Just as roads and streets are needed in order to utilize automobiles, airports or airstrips are needed to utilize airplanes. Every flight begins and ends at an airport or other suitable landing field. For that reason, it is essential that the pilot learn the traffic rules, traffic procedures, and traffic pattern layouts that may be in use at various airports.
When an automobile is driven on congested city streets, it can be brought to a stop to give way to conflicting traffic; however, an airplane can only be slowed down. Consequently, specific traffic patterns and traffic control procedures have been established at designated airports. The traffic patterns provide specific routes for takeoffs, departures, arrivals, and landings. The exact nature of each airport traffic pattern is dependent on the runway in use, wind conditions, obstructions, and other factors.
Control towers and radar facilities provide a means of adjusting the flow of arriving and departing aircraft, and render assistance to pilots in busy terminal areas. Airport lighting and runway marking systems are used frequently to alert pilots to abnormal conditions and hazards, so arrivals and departures can be made safely.
Airports vary in complexity from small grass or sod strips to major terminals having many paved runways and taxiways. Regardless of the type of airport, the pilot must know and abide by the rules and general operating procedures applicable to the airport being used. These rules and procedures are based not only on logic or common sense, but also on courtesy, and their objective is to keep air traffic moving with maximum safety and efficiency. The use of any traffic pattern, service, or procedure does not alter the responsibility of pilots to see and avoid other aircraft.