FAA Updates Two Handbooks

FAA has released updated editions of two key handbooks for pilots and flight instructors.
The new version of Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B) is a key reference for pilots training for the private pilot, commercial pilot, and flight instructor certificates.

The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge provides basic knowledge that is essential for pilots. This handbook introduces pilots to the broad spectrum of knowledge that will be needed as they progress in their pilot training. Except for the Code of Federal Regulations pertinent to civil aviation, most of the knowledge areas applicable to pilot certification are presented. This handbook is useful to beginning pilots, as well as those pursuing more advanced pilot certificates.

The Weight & Balance Handbook (FAA-H-8083-1B) is aimed at pilots and maintenance technicians.


The Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook has been prepared in recognition of the importance of weight and balance technology in conducting safe and efficient flight. The objective of this handbook is twofold: to provide the airframe and powerplant mechanic (A&P) with the method of determining the empty weight and empty weight center of gravity (EWCG) of an aircraft and to furnish the flight crew with information on loading and operating the aircraft to ensure its weight is within the allowable limit and the center of gravity (CG) is within the allowable range.

You can find free PDFs of these handbooks and other FAA training manuals on the FAA website here and here.

Short Aerobatic Videos

I have collected short excerpts from a recent aerobatic flight near Seattle, WA to demonstrate a few basic aerobatic maneuvers. Each video shows the maneuver first from the left wingtip and then from my perspective in the rear cockpit of the Extra 300L.

You can find many more videos at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.

Latest Info on VOR Shutdowns

The FAA recently provided an update on its plans to decommission about 30 percent (308) of the existing network of 957 VORs by 2025. The presentation, made at the April 2016 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum, is available here (PDF).

Some highlights:

As I’ve noted in previous posts on this topic (e.g., here), the basic plan remains as follows:

  • Decommission about 308 VORs in two phases. Phase 1 runs from FY2016-FY2020. Phase 2 runs from FY2021-FY2025.
  • About 649 VORs will remain in service. In fact, many of those VORs will be upgraded to expand their service volumes.
  • Most of the VORs to be shut down will be in the Central (162) and Eastern (131) U.S. Only about 15 VORs will be decommissioned in the West.

The list of the first VORs to be shut down is available from AOPA here (PDF). AOPA also has good background about the program to decommission VORs on its website.

To provide backups should GPS signals fail or be disrupted, the FAA will retain a minimum operational network (MON) of VORs and MON airports that have ILS and/or VOR approaches.

Those MON airports and VORs are designed to enable pilots to:

  • Revert from PBN [i.e., GPS-based] to conventional navigation in the event of a Global Positioning System (GPS) outage;
  • Tune and identify a VOR at a minimum altitude of 5,000 feet above ground level or higher;
  • Navigate to a MON airport within 100 nautical miles to fly an Instrument Landing System (ILS) or VOR instrument approach without Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), surveillance, or GPS where the capability currently exists; and
  • Navigate along VOR Airways especially in mountainous terrain where surveillance services are not available and Minimum En Route Altitudes (MEAs) offer lower altitude selection for options in icing conditions.

You can learn more about MON airports in this presentation (PDF) from the ACF meeting.

Early Summer Aerobatic Ride

Here are highlights from an early summer aerobatic ride in the Extra 300L east of Seattle.

The passenger from Switzerland enjoyed the view of the “Cascade Alps” east of Seattle as we flew through a series of aileron rolls; loops, half-Cuban 8s; big, lazy barrel rolls; slow rolls; hammerheads, and a little inverted flight.



Use of IFR GPS on Conventional Approaches

FAA has published an update to the AIM, effective 26 May 2016, and it includes a big change if you have an IFR-approved GPS [i.e., a “suitable navigation system” as defined in AC 20-138 and AIM 1-2-3 (b).]

Now, if you fly a conventional approach based on a VOR or NDB (but not a localizer), you can fly the procedure entirely with the GPS, provided you can monitor (using a separate CDI or a bearing pointer) the VOR or NDB facility specified for the approach.

The new language is in section 1−2−3. Use of Suitable Area Navigation (RNAV) Systems on Conventional Procedures and Routes.

The summary of changes to this AIM update notes that:

This change allows for the use of a suitable RNAV system as a means to navigate on the final approach segment of an instrument approach procedure (IAP) based on a VOR, TACAN, or NDB signal. The underlying NAVAID must be operational and monitored for the final segment course alignment.

The new text in the AIM is in paragraph 5 of AIM 1-2-3:

5. Use of a suitable RNAV system as a means to navigate on the final approach segment of an instrument approach procedure based on a VOR, TACAN or NDB signal, is allowable. The underlying NAVAID must be operational and the NAVAID monitored for final segment course alignment.

This change is the result of a discussion at the Aeronautical Charting Forum in 2014.

Changes in AIM Effective 26 May 2016

FAA has published an update to the AIM, effective 26 May 2016, and it includes several important changes of interest to typical general-aviation pilots:

1−2−3. Use of Suitable Area Navigation (RNAV) Systems on Conventional Procedures
and Routes

This change allows for the use of a suitable RNAV system as a means to navigate on the final approach segment of an instrument approach procedure (IAP) based on a VOR, TACAN, or NDB signal. The underlying NAVAID must be operational and monitored for the final segment course alignment. [For more information about this item, see the detailed discussion here.]

3−2−3. Class B Airspace
This change adds an RNAV Receiver as an option for instrument flight rule (IFR) navigation requirement IAW 91.131 (c)(1).

3−2−6. Class E Airspace

This change updates the definition, vertical limits, and types of Class E airspace. The change more accurately reflects Class E airspace regulatory information in 14 CFR Part 71 and more clearly states that Class E arrival extensions have the same effective times as the airport surface area airspace….

4−3−22. Option Approach
This changes adds verbiage advising pilots to inform air traffic control (ATC) as soon as possible of any delay clearing the runway during their stop−and−go or full stop landing.

5−2−8. Instrument Departure Procedures (DP) − Obstacle Departure Procedures (ODP) and Standard Instrument Departures (SID)
This change adds language advising pilots what to expect when vectored or cleared to deviate off of an SID.

5−4−1. Standard Terminal Arrival (STAR) Procedures
This change adds language advising pilots what to expect when vectored or cleared to deviate off of a STAR. Pilots should consider the STAR cancelled. If the clearance included crossing restrictions, controllers will issue an altitude to maintain. It also adds language advising pilots when to be prepared to resume the procedure. Since all clearances on STARS will not include Descend Via clearances, the word “will” was replaced with “may.”

5−4−7. Instrument Approach Procedures
This change adds a note to provide guidance to pilots regarding what to expect when clearances are issued by ATC to altitudes below those published on IAPs.

Comments on Proposed Rule Changes

The FAA recently proposed several significant changes to regulations that expand the use of aviation training devices, training for the commercial pilot and certified flight instructor certificates, maintaining instrument currency, and other issues of interest to many general aviation pilots and flight instructor.

Below are my comments on some portions of the proposed rules, which I have submitted to the docket.

Use of TAA for Commercial and Flight Instructor Certificates

For all the reasons outlined in the proposal, I support the option to substitute a TAA (as redefined in the proposed rule) for the training and practical tests required for the commercial pilot and certified flight instructor certificates with single-engine-land ratings.

One commenter objects that pilots won’t gain experience “with higher performing engine[s], retractable gear, constant speed propeller, etc.” But most flight schools offering training for those certificates rely on aircraft such as the C172RG or Piper Arrow, which have at most 200-hp engines. These are hardly high-performance aircraft, either as defined by FAA regulation or by their speed, sophisticated avionics and equipment, or handling characteristics. Pilots who want to fly aircraft with retractable landing gear, constant-speed propellers, turbocharged engines, and other characteristics typically associated with high-performance aircraft will still, as a practical matter, require checkouts and operating experience mandated by regulations (e.g., the endorsement required to act as PIC in an aircraft with an engine rated at more than 200 HP), insurance, flight school policies, commercial operator specifications, and common sense (a refreshing concept endorsed in the recent proposal to revise 14 CFR Part 23 aircraft certification rules—viz., “The part 23 regulations should not need to prescribe basic physical principles, sound engineering judgment, and common sense.”).

The checkout required for aircraft like the C172RG or Piper Arrow is hardly a leap from a Skyhawk or Warrior. Instead, it’s a small step, and learning to operate and confirm the configuration of, for example, retractable landing gear, is only a small part of a complete commercial pilot or CFI training syllabus, and that basic training hardly prepares a pilot to fly a truly high-performance “complex” aircraft such as Cirrus SR22 (which has fixed landing gear) or a Beechcraft Bonanza.

Similar examples: (1) Pilots with MEL ratings on their pilot certificates legally can fly any multiengine aircraft that doesn’t require a type rating. But in the real world, they must receive training and gain operating experience in specific makes and models to obtain insurance, fly rental aircraft, or act as PIC in a commercial operation; (2) Regulations require only a single logbook endorsement to fly tailwheel aircraft. But the handling characteristics of tailwheel aircraft vary widely (even among those that don’t have big engines, constant-speed propellers, etc.). Again, insurance, rental policies, and common sense oblige pilots who fly tailwheel aircraft to receive training and gain operating experience in specific makes and models.

Maintaining IFR Currency with ATDs

I applaud the proposed changes that would allow instrument-rated pilots to maintain currency with in any combination of aircraft, FFS, FTD, or ATD without requiring an instructor to be present. The current regulations are a deterrent to pilots who use ATDs. They must parse the rules and carefully review their logbooks to ensure that they have met the arcane requirements for various tasks, time limits, and calendar constraints. Instead of using training devices, today most pilots hop in their aircraft with a safety pilot (not necessarily an instructor) and repeatedly fly the same familiar procedures in their local areas, missing opportunities to practice the important skills of briefing and setting up a variety of DPs, arrivals, and approaches that include such elements as DME arcs and course reversals. They also typically don’t gain experience handling realistic equipment failures, challenging weather, and so forth. As the FAA notes, the proposed changes would encourage pilots to maintain their instrument skills.

My experience as an instructor strongly suggests that it’s the mental, puzzle-solving side of IFR flying that deteriorates most quickly over time. Use of training devices is the most effective, efficient way to hone and maintain those mental skills.

Pilots who want to use a training device at a flight school will still require at least an initial checkout on the equipment to ensure that they can use it effectively. Those checkouts are an opportunity for pilots to work with instructors to deficiencies in both their understanding of IFR flying and specific piloting skills, and those encounters will help instructors to develop relationships with pilots who otherwise might not be receiving training.

Pilots are upgrading aircraft to include sophisticated avionics (even if the panel doesn’t meet the revised definition of a TAA). They are increasingly using tablets and other devices as substitutes for charts and to provide information about weather, traffic, and other details. Allowing pilots wider, creditable use of training devices that include, for example, GPS navigators, will help them develop and maintain the essential skills described in such publications as the Advanced Avionics Handbook and Instrument Procedures Handbook. Using training devices also gives pilots opportunities to practice using new technology and develop good operating procedures.

Definition of ATD

The notice includes a new definition of aviation training device (ATD):

The FAA is now proposing to define ATD in § 61.1 as a training device, other than a full flight simulator or flight training device, that has been evaluated, qualified, and approved by the Administrator.

It’s not clear, however, if the proposed changes would eliminate the basic aviation training device (BATD) and advanced aviation training device (AATD) categories as described in AC 61-136 FAA Approval of Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD). The language in various sections of the proposed rules is ambiguous and should be clarified, and AC 61-136 and related policy guidance should be revised to ensure that both FAA and airmen throughout the system have a clear understanding of distinctions among the devices. I understand that for the purposes of FAA approval the existing categories may remain desirable—especially for manufacturers. But FAA inspectors, pilots, and instructors should not be confused about the practical application of ATDs for training and maintaining currency.


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