Graphical Forecasts for Aviation

The Graphical Forecasts for Aviation tool at the Aviation Weather Center is now operational. It supplants the text Area Forecasts in the lower 48, plus it offers more information about current weather. AOPA has published more news about the swtich to the GFA here.

For more detailed information about the GFA tool, see this description (PDF) and this tutorial.


ICAO Aircraft Type Designators

The FAA plans to switch all flight plans–VFR and IFR–to the ICAO format on June 5, 2017.

I’ve offered help on the most vexing problem for most pilots–the myriad codes for communications, navigation, and transponder equipment–here at BruceAir.

But long-time U.S. pilots also need to understand and use the proper ICAO type designators for the aircraft they fly. Most codes use four-characters; some use only three letters.

Some of the codes are the same as those used on the FAA domestic flight plan form, but many are different–sometimes surprising so.

For example, the ICAO designator for the Cessna 172 is C172.

But the ICAO designator for a fixed-gear turbocharged Cessna 182 is C82S.

Note that the ICAO designators don’t include hypens or other special characters. For example, the Beechcraft Debonair is BE33, not BE-33.

The easiest way to check the type designators for the aircraft you fly is via the web-based tool at the ICAO website, here. The flexible search feature quickly displays the designators assigned to aircraft by manufacturer, make-model name, and so forth.

You can also find the correct type designators in FAA order JO 7360.1B.

Flying without Paper Charts

I recently gave a presentation about flying RNAV procedures at the Northwest Aviation Conference. As usual, I asked how many pilots in the audience were using tablets like iPads in the cockpit. Most of the folks raised their hands. It’s astonishing how quickly the aviation community has adopted this technology.

Nevertheless, questions persist about the legality of “going paperless” in the cockpit, at least for typical GA pilots operating light aircraft under 14 CFR Part 91. Here are some key references to help you understand the rules and good operating practices.

The best background is in AC 91-78-Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), which explains:

This advisory circular (AC) provides aircraft owners, operators, and pilots operating aircraft under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91, with information for removal of paper aeronautical charts and other documentation from the cockpit through the use of either portable or installed cockpit displays (electronic flight bags (EFB).

The AC also notes:

This AC is applicable to instrument flight rules (IFR) or visual flight rules (VFR), preflight, flight, and post flight operations conducted under part 91, unless prohibited by a specific section of 14 CFR chapter I.

And it explains:

EFB systems may be used in conjunction with, or to replace, some of the paper reference material that pilots typically carry in the cockpit. EFBs can electronically store and retrieve information required for flight operations, such as the POH and supplements, minimum equipment lists, weight and balance calculations, aeronautical charts and terminal procedures…The in-flight use of an EFB/ECD in lieu of paper reference material is the decision of the aircraft operator and the pilot in command. Any Type A or Type B EFB application, as defined in [AC 120-76] may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.

You can find further guidance on the FAA website here. And Sporty’s has a good overview of the topic here. For information about using iPads and the like on practical tests, see this item at AOPA.

If you fly IFR using an approved GPS navigation system, you can find additional guidance (and common sense advice) in documents such as the Operational Suitability Report for the Garmin GTN series navigators, published by the FAA in 2011, and available in the FSIMS system, here.

The following Type B applications were evaluated under this report:

(1) Chart capability is limited to Approach Charts, Standard Terminal Arrival Routes, Departure Procedures and Airport Diagrams. Access to the chart information is accomplished by touching the chart symbol on the screen home page. Scaling is accomplished by touching the plus or minus signs on the screen. Chart information is in standard chart layout, oriented in portrait view. It is possible to overlay an approach chart on the navigation display. Navigation Display Approach Chart overlays however, are always oriented so that North on the chart is at the top of the display. Caution should be taken when using this feature, as it can be confusing in some circumstances.

(2) En route charts are not available to view in the GTN 7XX series of units. Airways and associated navigation aids and intersection names are displayed on the navigation display but not in chart format. Because en route chart view is not available, operators will be required to have immediately accessible a suitable approved aeronautical information source of en route charts.

A typical installation includes a GTN 7XX paired with a GTN6XX. Since the GTN6XX series of navigator does not have chart capability a second GTN7XX with charts and an independent power source may be installed to provide the necessary backup. Another method of redundancy could be for the operator to carry an approved stand alone Class I, or Class II EFB device onboard the aircraft. Otherwise, a set of paper charts is required to provide chart redundancy.

In the case of a single unit installation, paper charts (including approach, departure and arrival procedure, airport diagram and en route charts) must be onboard the aircraft or an approved stand alone Class I, or Class II (with a suitable approved source of aeronautical data) device may be substituted for paper charts.

Garmin Guidance on Database Updates

Garmin has published guidance for updating its GTN avionics with a Flight Stream and Database Concierge. Web page here; PDF here.

The Flight Stream 510, an SD card that is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, works with GTN-series avionics. It provides a wireless connection to the GTN to update databases and to provide GPS and ADS-B information to apps such as ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot. The FS510 is part of the Garmin Connext series of products and services.


Stand-Alone DMEs on Charts

As the FAA moves ahead it with its plans to decommission about one-third of the existing network of VORs in the continental U.S. (for more information, see Another Update on VOR Decommissioning and its related posts), a new type of navaid–a stand-alone DME facility–is appearing on aeronautical charts.

Here’s an example southwest of Las Vegas, NV. Note the identification and frequency box for the GOODSPRINGS DME (GOG). The site of the transmitter is shown by the small blue box indicated by the red arrow.


Here’s the same facility on a low-altitude IFR chart:


You can read more about these stand-alone DME facilities in DME Facilities – Charting and MAGVAR Issues (PDF), which describes the discussions of the Aeronautical Charting Forum, an FAA-industry group.

These stand-alone DMEs are primarily for use by aircraft with DME-DME area navigation equipment, and in many cases, they are left over when the VORs they were associated with are shut down. Where necessary, new DMEs will be added to support RNAV procedures based on DME-DME as an alternative to GPS. As you can see from the chart, these DMEs do not provide azimuth (course) information like a VOR-DME or VORTAC. They are simply DMEs.

If, like most IFR pilots flying typical GA aircraft, you use GPS as your primary navigation source, these charted stand-alone DMEs are of most interest as fixes that you can include in a route or flight plan. If you still have a DME receiver in your airplane, you can tune, identify, and reference these DMEs as you fly.

FAA Releases BasicMed Alternative to Third Class Medical

FAA has released the final rule (PDF here) that allows many pilots operating under 14 CFR Part 91 to act as pilot in command without a third class medical. The full docket for the rulemaking is at the Federal Register, here.

Most of the practical details about these new regulations, which FAA has labeled BasicMed, are also available in a new advisory circular, AC 68-1 Alternative Medical Qualifications.

This advisory circular (AC) describes how pilots can exercise student, recreational, and private pilot privileges in certain small aircraft without holding a current medical certificate. It outlines the required medical education course, medical requirements, and aircraft and operating restrictions that pilots must meet to act as pilot in command (PIC) for most Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 operations. This AC is intended to be used as a resource for pilots exercising the privileges described in section 2307 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016. It is also intended to be a resource for state-licensed physicians who will be providing the required medical examination to those pilots.

AOPA also has many details and resources for pilots at its website, starting here.

The new rules are FAA’s response to The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (PL 114-190) (FESSA), enacted on July 15, 2016. Section 2307 of FESSA, Medical Certification of Certain Small Aircraft Pilots, directed the FAA to “issue or revise regulations to ensure that an individual may operate as pilot in command of a covered aircraft” without having to undergo the medical certification process under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 67 if the pilot and aircraft meet certain prescribed conditions as outlined in FESSA.


The new rule:

  • Revises 14 CFR § 61.23(c)(1) and adds new § 61.23(c)(3)
  • Adds a paragraph to § 61.113 Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command

Pilots choosing to operate under these rules may:

  • Fly aircraft with up to six seats that weigh up to 6000 pounds. There are no limitations on number of engines or engine horsepower or type of landing gear.
  • Carry up to five passengers
  • Fly day or night under VFR or IFR
  • Operate up to, but not including 18,000 feet msl
  • Operate at speeds up to 250 KIAS
  • Operate only within the U.S.
  • Not operate for compensation or hire

Traffic Pattern Altitudes

At the October 26-27, 2016 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum, FAA updated its plans to publish traffic pattern altitudes in the Chart Supplement (formerly the Airport/Facility Directory).

The latest recommendation is described here (PDF). Briefly, it proposes adding the following text to AIM 4-3-3 Traffic Patterns:

Unless a specific traffic pattern altitude is published in the Chart Supplement entry for the airport, it is recommended that propeller-driven aircraft enter the traffic pattern at 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL), and that large and turbine-powered airplanes enter the traffic pattern at an altitude of not less than 1,500 feet AGL or 500 feet above the established pattern altitude. A helicopter operating in the traffic pattern may fly a pattern similar to the airplane pattern at a lower altitude (500 AGL) and closer to the airport. This pattern may be on the opposite side of the runway with turns in the opposite direction if local policy permits.
 As part of the review of the issue, ACF members agreed that only TPAs that deviate from the recommended altitudes described above should be published in the Chart Supplement.