Update on ATC Phone Numbers and IFR Clearances

FAA continues to publish ATC telephone numbers for pilots who need to get an IFR clearance or close an IFR flight plan at non-towered airports (background here at BruceAir).

Note that FAA is testing a system that would allow pilots to receive ATC clearances on mobile devices. For more information, see this article at AOPA.

An FAA representative briefed (full presentation here) the April 25-26, 2018 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum (complete meeting minutes here).

Highlights:

  • Chart Supplement (A/FD) entries for 656 airports have been updated with clearance delivery phone numbers.
  • 25 additional approach control facilities will participate in the program; the Chart Supplement entries for over 200 additional airports will be updated to include a clearance delivery phone number.
  • For all other uncontrolled airports without a GCO or radio outlet linking them to ATC or Flight Service, pilots will be able to obtain a clearance by calling the overlying ARTCC.

The September 2018 update to the AIM will include the following paragraph:

5-2-3. TAXI CLEARANCE
a. Pilots departing on an IFR flight plan should consult the Chart Supplement US airport/facility directory to determine the frequency or telephone number to use to contact clearance delivery. On initial contact pilots should advise the flight is IFR and state the destination airport.

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Proposed Changes to Airport Diagrams

FAA is proposing to remove the inset airport diagrams from instrument procedure charts and the Chart Supplement (A/FD) and instead publish complete airport diagrams for all airports with IFR procedures.

The proposal (detailed FAA briefing here) was discussed at the April 25-26, 2018 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum (complete meeting minutes here).

FAA currently produces:

  • 700 airport diagrams
  • 3000 airport sketches in the Chart Supplement
  • 3000 inset diagrams on terminal procedure charts

AirportDiagrams-001

The detailed proposal includes the following key points:

  • Eliminate Terminal and Chart Supplement Sketches.
  • All hard-surfaced runway public use airports with IFR procedures will have a published airport diagram.
  • Eliminate cultural features such as trees, creeks, water and power lines etc.
  • Change diagram specifications to incorporate information from the chart supplement and terminal chart sketches.
  • Add geo-referenced information for real-world location and for future data driven product development.

FAA argued that the proposed charting change would:

  • Eliminate maintenance of three types of airport layouts.
  • Create a single standard Airport Diagram for all airports.
  • Print one diagram in one publication (currently printed 4 ways).
  • Free up space in the TPP plate for more relevant procedural information
  • Provide a more robust product.
  • Streamline internal production processes.
  • Deliver a more accurate and updated product.

An FAA representative noted that Jeppesen does not publish inset sketches on its terminal charts. Adopting this proposal would follow that practice.

The proposal generated detailed discussion, and FAA solicited comments from users and organizations such as AOPA.

Update on VOR Decommissioning

The FAA has updated its plans to shut down about 311 VORs (about 30% of the existing network of 873 navaids) by 2025. About 585 VORs will remain in the minimum operational network (MON).

I went through the list of VORs that have been shut down and those scheduled to be decommissioned through September 2018. This PDF includes links to each navaid at SkyVector so that you can see them on a chart.

Note that in all cases, several nearby VORs remain active. Some of the VORs retain the DME feature and remain named fixes that you can file and use (with GPS–or DME).

The primary impact of the shutdowns would seem to be VOR-based approaches and perhaps departure procedures. Low altitude Victor airways, where necessary, are being supplanted with T-routes.

As the slide below shows, most of the VORs set to be decommissioned are in the Eastern and Central regions; only 15 navaids in the Western region are on the list.

To see the full list of VORs on the shutdown list, visit this entry at BruceAir.

VOR-Mon-Chart-April 2018

At the April 25-26, 2018 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum (complete meeting minutes as PDF here), a representative of the VOR MON Program Office described progress on the plan (full presentation as PDF here). Here are some highlights:

  • As of April 2018, 23 VORs have been decommissioned (see list below).
  • 15 more VORs will be shut down by the fall of 2018 (see list below).
  • FAA is upgrading the remaining VORs to support a standard service volume of 70 nm at 5000 AGL.

 

The FAA plans to increase the standard service volume (SSV) of the VORs that remain in the MON. Specifically, SSV at 5000 AGL will increase from the present 40 nm to 70 nm to support IFR navigation during a GPS outage. The following slides compare VOR coverage under the current standard with coverage using the new SSV.

VOR MON 40nm

VOR MON 70nm

Here’s the list of VORs that have been decommissioned so far:

Discontinued-VORs-April 2018

Here’s the list of the VORs scheduled for shutdown by the fall of 2018:

Discontinued-VORs-Fall 2018

New Private Pilot, IFR, and Commercial ACS effective June 11, 2018

FAA has published new editions of the Airmen Certification Standards for the:

  • Private Pilot-Airplane
  • Commercial Pilot-Airplane
  • Instrument Rating-Airplane

The new ACS are effective June 11, 2018. The introductory material for each ACS document includes a summary of major changes. You can download free PDF editions of the new ACS from the FAA website.

A couple of items on the commercial pilot ACS are worth pointing out here:

  • Revised Area of Operation IV to require touch down at a proper pitch attitude.
  • Added the evaluator’s discretion to ask for a full stall in Area of Operation VII, Tasks B and C.

The descriptions for the approach stall now state:

  • Acknowledge the cues at the first indication of a stall (e.g., airplane buffet, stall horn, etc.).
  • Recover at the first indication of a stall or after a full stall has occurred, as specified by the evaluator.

The discussion of the landing task notes:

Touch down at a proper pitch attitude, within 200 feet beyond or on the specified point, with no side drift, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with and over the runway center/landing path.

Video: Early Evening Return to Boeing Field

“To” & “For” Confusion in Aviation Communications

FAA recently released an update to AC 90-66 Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations (more information here at BruceAir).

That update specifically address several contentious issues, such as straight-in approaches, “the active,” and the perenially annoying and counterproductive request “any traffic in the area, please advise.”

But one section of the updated AC 90-66B also discusses the common tendency of pilots to include the words “to” and “for” in transmissions–even when not at a non-towered airport. For example:

  • Cessna 1234A: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234A, right base for runway two.
  • Cessna 1234A: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234A, ten miles to the south to enter downwind for runway two seven.
  • Cessna 1234: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234, taking the active for takeoff to the south. Podunk.
  • Approach: Cessna 34A, turn right heading two five zero. Cessna 34A: Two fifty for 34A.
  • Approach: Cessna 34A, descend and maintain two thousand two hundred. Cessna 34A: Two point two for 34A.
  • Cessna 1234A: Metro departure, Cessna 1234A, one point two for two.
  • Departure: Cessna 34A, climb and maintain four thousand. Cessna 34A: Up to four for 34A. Or: Out of two for four for 34A.

You can hear many similar examples on the CTAF at any busy non-towered airport and while working with ATC. The use of “to” and “for” and abbreviated readbacks is also common in popular aviation videos on YouTube.

The use of “to” and “for” is natural in everyday communication, and perhaps it seems cool if you’re an experienced pilot who graduated from remedial ATC-speak thousands of hours ago.

But mixing words and numbers is potentially confusing in aviation, especially when the frequency is busy and workload is high. It’s also unnecessary. AC 90-66B devotes a paragraph specifically to the matter.

10.4 Confusing Language. To avoid misunderstandings, pilots should avoid using the words “to” and “for” whenever possible. These words might be confused with runway numbers or altitudes. The use of “inbound for landing” should also be avoided. For example, instead of saying, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, EIGHT ONE TANGO FOXTROT TEN MILES TO THE NORTHEAST, INBOUND FOR LANDING RUNWAY TWO TWO MIDWEST,” it is more advisable to say, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, EIGHT ONE TANGO FOXTROT TEN MILES NORTHEAST OF THE AIRPORT, LANDING STRAIGHT IN RUNWAY TWO TWO, MIDWEST,” so it does not confuse runway 4, runway 22, or the use of an IAP on arrival.

Rephrasing the above examples removes the unnecessary homophones:

  • Cessna 1234A: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234A, right base runway zero two. Podunk
  • Cessna 1234A: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234A, one-zero miles south, planning left downwind runway two-seven. Podunk.
  • Cessna 1234: Podunk traffic, Cessna 1234, departing runway two-seven, will be southbound. Podunk.
  • Approach: Cessna 34A, turn right heading two five zero. Cessna 34A: Right turn heading two five zero, Cessna 34A.
  • Approach: Cessna 34A, descend and maintain two thousand two hundred. Cessna 34A: Maintain two thousand two hundred, Cessna 34A.
  • Cessna1234A: Metro departure, Cessna 1234A, one thousand two hundred, climbing two thousand.
  • Departure: Cessna 34A, climb and maintain four thousand. Cessna 34A: Maintain four thousand, Cessna 34A.

You can find additional detailed examples in AIM Chapter 4 Air Traffic Control, Section 2 Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques.

Of course, sometimes there’s no subtitute for using plain language. The aviation phrasebook doesn’t include standard dialog for every situation. And we all make slips of the tongue on the radio, just as in normal conversation. But remaining vigilant about the use of potentially confusing and unnecessary words and phrases is one way to reduce the potential for conflicts.

Complex Aircraft No Longer Required for Practical Tests

FAA has published Notice N8900.463, which removes the requirement for applicants to provide a complex aircraft (i.e., an airplane with retractable landing gear, a controllable-pitch propeller, and flaps) for the commercial pilot SEL and flight instructor-airplane practical tests.

Note, however, that this change in policy affects only practical tests, not the training and experience requirements for commercial pilots and flight instructors. Those requirements, which are specified in 14 CFR Part 61, may change if an NPRM from May 2016 is enacted as a final rule. For more background on these proposed regulatory changes, see FAA Proposes Significant Rule Changes here at BruceAir.

Specifically, [this notice] outlines the policy which no longer requires applicants for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex or turbine-powered airplane for the associated practical test and no longer requires applicants for a flight instructor certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex airplane for the practical test…[T]here are far fewer single-engine complex airplanes available to meet the ACS/PTS requirement, and the single-engine complex airplanes that are available are older airplanes that are expensive to maintain. Additionally, the FAA finds that removing the commercial pilot ACS requirement to furnish a complex or turbine-powered airplane and removing the flight instructor PTS requirement to furnish a complex airplane will achieve the same objectives. The FAA has determined that removing these ACS/PTS requirements will significantly reduce costs for persons pursuing a commercial pilot or flight instructor certificate by allowing applicants to utilize less-expensive airplanes on the practical test that are not complex or turbine-powered.

The notice continues:

The FAA has determined that any airplane may be used to accomplish the tasks prescribed in the initial commercial pilot with an airplane single-engine rating practical test or a flight instructor with an airplane single-engine rating practical test, provided that airplane is capable of accomplishing all areas of operation required for the practical test and is the appropriate category and class for the rating sought. Therefore, the airplane used for the practical test must still meet the requirements specified in § 61.45.

However, the notice also explains that:

There is no change to the complex airplane training and endorsement requirements of § 61.31(e) or to the commercial pilot aeronautical experience requirements of § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) or part 141 appendix D.

As noted above, flight schools will still need complex aircraft so that commercial students can acquire 10 hours of complex time.

But commercial students won’t necessarily need to spend those 10 hours practicing lazy 8s, chandelles, power-off 180 landings, etc. to prepare for the practical test. Instead, they can use the complex aircraft to fly cross-countries, build night-flying hours, and so forth. They just need to log 10 hours and get the complex–and, depending on the airplane used–high-performance endorsements. They can then practice and prepare for the checkride in any aircraft that is capable of all the areas of operation in the ACS and that meets the requirements for the practical test. This change should help with the maintenance and other costs incurred when operating complex aircraft for training.

CFI candidates, who presumably have acquired the 10 hours of complex time as part of their training for the commercial certificate, can accomplish all of their training and preparation for the initial CFI-A with a SEL rating in any suitable aircraft.

This flexibility will save CFI candidates money, and it will make it much easier for flight schools to provide aircraft both for training and practical tests. Many flight schools have only one or two complex aircraft available, making scheduling difficult. And saving wear-and-tear on complex aircraft will probably improve their dispatch availability and lower maintenance costs.