by ZLA pilots

ZLA is blessed with healthy levels of traffic. In addition to the wealth of reference material on this site, and the ZLA articles, here is a list of the most common errors that pilots make when flying within ZLA.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but perhaps this guide will help remove some of the mystery associated with some of the procedures.

For your convenience, an index is shown below so you can quickly navigate to the most commonly misinterpreted procedures.






Generally speaking, there is considerable confusion as to when pilots should be turning, or not turning when flying a SID.  All can be made clear by simply READING THE TEXTUAL DESCRIPTION provided on the charts.  Supporting graphics are provided for the first few examples. Beyond those, it is hoped that pilots will refer to the SID chart.  Eric Stearns' article, "Don't I Just Fly Runway Reading?" (see Related Materials) is also an excellent resource for learning more about SIDs, well beyond the scope of this article/diatribe.


This is one of the most frequently flown departures within ZLA, and also the most frequently ravaged. Review the text (taken from the chart) and chart graphic below.


Common Error: Flying runway heading on the LAXX SID after departing 25L/R.
Common Error: Turning direct SLI on the LAXX SID after departing 24L

As can be seen in the graphic above, the chart's text and graphic show specific headings to fly, depending on whether the aircraft departs from the north or south complex. The purpose of these headings is to established diverging separation, allowing for simultaneous departures out of LAX.

Making an unexpected left turn when departing from the north complex can very easily kill you, and any other departure from the south complex.

The dotted path represents the lost communications procedure.

Common Error: After flying an intermediate heading assigned by ATC (ie. 180), turning direct SLI, DAG or TRM without clearance
For noise abatement and sequencing purposes, ATC will often use an intermediate southerly heading prior to sending an aircraft to next fix on the route. Pilots should remain on the assigned heading until they hear otherwise. Turning early is also great way to become one with VFR aircraft transitioning via published routes over ZLA at 2500, 3500, 4500, 5500, 6500 and 7000-10,000.

Common Error: Turning direct SMO
The SMO R-160 (Santa Monica 160 radial) is used to identify a point at which a maximum altitude exists (3000).  Nowhere on the chart does it say to actually fly to SMO. If you're unfamiliar with identifying a radial, it would be a great idea to spend some time researching them since they're an essential part of flying IFR, but in lieu of actually lifting a finger, the shoreline west of the airport serves as a good approximation of the SMO 160 radial.


Ever since the LAXX SID was neutered, removing the DAG transitions, pilots have flocked to the LOOP SID like big....flocking things.


Common Error: Not flying the correct heading after departure
Common Error: Turning right instead of left when cleared to LAX VOR
Much like the LAXX SID, aircraft need to fly the assigned heading, based on whether they depart from the north or south complex.  Furthermore, just like the text says, pilots should be expecting a LEFT TURN back to LAX.  A RIGHT TURN can potentially kill you, and the poor, hapless victim on the SADDE arrival into LAX.

Common Error: Filing the LOOP SID after 9pm
This certainly won't kill anyone, but if you'd like to avoid the controller issuing something other than what you filed, the LOOP SID should not be filed between 9pm-7am local time.  How could you possibly be expected to know that? Well, like everything else listed so far in this article, *queue the church choir*, it's printed on the chart.

Common Error: Blubbering that your FMS _made_ you do something (such as turning right to LAX)
Hearing this upwards of 10 times in a given evening means that by the time you wheel this ol' clunker out of the freezer, there will only be trace levels of empathy coming from the controller. At any given time, the FMS/autopilot should be assisting you with a task that you can perform by yourself if needed. 

To that end, if the FMS is turning the wrong way, you should pick up the error instantly, switch off the autopilot, and fly the plane to adhere with your cleared route. This, of course, implies that you know where you need to be going in the first place, and how the route should be flown.  Any way you look at it, you're going to need to have these charts, otherwise how do you know if the FMS is actually flying it correctly to begin with?

In short, we strongly caution you to avoid any utterance beginning with the phrase "my FMS" or "my autopilot".


Common Error: Turning direct GMN on wheels up, sending the controller into cardiac arrest
The chart calls for a specific to be heading flown, with ATC providing VECTORS to join the LAX R-323 radial (there are those pesky radials again. One wonders if perhaps they refer to something other than a set of  tires.)

Common Error: Filing the GMN SID after 9pm
See the LOOP SID above.


Common Error: Turning direct VTU on wheels up
This a vectored departure that calls for runway heading initially.  Turning direct VTU on wheels up is a spectacular way to have a head-on view of the LAX SADDE arrival stream. Fly the heading that is shown on the chart and described in the text.

Common Error: When cleared direct RZS on the VTU SID, doing something completely different
This is a subtle one, but actually has the same effect as the problem listed above.  ATC will eventually send you direct VTU or more likely, RZS.  This means that you should fly in a straight line from your present position to the specified VOR.  Turning right to join a track representing a line from LAX direct VTU or RZS is incorrect, and may well put you in conflict with the SADDE arrival stream. This is commonly an FMS error. See the LOOP SID to see how sympathetic we are to FMS-induced errors, specifically the section on Blubbering.


Common Error: Flying runway heading from rwy 25L/R
Common Error: turning direct SLI without a clearance
As the chart shows, fly runway heading if departing from 24L/R, otherwise, if departing 25L/R, fly hdg 200 after crossing the SMO R-154. This SMO radial is, by and large, the shoreline at LAX. Regardless of the runway used, once on rwy hdg or hdg 200, expect VECTORS to SLI.  At no point should you turn direct to SLI without an instruction to do so, unless, of course, you want to be sent to Detroit.


Common error: not flying the heading on the chart at 3DME for 25/19 departures.
Deparing on 19L/R or 25L/R, you should fly runway heading until reaching LAS 3 DME, then fly the heading depicted on the chart and await vectors to the transition or assigned route. Many pilots remain on runway heading and wonder why they're getting such a beautiful, up-close view of the mountains.

Common error: suffering temporary amensia when departing 1L/R
Departing from 1L/R, you should fly heading 010 until reaching 2500, then a left turn to 315 until reaching 4500, then left turn to heading 180.  Runway heading to Salt Lake City is funny the first 9,532 times, but we just past that number last Tuesday.

Common error: claiming the controller has not assigned an altitude to maintain
See same entry in BOACH SID below


Common error: flying runway heading, awaiting a turn 'on course'
This is a pilot nav, RNAV SID.  Unless ATC needs to pull you off the SID, you are expected to fly it as depicted. Not that we don't enjoy the sweet, dulcet tones of controllers as they lay waste to a steadily diminishing supply of woodland creatures up in the cab, but flying runway heading, and then asking the controller for a turn 'on course' is incorrect for pilot nav procedures.

Common error: claiming the controller has not assigned an altitude to maintain
The BOACH SID, and all other SIDS at Vegas stipulate an initial altitude to maintain (7k for non-RNAV, FL190 for RNAV), with instructions to expect the filed altitude later. If you are assigned the SID, this instruction will be eliminated from the verbal clearance.  Controllers are allowed to do this, based on 7110.65 4-3-2, which states that altitudes need only be given if they are not included in a the SID.  It is also covered by the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).

Common error: climbing to FL190 without adhering to published restrictions
The RNAV SIDS contain restrictions during the climb to FL190 (ie. ROPPR at or below 7000). Unless the controller restates an altitude assignment once in the air, you are expected to adhere to the restrictions.  This means that if the controller says "radar contact, climb and maintain FL240", the restrictions disappear and you can climb at a normal rate to FL240. If the controller wants the restrictions to remain in effect, he/she can either restate the restriction as part of the climb, or can say "comply with restrictions."


Common error: flying runway heading, praying the controller will leap out of the cab, run down the runway, sprout wings, board your airplane, and fly the remainder of the departure for you.
While not entirely uncommon to see controllers leaping out of the cab, it's actually more common during busier events up at LAX.  This is a PILOT NAV departure. Take off, turn right a bit, wait a bit, turn right a bit more, turn left to join the radial, then turn right to SLI.  What? Not enough info?  May we suggest reading the....*drum roll* chart?



Common error: missing the left turn at SKEBR
While it is true that ZLA controllers often give 'the shortcut' that discontinues the STAR after SKEBR, unless you are told otherwise, you should fly the chart as published. This means making a LEFT turn at SKEBR to hdg 345 to intercept the BLD R-260 inbound.


Common error: descending without clearance
Pilots on the HEC and PGS transitions often initiate a descent to a lower altitude without being instructed to do so. The altitudes they are trying to reach appear to be the MEA's published for the segment. Those are MINIMUM altitudes to be used in the case of lost communications. Do not leave your assigned altitude until instructed to do so.

Common error: failing to descend via profile once instructed to do so
Don't laugh, but this the exact opposite of the previous issue. Once instructed to 'descend via' the arrival, pilots often park themselves at FL180 and await for further instructions.  An instruction to 'descend via' the STAR allows the pilot to descend to meet the restrictions published on the STAR.

In short, either way, be prepared to be shouted at when flying into LAX.


Common error: proceeding direct SYMON after being given an altitude restriction
For reasons that are not yet understood to modern science (or even Maltese science, which is still reeling from the introduction of color TV), when pilots are issued the instruction to "cross SYMON at and maintain 12,000," they have a strange habit of then proceeding DIRECT to SYMON, bypassing the wonder that is the FIM VOR.  Being told to cross a fix at a given altitude is in no way related to being cleared direct to a fix.

Common error: descending without authorization after SYMON
Notice above, the example states "cross SYMON at and maintain 12,000."  Pilot should not descend below 12,000 until advised to do so. In a sense, they should "maintain" 12,000. If ONLY we had mentioned that in the instruction. Instructions on the STAR that inform pilots to EXPECT an altitude do not constitute an instruction to descend to that altitude.  Essentially, listen to what the controller says, and you'll be in good shape, altitude-wise.


Common error: filing this arrival outside of the midnight-6:30am window.
As the term suggests, this arrival is only used during the period from midnight to 6:30am local. This is, of course, TOP SECRET information, stored safely on the front of the chart, where procedure designers are blissfully unaware that it hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell of being read.


Common error: remaining level RIIVR/SEAVU on the LAX ILS RWY 25L/24R approaches
The profile arrivals (SEAVU and RIIVR) into LAX take the pilot to the IAF for the ILS approaches into LAX.  For this reason, pilots on these STARs do not commonly receive vectors to the final approach course. Instead, they are simply given an approach clearance and are expected to fly the approach as published. This means that after SEAVU/RIVVR you may descend as published on the ILS approach chart.

Common error: SAN LOC RWY 27, never leaving 3800 once established on localizer
ATC will typically vector arrivals from the Mission Bay area (NW of the field) to the east, south, and then onto the localizer with an instruction to "fly hdg 240, maintain 3800 until established, cleared LOC RWY 27 approach."  Note, "until established", not "until you finally spot the field and attempt to plummet down to the runway".  The approach plate states that once you are on the localizer, you should cross OKAIN above 3600 and REEBO above 1800, then descend to MDA (the Mad Deschizzle Altitude).


Common error: LAX Bravo busts by VFR aircraft
For those that are undertaking VFR flights in the socal area, become familiar with the basics of Class B and Class C airspace, and where it might exist for your route of flight.  Go to skyvector.com, examine your route of flight to see if you'll be entering any of those purple or blue circles. Those are B and C airspace. The former requires a specific clearance from ATC, the latter requires that you establish two-way communications with the controlling agency prior to entry. Check the articles on the front page of ZLA for more information about VFR flights around LAX.

Common Error: Not calling ATC for service at Delta fields (VATSIM ONLY)
This is actually a perfectly understandable occurrence, as the policy for the handling of Delta fields varies from facility to facility on VATSIM. If you're going to fly on VATSIM in or out of a field which is towered in real life, you need to contact the person handling the tower role.  If you don't see a tower controller logged on, then look for the overlying approach or center controller. See the next issue for more information.

Common Error: Not knowing who to call
If you're at San Diego and you see LAX_APP and LAX_CTR online, who do you call?  CTR, since SAN_APP isn't online, right? Nope! In fact, you should call LAX_APP.  Confused? Me too, and I work here.  Fear not, Peter Grey's wonderful article, Tips for Pilots flying ZLA (see Related Materials below) can help!

Related Materials
"Don't I just fly runway heading?" - A Guide to IFR Departures
ZLA Controller, Eric Stearns' comprehensive article to aid pilots in flying IFR departures
Basic Tips for ZLA Pilots
ZLA Controller Peter Grey offers some basic tips for pilots flying within the Los Angeles ARTCC on VATSIM
Login or Register to post new comments

This site is NOT affiliated with the FAA, the real Los Angeles ARTCC or any of the Airlines listed. The information contained in this site should NOT be used for real world navigation.