FAA Publishes MVA and MIA Charts

The FAA has published minimum vectoring altitude and minimum IFR altitude charts on its website, here (scroll to the bottom of the page for the links to each category).

e. Minimum Vectoring Altitudes (MVAs) are established for use by ATC when radar ATC is exercised. MVA charts are prepared by air traffic facilities at locations where there are numerous different minimum IFR altitudes. Each MVA chart has sectors large enough to accommodate vectoring of aircraft within the sector at the MVA. Each sector boundary is at least 3 miles from the obstruction determining the MVA. To avoid a large sector with an excessively high MVA due to an isolated prominent obstruction, the obstruction may be enclosed in a buffer area whose boundaries are at least 3 miles from the obstruction. This is done to facilitate vectoring around the obstruction. (AIM 5−4−5)

The charts are PDFs, sorted alphabetically by facility.

Note the disclaimers on the main page:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Minimum Vectoring Altitude (MVA) charts and Minimum IFR Altitude (MIA) charts are being made available on this website in PDF format for users to identify the sector designs and minimum altitudes on charts used by Air Traffic Control. These charts are not geo-referenced and are not to be used for navigation. In the next two years, as Air Traffic Facilities update current MVA and MIA charts, they will be made available in AIXM 5.1 format.

FAA Publishes List of Instrument Approaches Set for Cancellation

FAA has published the latest list of 736 VOR and NDB approaches that it wants to cancel. You can download a Microsoft Excel worksheet that includes all of the procedures here.

According to the April 13, 2015 announcement in the Federal Register:

This action proposes to remove certain redundant or underutilized ground-based non-directional beacon and very high frequency, omnidirectional radio range Standard Instrument Approach Procedures based on the criteria established by the FAA’s Policy for Discontinuance of Certain Instrument Approach Procedures.

The announcement offers additional details as background:

On June 27, 2014, the FAA published a policy establishing criteria for cancelling instrument approach procedures (79 FR 36576). Cancelling certain ground-based non-directional beacon (NDB), and very high frequency (VHF), omnidirectional radio range (VOR) SIAPs is one integral part of right-sizing the quantity and type of procedures in the National Airspace System (NAS). As new technology facilitates the introduction of area navigation (RNAV) instrument approach procedures, the number of procedures available in the National Airspace System has nearly doubled over the past decade. The complexity and cost to the FAA of maintaining the existing ground based navigational infrastructure while expanding the new RNAV capability is not sustainable. Therefore, the FAA is proposing the following list of SIAPs for cancellation based on the criteria established in the Policy.

The proposal is open for comments until May 28, 2015.

You can find details about the current inventory of instrument approaches and related procedures at the Instrument Flight Procedures (IFP) Inventory Summary website.

To learn more about specific procedures and procedures in development, visit the Instrument Flight Procedures Information Gateway.

Stylus for iPad and ForeFlight ScratchPads

ForeFlight, the most popular aviation app for the iOS phones and tablets, includes a handy ScratchPad feature, described in this post at the ForeFlight blog. A video that shows the feature in more detail is also available at YouTube.

ForeFlight ScratchPads

I experimented with the ScratchPad the other day as I flew with an IFR customer. It’s a handy feature, with built-templates, but I quickly found that using my stubby index finger to scribble clearances and ATIS data didn’t work well. It was hard to write quickly and clearly.

Off to Amazon I went in search of a stylus designed for iOS devices. After a quick search and scan of customer reviews, I settled on the Bargains Depot pack of two styluses (with six replacement tips), for $5.99. Many other options are available at Amazon, generally at prices well below $10 for packs of 2-5 styluses.

I’ve now tested these tablet-pens with ForeFlight and other apps, and I’m pleased. The tips are soft enough not to damage the screen, but they also make writing on the tablet seem natural. They also work well as pointing devices when you need to tap on a menu or the map, scroll, or close a window.

If you use a tablet or smartphone in the cockpit, I recommend that you keep at least a couple of styluses handy. They’ll never run out of ink.

Charting Proposal for VORs Under NextGen

The FAA continues its plans to overhaul the nation’s airspace as part of the NextGen system, which relies on GPS/WAAS instead of the current network of ground-based navaids. Part of the plan includes shutting down about 50 percent of the VORs currently in use to create a minimum operational network (MON).

For more information about plans to shut down VORs and reorganize enroute navigation, start at this post here at BruceAir.

The FAA hosts the Aeronautical Charting Forum, a semi-annual gathering of experts to discuss improvements and changes to the charts that pilots and others rely on. A proposal for the April 2015 meeting includes a document that describes a suggested change in how VORs are depicted on charts, and the text also includes more details about how the national airspace system (NAS) and navigation will change under performance-based navigation (PBN), which is an enhanced version of today’s area navigation (RNAV) concept.

The following paragraph provides background for discussion:

The VOR MON program (AJM-324) is discontinuing the service of approximately half of the VOR facilities in the NAS. In parallel, the PBN Policy and Support Group (AJV-14) is planning to implement a new PBN Route Structure, which will provide “Structure where necessary and Point-to-Point where structure is not needed.” The PBNRS will generally remove most Victor Airways and Jet Routes east of the Western Mountainous region of the CONUS. Q-Routes will be published where needed, particularly in high traffic density airspace east of Chicago to New York, Atlanta, etc. T-Routes will provide structure primarily around Metroplex areas, special use airspace, and for terrain avoidance in mountainous terrain areas. The rest of the NAS will likely fly point-to-point using RNAV.

The document then describes how VORs that are part of the MON but which are not points along named airways might appear on aeronautical charts.

As this new strategy is implemented, many of the VORs retained for the MON will not have any VOR Airways associated with them, but pilots will need to use them to navigate VOR-to-VOR. Therefore a charting scheme is needed.

The VOR MON Concept of Operations includes a proposed scheme for charting the MON VORs which is depicted in the figure below. The approach is to use feeder routes showing the MEA, course, and distance to each adjacent MON VOR.

Here’s the figure:


I plan to comment on the use of MON, used to distinguish VORs that are part of the MON and not associated with airways from other navaids. I think the use of a three-letter abbreviation will cause confusion when printed near a VOR symbol that is also associated with a three-letter identifier.

If you have comments, direct them to the ACF.

Changes coming to Flight Service October 1, 2015

The latest FAAST Blast from FAA includes a teaser about forthcoming changes to Flight Services provided by Lockheed-Martin AFSS:

  • The 122.0 Flight Watch frequency will go away; services available from Flight Watch will then be available on current discreet FSS frequencies.
  • All flight plans, VFR and IFR, will be filed using the ICAO format.

The notice says in part:

General aviation pilots increasingly have turned to automation in recent years to file flight plans and receive pre-flight briefings. New technology such as ADS-B is providing more inflight options to pilots. Flight Service will incorporate the industry’s newest technologies and reduce or eliminate other functions to create efficiencies and value. The changes to Flight Watch and RAA are the first in what is anticipated to be a series of right-sizing initiatives surrounding flight services provided to pilots.

For details, see this link.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition

Microsoft shut down development of the long-running Flight Simulator franchise in 2009 (details here). But the simulation lives on through an agreement with Dovetail Games that allows that company to release FSX on its online Steam platform (see this item from July 2014).

Dovetail released the Steam edition this month, and the company has opened a discussion board to answer questions about the product. That online forum is the best source for details about this release of FSX and the company’s plans for future development.

If you own the disc-based version of FSX and have questions about the new online product, you should start at this page. Here’s Dovetails’s answer to the most common question about what’s new about this version:

We have made some functional changes to FSX in the development of FSX: Steam Edition, but in terms of content nothing new has been added at this time…

This is a re-release of FSX Gold Edition so you should not expect dramatic differences. However, we have updated it to include all standard Steam functionality, we’ve removed CD checking and combined the components of Gold Edition into a single installation. The major change we’ve made is in replacing the now-defunct GameSpy multiplayer systems with Steam features, enabling multiplayer to work seamlessly once again. Our aim in this first instance has been to ensure that the software will run for as many people as possible rather than radically improving or updating it.

You can find a log of significant changes that Dovetail made to the FSX code here.

The company’s discussion board is also the best source for information about add-ons, hardware compatibility, and related questions.

Compliance with ATC Clearances and Instructions—Even When VFR

You are flying along a sunny day outside of Class B, C, or D airspace. Like many pilots, you’re taking advantage of VFR radar advisory services, commonly known as “flight following.”


(For details about these services, see AIM 4-1-15. Radar Traffic Information Service and BruceAir’s Guide to ATC Services for VFR Pilots.)

Out of the blue, the controller directs you to fly a new heading that will take you out of your way. Perhaps you’re instructed to stop a climb or descent, frustrating your attempts to fly most efficiently.

Must you comply with such instructions? Remember, you’re operating under VFR in Class E airspace, well away from strictly controlled areas such as Class B and Class C airspace. (For a good review of airspace, start with Airspace for Everyone [PDF] from AOPA Air Safety Institute.)

The short answer is “yes.” See 14 CFR §91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions, which states in part:

…(b) Except in an emergency, no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised.

Many pilots argue about the applicability of that rule in the situation described here, and they quibble about distinctions between clearances and instructions.

But the FAA has made its position clear. See, for example, the Karas letter from 2013, issued by the office of chief counsel. That letter notes in part:

Section 91.123 deals with compliance with ATC clearances and instructions. Section 91.123(b) states: "Except in an emergency, no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised."

Pilots flying in controlled airspace must comply with all ATC instructions, regardless of whether the pilot is flying VFR or IFR, in accordance with § 91.123(b). ATC instructions include headings, turns, altitude instructions and general directions. The Pilot/Controller Glossary of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) defines ATC instructions as "[d]irectives issued by air traffic control for the purpose of requiring a pilot to take specific actions; e.g., ‘Tum left heading two five zero,’ ‘Go around,’ ‘Clear the runway. ‘" See AIM, Pilot/Controller Glossary. In contrast, the Glossary defines advisory as "[a]dvice and information provided to assist pilots in the safe conduct of flight and aircraft movement." Id.

A pilot flying VFR in Class E airspace, which is controlled airspace, is not required to communicate with ATC; however, if a pilot is communicating with ATC and ATC issues an instruction, the pilot must comply with that instruction.

The last sentence is key, and straightforward:

…if a pilot is communicating with ATC and ATC issues an instruction, the pilot must comply with that instruction.

That statement is also general, in that it applies even if you’re talking to a control tower, not a radar facility.

Of course, as pilot in command, you have the authority—and the responsibility—to refuse instructions that would, for example, send you into the clouds while operating under VFR. Such situations require you to tell ATC that you’re unable to comply with instructions and to request an alternative directive. See, for example, this statement from AIM 4-1-18:



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