The Runway Environment in the RNAV Era

As of January 30, 2020, the FAA had published 4,048 RNAV (GPS) approaches with LPV (localizer performance with vertical guidance) minimums at 1,954 airports; 1,186 of those airports are not served by an ILS. The number of LPV-capable procedures is almost three times the 1,550 approaches with Category I ILS minimums, and 2,838 of the procedures with LPV minimums serve runways without an ILS,

For the latest totals, visit the Instrument Flight Procedures (IFP) Inventory Summary and Satellite Navigation — GPS/WAAS Approaches pages at the the FAA website.

FAA.gov

This capability to fly ILS-like procedures to thousands of runways at small-town and rural airports is a boon to IFR pilots. But you must carefully prepare to fly approaches to runways that don’t have the ground infrastructure associated with an ILS–most importantly an approach lighting system and accessories such centerline and touchdown zone lighting. And keep in mind that a non-ILS runway may not be as a long as you’re accustomed to–the minimum length for a runway served by an approach with LPV minimums is just 3200 ft. (more details here).

For more information about GPS-based approaches, see Required Navigation Performance (RNP) Approaches (APCH) .

FAA.gov

For example, here’s video of the final approach segment of the RNAV (GPS) RWY 16 procedure at Chehalis, WA (KCLS) during a night approach.

As the video shows, the runway can be hard to spot. It has REILs and a PAPI, but it’s in a dark area near a river. And you must remember to activate the lights by clicking the transmit button on the CTAF as you approach the airport. (The camera makes the scene look a little darker than it really was to human eyes–but you get the idea.)

Chehalis (KCLS) airport

That approach has an LPV decision altitude of 476 ft MSL (300 ft. AGL). The visibility requirement is 1 sm. That’s not much greater than the 200 ft DA and 1/2 sm visibility for a typical Category 1 ILS. But the environment is vastly different than that presented by an ILS runway with its bright lights and other big-city features.

Here’s an overview of the approach lighting systems associated with ILS procedures.

Instrument Procedures Handbook:
Figure 9-36. Precision and nonprecision ALS configuration.

Contrast the view at KCLS with the scene at Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle during the final stages of an ILS approach.

ILS RWY 14R at Boeing Field (KBFI)

Here’s an approach to runway 20 at Bremerton, WA (KPWT). KPWT is a non-towered airport, but runway 20 is served by an ILS approach, which includes an ALS.

KPWT
RNAV RWY 20 approach at KPWT

So, regardless of the type of approach you’re flying, make sure you review and prepare for the runway environment that you’ll encounter when you break out of the clouds and go visual. It’s especially important to know which of the visual cues described by 14 CFR §91.175 Takeoff and landing under IFR will be available.

Calling ATC for an IFR Clearance

The weather was barely VFR at Chehalis, WA (KCLS) for this night takeoff, so I called Seattle Center on the phone to get my IFR clearance and release for a flight back to Boeing Field (KBFI).

In 2019, FAA finished publishing ATC telephone numbers in the Chart Supplement, so you can get an IFR a clearance (or cancel IFR) directly with ATC, not via FSS, when operating at a non-towered airport or when a tower is closed.

You can listen to this process at the beginning of the video below and then follow along as I fly the ILS RWY 14R at Boeing Field (KBFI).

The audio panel/intercom in the A36 Bonanza supports a Bluetooth connection to my phone, so I’m able to speak and hear through my headset during phone calls. That feature makes it especially easy to contact ATC, in this case Seattle Center.

Video: KBFI to KHQM at Dusk

I made a short flight from Seattle to the Washington coast at dusk to fly an RNAV (GPS) approach at KHQM. We were between weather systems, but I enjoyed an interesting sky and a sweeping view of the Seattle area after takeoff. Notice also the wispy ground fog in the valleys and the serene scene Hoquiam at the end of the day.

Enroute to KHQM

Video: Night ILS at KBFI

I enjoyed views of the Seattle skyline yesterday evening during an ILS RWY 14R approach to Boeing Field (KBFI) in the Beechcraft A36 Bonanza.

More aviation videos at my YouTube channel, here.

Trim: The 5-Second Rule

Here’s a link to my first Tip of the Week for Pilot Workshops:

How to Set Pitch Trim in One Shot

I’ve previously written two Pilot Friendly® handbooks (Garmin GTN 750 and GTN 650) for Pilot Workshops, and I’m a contributor to the IFR Mastery Monthly Scenarios that the company produces.

Formation Practice

Here are clips from a recent formation practice flight out of Boulder City, NV (KBVU). I was in my Extra 300L flying as wingman to lead in his RV-6A. Lead is a fomer Air Force fighter pilot and instructor who has been my primary mentor for formation flying.

First, basic practice flying off lead’s wing.

Next, pitch-outs and rejoins.

Finally, close- and extended trail. Extended trail is a lot of fun.

New FSS Briefing Format

Flight Service (Leidos) has released a new briefing format at 1800wxbrief.com. You can watch an overview video below. The FAA contractor just renewed its agreement with FAA to provide FSS services for at least five years.