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.

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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.”

DCIM\100GOPRO

(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:

e. PILOT RESPONSIBILITY. THESE SERVICES ARE NOT TO BE INTERPRETED AS RELIEVING PILOTS OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES TO SEE AND AVOID OTHER TRAFFIC OPERATING IN BASIC VFR WEATHER CONDITIONS, TO ADJUST THEIR OPERATIONS AND FLIGHT PATH AS NECESSARY TO PRECLUDE SERIOUS WAKE ENCOUNTERS, TO MAINTAIN APPROPRIATE TERRAIN AND OBSTRUCTION CLEARANCE, OR TO REMAIN IN WEATHER CONDITIONS EQUAL TO OR BETTER THAN THE MINIMUMS REQUIRED BY 14 CFR SECTION 91.155. WHENEVER COMPLIANCE WITH AN ASSIGNED ROUTE, HEADING AND/OR ALTITUDE IS LIKELY TO COMPROMISE PILOT RESPONSIBILITY RESPECTING TERRAIN AND OBSTRUCTION CLEARANCE, VORTEX EXPOSURE, AND WEATHER MINIMUMS, APPROACH CONTROL SHOULD BE SO ADVISED AND A REVISED CLEARANCE OR INSTRUCTION OBTAINED.

Confused about “Climb Via” and “Descend Via” Clearances?

FAA has published a Q&A on this relatively new type of clearance associated with SIDs and STARs.

I wrote about these clearances when the “climb via” version was announced in 2012. Details here.

You can find additional information from NBAA here.

The Secret Language of the Skies

Deborah Fallows, a linguist who is flying around the U.S. in a small general aviation aircraft with her journalist husband James Fallows, has posted another installment in her blog: ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT: The Secret Language of the Skies. It’s a fun read.

New ATC Phraseology for RNAV Aircraft

The FAA has updated its Air Traffic Control handbook (JO 7110.65) with changes to approach clearances issued by controllers. The new procedures and phraseology, which primarily affect RNAV-equipped aircraft, were published in this notice (PDF), are effective June 3, 2013.

Here’s a summary of the key changes:

  • This change provides guidance when a controller does not require an aircraft to fly the hold-in-lieu-of procedure turn but requires the aircraft to fly the straight-in approach.
  • Vectoring to a fix along the final approach course prior to the final approach fix (FAF) is permitted. Appropriately -equipped area navigation (RNAV) aircraft may be cleared to the intermediate fix (IF) on conventional and RNAV instrument approach procedures when the IF is identified with an “IF” on the instrument approach procedure. Procedures and graphics are provided for an aircraft on unpublished routes cleared direct to a fix between the IF and FAF.
  • Guidance is provided for when an aircraft will fly a radius to fix (RF) leg, published on an RNAV approach.
    The first item should eliminate confusion among many pilots when a approach chart shows a holding pattern in lieu of a procedure turn. Controllers will now explicitly clear aircraft “straight-in” when they don’t want the pilot to fly the holding pattern.
      The second item will reduce radio chatter and make it easier for RNAV-equipped aircraft to fly efficient approaches. Pilots may want to review how they load approaches into GPS navigators to avoid what I call the

vectors-to-final scramble

    .
      The last item in the summary refers to RF legs, which at present are part of authorization-required

RNP approaches

    that aren’t available to typical GA pilots.

Resources for Pilots after Tower Closures

The FAA has released the list of contract towers that will close in April. At many of those airports, the control towers operated part-time, and most pilots regularly use airports that do not have control towers, so the shift back to flying at an “uncontrolled” airport is not as great as some media reports make it seem.

Still, it may be useful to review the standard operating procedures at non-towered airports. Here are some free resources for pilots and flight instructors:

And, finally, a clever video from AVweb, “A Sarcastic View of Pattern Flying.”

“Climb Via” Clearances for SIDs

Air traffic control will begin issuing “climb via” clearances on August 15, 2012 for aircraft flying some SIDs. The new clearance mimics the “descend via” language long in use for clearances to fly STARs. Although these clearances historically have applied mostly to turbojet aircraft, RNAV-based SIDs are becoming more common at airports frequented by small, piston-engine aircraft.

For more information about the new clearance, see this FAA video.

NBAA has a briefing on the topic here; tutorial here (PDF).

The new instructions will also be described in the next update to the AIM.