A novel ATC instruction

Here’s a new and different instruction from ATC. I’m posting my experience to see whether anyone has had something similar happen to them.
This morning I was flying our SR20 under the hood with Gordon Feingold gamely holding on in the right seat. After taking off from Santa Maria, CA (KSMX), we contacted Los Angeles Center (ZLA) and requested a clearance for the RNAV (GPS) Rwy 12 approach at KSMX. We were told “Maintain 4000’, cleared for the approach, report established on the final approach course inbound.” We proceeded direct to the IAF at OVMAF, then began to descend to 3300’ on the 5.0-nm leg from OVMAF to WINCH (where the final approach course begins). Partway to WINCH, the ZLA controller told us “There’s another aircraft inbound to the airport. Maintain 4000’ and hold at your present position, right turns.

We did just that for a turn or two. We weren’t at any published fix, so the holding pattern was something of an improvisation. Shortly the ZLA controller again cleared us for the approach, but with a restriction to maintain 4000’ until WINCH (rather than the 3300’ specified on the approach plate).

My question is this: Have any of you ever been given the clearance “hold at your present position” that we received today? Any thoughts would be welcome.


Yes… not quite verbatim but similiar. Flying from the West into ORD one day (many years ago) while conducting IOE to a new captain in a B-727, MSP center gave a frantic clearance to make right 360’s immediately.

At least 6 more flights got the same clearance. Finally, MSP
calmed down and explained that Chicago center would not take the handoffs so the MSP controller had to improvise quickly to keep his traffic out of the Chicago center airspace.
I believe the reason for the refusal was the fact that Chicago
center had a weather problem somewhere and would not accept any more traffic for about ten minutes.

In reply to:

hold at your present position

Roger, after our flight today I was thinking about this clearance, which I had never heard before. You know, to best honor the controller’s request, perhaps we should have pulled the 'chute, as that probably would have been the best tactic as far as freezing our target on his scope.

Seriously, one had the impression that the controller had almost gotten himself into a “deal” and just tossed off the instruction to keep us from progressing any further. Anyway, it was a memorable logged holding pattern for IFR currency!

Not sure if the difference is anything more than wording, but I have, on two separate occassions, been asked to do right 360s at current position.

In both cases, you could tell from the rest of the ATC traffic that something unexpected had happened and that this was the controllers short term “fix”. In both cases, a more conventional clearance was forthcoming fairly shortly.

The original clearance was also slightly ambiguous. Did ATC mean, “maintain 4000’ until established on the final approach course; cleared for the approach”. Which is, of course, a very common clearance in NY airspace. I would have read his clearance as given as “maintain 4000 to the IAF, then cleared for the approach.” as you apparently did also.

In reply to:

Have any of you ever been given the clearance “hold at your present position” that we received today?


Once - while talking to Newark Airport’s approach control, for landing there VFR, I got “Hold over the Budweiser plant”. They didn’t know what an SR20 was - thought I was a helicopter. That illusion continued through three or four different controllers, despite my assuring them that my wings were firmly glued in place.

I had a related experience about a year back on an IFR flight. I forget who was trying to hand me to Philly Approach; told me to turn left 30 degrees… then, a couple of minutes later, another 30 degree left turn… eventually (a long time, and a long distance later) completing a great big 360 in the sky, getting me back on my original course and handing me off. I asked them about it, and they said that Philly would not accepting the handoff at first, and this works out better for them than having me hold someplace. Very strange.


Roger, I too have been asked on occasion to make 360s but never to hold at present position. I believe that a valid holding clearance must include the fix, the direction from the fix to hold, the altitude and the direction of turn. This can be abbreviated with a hold as published if the hold is indeed a published one.
I suppose that with GPS you could instantly mark your position as a user fix and enter a standard hold using your inbound course to the “fix” as the appropriate leg.
In practice making 360s is undoubtedly what the controller had in mind. He needed you to stop going where you were headed and this was the fastest way to do it.
Yet another example of how the real world of flying (especially IFR) is different from the FARs and AIM. Controllers and pilots occasionally have to improvise and it usually works out just fine.

Question: Did the controller clear you direct to OVMAF? My understanding is
that if you’re not given a clearance like this, that you need to use published
feeder routes to the IAF.

Also, since the clearance didn’t have any “until established” related to the
altitude restriction, that it continues to be an altitude restriction while on the
approach. I’d have asked the controller if the 4000 restriction was only until
established, to clarify.

Sounds like use of the MAP+ waypoint that Scott taught us about at the VNY CPPP
would have been handy for the “hold at your present position”.



ATC can hold you anywhere at anytime as long as you are at or above the MIA/MVA. However, they must give you a fix, DME distance, bearing, radial, airway, etc. You should also get an EFC time if there is any kind of delay expected. Here’s what I would have expected:

“Hold 3 miles southwest of WINCH, on the 031 bearing, right turns, expect further clearance at 18:45”

If the controller is not interested in formal holding instructions a 360° turn is more appropriate in these situations (unless terrain, airspace or other aircraft represent an issue). I often get this flying IFR out of Baltimore where they can’t get a handoff to Dulles …ah… Potomac approach. Typically the instruction is to use half-standard rate.

I doubt you’ll see this again, but my recommendation would be to reply, “Understand you want me to hold at WINCH, right turns?” to force the issue. It is possible the controller was unfamiliar with this RNAV approach and was unable to “retrieve” the information quickly enough. Just for yuks, I often request an RNAV approach into Baltimore (ceiling and vis permitting) and it is a bit humorous to see the controller really get flustered due to the lack of familiarity with the approach.

Roger and Gordon: I have had a similar situation, but not after being cleared for the approach. I was inbound for the GPS 6 approach for CCB, Cable Airport. I had been given a clearance “direct POM” and was heading direct POM. I had not yet been cleared for the approach and then got a clearance “do a right 360 present position, will have clearance by the time you roll out”. After one turn I got the approach clearance.

It sounds like you should not have received an approach clearance if there was another aircraft on the approach. Since there is the missed approach hold at WINCH it would have seemed to make more sense to just have you “hold at WINCH as published maintain 4000”. This would at least have given you the chance to descend to 3300 in the last turn of the hold once you got the clearance for the approach.

Maybe the reason you got the hold on the OVMAF to WINCH leg is that the other aircraft was still inbound from the north. Scarey, huh? Was Gordon watching or was he too busy just hanging on?

Hi Bill,

I appreciate your sharing your experiences. Was ATC telling you to simply do a 360, or to enter a holding pattern? What surprised me about our situation was that we were told to enter a hold, but were not given a fix on which the hold was to be predicated.



My memory recalls that initially the instruction was for the 360’s to cope with the controller’s dilemma, but remember, at typical jetliner cruise speeds, it takes time to turn so that by the time the contoller was able to get everyone started turning that he was able to revise the clearance to fly westbound and holding instructions would be given. Eventually all flights got some type of “hold” but I do not recall what or where or if a fix was involved. It was all short lived so that some flights may have held for one or two turns and some no turns as MSP got resolution with Chicago center.


Once you get the “cleared for the approach”, as I recall, you are cleared to any altitude on the published approach. So maintain 4000, cleared for the approach should mean 4000 until established on the approach (which includes transitions)

In reply to:

Question: Did the controller clear you direct to OVMAF? My understanding is that if you’re not given a clearance like this, that you need to use published feeder routes to the IAF.
Also, since the clearance didn’t have any “until established” related to the altitude restriction, that it continues to be an altitude restriction while on the approach. I’d have asked the controller if the 4000 restriction was only until established, to clarify.

The clearance was: “Cleared direct OVMAF, maintain 4000 until established, cleared for the RNAV rw 12 approach Santa Maria.” So we were within our rights to descend between OVMAF and WINCH, which we did. It was midway between these fixes when we got the “maintain 4000, hold current position” clearance.

We didn’t use the +MAP tactic (would have been good) but we did note the GPS distance to WINCH and used that as the holding fix.

Hi Scott, I was looking forward to your reply to this issue because I thought it would be another chance for us to have a friendly and hopefully thoughtful disagreement. Here goes.
I agree completely with you that a “valid” holding clearance requires the fix, altitude, direction of turns and EFC but here was a situation where the controller for whatever reason needed the plane to not proceed any further along its course.
I agree that the controller should have said something like “do a 360 to the right and reintercept the approach course” but he was obviously busy, perhaps momentarily in over his head and needed to do something quickly. That’s not the time to patiently explain to him that his clearance was simply not a “valid” one. What Roger and Gordon did was exactly what the controller expected them to do. Perhaps it isn’t spelled out like that in the AIM but it may well be that by making the immediate turn separation was maintained. Had they begun a conversation asking for all the “required” data it might not have turned out so well. What mattered was that the controller gave an instruction that wasn’t consistent with the controller’s manual and Roger and Gordon did exactly what he wanted them to do. There was nothing unsafe about it and everybody lived happily ever after.