VFR Charts Moving to 56-Day Update Cycle

FAA plans to update VFR Sectional, Terminal Area, Flyway Planning and Helicopter Route Chart series on the 56-day AIRAC cycle beginning in February 2021.

(AIRAC=Aeronautical Information Regulation And Control. The data cycle dates are set by international agreement. The FAA product schedule is here. The dates of the latest editions of VFR charts are available here.)

A briefing document provided to the Aeronautical Charting Meeting explains the change:

The life cycles of FAA-produced Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Charts vary from 168 days to two years and at one time various charts did not update for years longer (Helicopter and Grand Canyon for example).

Extended and unsynchronized life cycles create an undue burden on the NAS and on chart users. The NOTAM System must carry many facility NOTAMs until consistently charted. As a result, chart users are burdened with numerous NOTAMs and difficulty arises in identifying pertinent NOTAMs and correctly applying them. Numerous changes are alerted in Chart Supplement Chart Bulletins that many users either do not know exist and/or do not find readily accessible. Unsynchronized chart dates lead to inconsistent data capture on overlapping areas, adjacent charts and other chart products.

Producing 56-day VFR Charts will provide significant relief to a number of these issues. The NAS picture will be consistent with that reflected on Enroute, Terminal and Supplemental products. NOTAMs will be significantly reduced as charts will capture changes with every 56-day AIRAC cycle. Chart Supplement Chart Bulletins will no longer be necessary.

A few years ago, updating VFR charts every 56 days (new sectional charts have been on a 6-month revision cycle for decades) would have been a hassle. But in the EFB era, keeping charts current is trivial, and more frequent updates to VFR charts will keep them in sync with other sources, such as IFR low-altitude enroute charts.

FAA plans the following sequence of events to synchronize VFR charts with other products on the 56-day cycle:

Milestone #1 will synchronize the cutoff for VFR Charts with other aeronautical products. (June 18, 2020)

Milestone #2 will eliminate 28-Day AIRAC date VFR Charts to align with airspace amendments and will stage charts for 56-day AIRAC date production. (September 10, 2020)

Milestone #3 will realize full implementation of the 56-day update of VFR Charts and elimination of supporting Chart Supplement Chart Bulletins. (February 25, 2021)

New Edition of the Aeronautical Chart Users Guide

FAA has published a new edition of the Aeronautical Chart Users Guide, effective October 12, 2017. An FAA presentation about the changes to the CUG is available here (PDF).

The new edition is available as a free PDF at the FAA website, here. This update includes a What’s New section, starting on page 5, that highlights changes from the previous edition.

The guide explains the symbols and terms used on VFR and IFR charts published by the FAA, including sectionals, IFR enroute charts, and terminal procedure charts (SIDs, STARs, and IAPs).

A New Symbol for Stadiums on VFR Charts

The FAA has begun depicting stadiums that are covered by the blanket TFR for major sporting events–that is, stadiums with a capacity of at least 30,000 seats. The new stadium symbol, a red diamond with the label STADIUM or STADIUMS, appears VFR sectional and terminal area charts as shown in the examples from the Seattle charts below.


The new symbol isn’t described in the current edtion of the Aeronautical Chart User’s Guide, but it does appear in the legend of updated VFR charts.


You can find more information about this new symbol in document ACF-CG RD 17-02-311 (PDF) at the Aeronautical Charting Forum.

FAA Digital Products Available for Free

FAA appears to have abandoned its plan to charge for online charts and data.

A Charting Notice published February 11, 2016 says that “FAA is now making its digital products available for free approximately 20 days prior to their effective dates.”

Products covered by this notice include:

  • Terminal Procedures Publication (d-TPP)
  • Visual Charts (d-VC)
  • Coded Instrument Flight Procedures (CIFP)
  • Digital Airport/Facility Directories (DAFD)
  • Digital En Route Charts U. S. (DECUS)
  • Digital En Route Supplement (DERS)

You can find the free digital products at the FAA website, here.





FAA to Cease Publication of WAC Charts

The FAA will soon stop producing and distributing World Aeronautical Charts (WACs). According to
Policy for Discontinuance of World Aeronautical Chart Series announced in the Federal Register by FAA’s Aeronautical Information Services – AJV-5:

The FAA is continuing to expand the availability and capability of modern aeronautical navigation products. At the same time, we must rigorously analyze our suite of products and determine the feasibility and practicability of providing products that are no longer in demand from the public or have become obsolete due to technological advances. Since 2007, unit sales of the World Aeronautical Charts are down 73 percent. (Sales are down 10% year over year 2013/2014.) The cost to develop this product is independent of the sales. The cost of resources drives a steady and consistent rise in costs associated with the production of the World Aeronautical Chart to the FAA…

The FAA concludes that maintenance of both VFR series charts (the World Aeronautical Charts at a scale of 1:1,000,000 and the Sectional Aeronautical Charts at a scale of 1:500,000) is unsustainable. As a derivative product, the World Aeronautical Chart does not contain the full aeronautical and base information available to users of the Sectional Aeronautical Charts.

The notice gives the following schedule for the final versions of various WAC charts:

FAA will discontinue the compilation, printing, and dissemination of the World Aeronautical Chart series and we will continue to maintain the compliment [sic complement] of other comprehensive visual aeronautical charts. Charts: CC-8, CC-9; CD-10, CD-11, CD-12; CE-12, CE-13, CE-15; CF-16, CF-17, CF-18, CF-19; CG-18, CG-19, CG-20, CG-21; CH-22, CH-23, and CH-24 will cease to be printed beyond September 17, 2015. Charts: CH-25; CJ-26, and CJ-27 production will end upon their next scheduled printing dates of December 10, 2015; February 04, 2016, and March 31, 2016 respectively. (See the Dates of Latest Edition).

VFR Printing Schedule Realignment

Here’s another item from the FAA’s Aeronautical Charting Forum meeting on October 28-30. Ron Haag from FAA’s AeroNav Products (the division that produces charts and aeronautical data) said FAA plans to move all  VFR chart publication dates to the same 56-day dates used for IFR charts and data.

According to Haag’s presentation, the change will synchronize printed VFR charts (mainly sectionals and terminal area charts) with:

  • Terminal procedures (instrument approach charts and charts for SIDs and STARs)
  • En route charts
  • The A/FD

The new dates will also link VFR charts with updates to airspace.

Each sectional and terminal area chart would print every 224 days, with about 25 charts being updated on the following near-term schedule:

  • 8 January 2015
  • 5 March 2015
  • 30 April 2015
  • 25 June 2015

The schedule allows AeroNav Products to better align updates to adjoining sectionals and Class B areas. For example, the Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix charts would all be published on the same date.

The new 56-day cycle is possible because a new print contractor has increased capacity.

Haag’s presentation notes that eventually AeroNav Products plans to update all digital VFR charts on a 56-day cycle, which will be good news for the increasing number of pilots who have gone paperless.

Members of the forum raised several questions about synchronizing printed and electronic charts and how NOTAMs will be handled. According to the minutes of the meeting, Haag said his group is working through those issues.

New Aviation Data and Charts: What’s Changed?

Before the advent of the iPad and similar tablets, aviators used paper charts. Most instrument-rated pilots subscribed to charts published by Jeppesen, and updates, in distinctive yellow envelopes, arrived in the mail every two weeks. Updating the approach charts and associated information meant pulling out one or more thick binders and manually tearing out the old sheets and replacing them with new “plates.”


That manual update process was time-consuming and prone to errors–a chore often left to downtime at the airport. Now, most pilots, from airline captains to students, have adopted electronic charts, at least for some operations. Increasing numbers of us have gone paperless, a practice allowed by the FAA under several guidance documents. For non-commercial operators, the most relevant document is AC 91-78 Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).


The old manual update method had one virtue, however. You handled the new charts, and you could easily see which procedures had been canceled or updated. New procedures were also obvious.

Downloads of new charts to an iPad update the information quickly and accurately, but you can’t easily determine which charts have changed.

The FAA does offer tools to help you discover what’s new with each data cycle.

For example, the Advanced Search page at the AeroNav Products website is an interactive way to find new or changed terminal procedures (IAPs, SIDs, STARs, etc.) for IFR flying.


You can search for procedures added, changed, or deleted in the current cycle or the next updates to be published. Narrow a search by the volume (Northeast Vol. 1, Southwest Vol. 2, etc.), state, or city in which the airport(s) you’re interested in are listed. You can also search for specific a specific airport by typing its ID or name.

The PDF compare option displays the two latest versions of a chart with highlights that mark what’s changed.


Looking Ahead: Procedures in Development

To learn about instrument procedures that are under development, visit the IFP Information Gateway, where you can search for airports by name, ID, or city. The page displays details about forthcoming changes to existing procedures and information about procedures that are under development, including preliminary charts.

VFR Chart Updates and Bulletins

To review changes to VFR charts, see the VFR Chart Update Bulletins page, where you can download PDF summaries of late changes to and errors on published charts.


New Digital Chart Format from FAA

FAA AeroNav Products is transitioning to a new method of producing its digital charts. Details are available here.

UPDATE (1/30/14): Based on productive feedback from our chart users, we have further improved the rendering of our raster chart samples. Type and features appear clear and crisp with improved edge definition. Compressed file sizes are generally unaffected, while uncompressed file sizes are much smaller.

VFR Charting has greatly improved its digital-Visual Chart (d-VC) process and we are excited to give our users an opportunity to see the new product before full implementation. Instead of using scanned chart images, the new d-VC is created directly from our digital files, resulting in a crisper and brighter image with improved georeferencing.

The new files are of the same type and format as the old files. Each .zip file contains a TIF, geospatial (.tfw), and metadata (.htm) file. However, Sectional Charts will no longer be divided into a north and south half. The entire chart will be contained within the TIF. Additionally, the resolution of the TIF is improved to 300 dpi.

We are allowing our users to view and test the new product. However, we will continue to supply the existing d-VC files through the 6 MAR 2014 chart cycle. Please see the Sample Sectional (ZIP) file provided.

Your feedback is very much appreciated. Please send any comments, questions, or concerns to 9-AMC-Aerochart@faa.gov.

This excerpt from the Seattle sectional shows the new format.


Database Currency for IFR Operations

Most instrument-rated pilots now fly with GPS-based navigation equipment (according to AOPA, at least 78 percent of its members rely on GPS as their primary navigation tool).

To use an IFR-approved GPS when operating IFR, the unit’s database must be current or you must verify the accuracy of the data.

For more details, see note 4 in AIM 1-2-3: Use of Suitable Area Navigation (RNAV) Systems on Conventional Procedures and Routes and AC 90-108.

Keeping a typical GPS unit up-to-date usually involves downloading fresh data to a card every 28 days.

Of course, the effective dates of databases don’t always fall conveniently between trips, and FAA has outlined procedures to help pilots ensure that the data in GPS avionics matches the key information on current charts, especially instrument approach plates.

You must also review either the AFM or the AFM Supplement for the avionics installed in your aircraft. For example, the latest AFM Supplement (190-01007-A2_08) for the Garmin GTN series (750, 650, etc.) notes:

2.8 Navigation Database
GPS/SBAS based IFR enroute, oceanic, and terminal navigation is prohibited unless the flight crew verifies and uses a valid, compatible, and current navigation database or verifies each waypoint for accuracy by reference to current approved data.

“GPS”, “or GPS”, and “RNAV (GPS)” instrument approaches using the Garmin navigation system are prohibited unless the flight crew verifies and uses the current navigation database. GPS based instrument approaches must be flown in accordance with an approved instrument approach procedure that is loaded from the navigation database…

If the navigation database cycle will change during flight, the flight crew must ensure the accuracy of navigation data, including suitability of navigation facilities used to define the routes and procedures for flight. If an amended chart affecting navigation data is published for the procedure, the database must not be used to conduct the procedure.

Regarding instrument approaches, the key information for matching the database to the chart is the procedure amendment reference date, not necessarily the date printed at the top of the chart. On charts published by the FAA, the procedure amendment reference date appears in the lower-left corner, next to the amendment number.

The best description of the procedure amendment reference date and how to use it is in Jeppesen Briefing Bulletin JEP 09-C (PDF)–even if you use charts published by FAA Aeronautical Information Services. The Jeppesen briefing bulletin includes a simple flow chart that helps you use the procedure reference date.

FAA published a safety alert (PDF) in 2009 that explains the difference between chart dates and procedure amendment dates.

New Symbol for Wind Turbines on FAA Charts

The FAA will introduce new symbols for wind turbines on sectional and TAC charts beginning in March 2013. According to a presentation (PDF)  at the Aeronautical Charting Forum in October, the new symbols comply with an ICAO standard. The depiction helps to distinguish wind turbines from other obstacles, and the symbols show both “farms” and individual turbines.