Next Round of VOR Shutdowns

At the April 24-25, 2019 session of the Aeronautical Charting Meeting, FAA noted that the following VORs will be decommissioned in 2019 (to see each VOR on a VFR chart at SkyVector.com, click the links below):

1. [ASP] Au Sable, in Oscoda, MI – June 20, 2019
2. [CSX] Cardinal, in St. Louis, MO – June 20, 2019
3. [LSE] La Crosse, in La Crosse, WI – June 20, 2019
4. [MTO] Mattoon, in Mattoon/Charleston, IL – June 20, 2019
5. [BQM] Bowman, in Louisville, KY – Aug. 15, 2019
6. [CZQ] Clovis, in Fresno, CA – Aug. 15, 2019
7. [FRM] Fairmont, in Fairmont, MN – Aug. 15, 2019
8. [GRV] Grantsville, in Grantsville, MD – Aug. 15, 2019
9. [GTH] Guthrie, in Guthrie, TX – Aug. 15, 2019
10. [HUB] Hobby, in Houston, TX – Aug. 15, 2019
11. [IKK] Kankakee, in Kankakee, IL – Aug. 15, 2019
12. [ISQ] Schoolcraft County, in Manistique, MI – Aug. 15, 2019
13. [TPL] Temple, in Temple, TX – Aug. 15, 2019

These shutdowns are part of FAA’s Minimum Operational Network (MON) plan to decommission 311 (about 35%) of the existing VOR network by 2025, leaving some 585 VORs in operation. As of early June 2019, 42 VORs have been shut down.

You can review the latest update from the MON program office here (PDF) and find general information in AIM 1−1−3. VHF Omni−directional Range (VOR), paragraph f. The VOR Minimum Operational Network (MON).

More details about the FAAs plans are available at BruceAir: VOR Status–Another Update

A key part of the MON program is increasing the service volume of remaining VORs to 70 nm at 5000 AGL, as described in the program update.

VOR MON SV

 

FAA Proposes Significant Rule Changes

On May 12, 2016, FAA published Regulatory Relief: Aviation Training Devices; Pilot Certification, Training, and Pilot Schools; and Other Provisions in the Federal Register.

The final rule, which includes several changes from the NPRM, was published June 27, 2018. More details here.

The proposed rule includes many significant changes to 14 CFR Parts 61 and 91 of interest to pilot and flight instructors.

 This rulemaking would relieve burdens on pilots seeking to obtain aeronautical experience, training, and certification by increasing the allowed use of aviation training devices. These training devices have proven to be an effective, safe, and affordable means of obtaining pilot experience. This rulemaking also would address changing technologies by accommodating the use of technically advanced airplanes as an alternative to the use of older complex single engine airplanes for the commercial pilot training and testing requirements…Finally, this rulemaking would include changes to some of the provisions established in an August 2009 final rule. These actions are necessary to bring the regulations in line with current needs and activities of the general aviation training community and pilots.

The November/December 2017 issue of FAA Safety Briefing indicates that the new rules will be published in December 2017: “With another new rulemaking effort in the works, expected in December 2017, the FAA proposes to allow pilots to accomplish instrument currency pilot time in a FFS, FTD, or ATD without an instructor present to verify the time, as well as allow ATD time to accomplish instrument currency requirements to be identical to the tasks and requirements described for an aircraft, FFS, or FTD.”

As of early May 2018, however, the FAA has not published the final rule in the Federal Register. The proposal remains in limbo.

In particular, the changes would:

  • Make it easier to maintain instrument currency using training devices
  • Allow the use of technically advanced aircraft (TAA), not just “complex” (i.e., aircraft with retractable landing gear) for training and practical tests for the commercial pilot and certified flight instructor certificates

For example, one proposed change would allow an instrument-rated pilot to use an approved aviation training device (ATD), flight training device (FTD), or full flight simulator (FFS) to fly approaches and other tasks to maintain IFR currency without having an instructor present. Currently, pilots who perform instrument recency experience requirements in an aircraft are not required to have an authorized instructor present to observe the time. Rather, the pilot can perform the required tasks in actual instrument conditions or in simulated instrument conditions with a safety pilot on board the aircraft. A pilot who accomplishes instrument recency experience in an FFS, FTD, or ATD, however, must have an authorized instructor present to observe the time and sign the pilot’s logbook. 14 CFR 61.51(g)(4).

In revising § 61.57 in the 2009 final rule to include the option of using ATDs for meeting instrument recency experience, the preamble indicated that the FAA did not intend for an authorized instructor to be present during instrument recency experience performed in an FSTD or an ATD. It stated: “[A] person who is instrument current or is within the second 6-calendar month period * * * need not have a flight instructor or ground instructor present when accomplishing the approaches, holding, and course intercepting/tracking tasks of § 61.57(c)(1)(i), (ii), and (iii) in an approved flight training device or flight simulator.” 74 FR 42500, 42518. In 2010, the FAA issued a legal interpretation  [8] stating that, based on the express language in § 61.51(g)(4), an instructor must be present in order for a pilot to accomplish instrument recency experience in an FSTD or ATD. That interpretation acknowledged, however, that the FAA had indicated in the 2009 preamble some intention to change the requirement but that the change was not reflected in the regulation.

The FAA is proposing to amend § 61.51(g) by revising paragraph (g)(4) and adding a new paragraph (g)(5) to allow a pilot to accomplish instrument recency experience when using an FAA-approved FFS, FTD, or ATD—just as he or she might do when completing instrument recency experience in an aircraft—without an instructor present. Because instrument recency experience is not training, the FAA no longer believes it is necessary to have an instructor present when instrument recency experience is accomplished in an FSTD or ATD. An instrument-rated pilot has demonstrated proficiency during a practical test with an examiner. It can be expensive to hire an instructor to observe a pilot performing the instrument experience requirements solely to verify that the instrument recency experience was performed. [9] As noted above, practice in an ATD has the distinct advantage of pause and review of pilot performance not available in an aircraft.

As with instrument recency experience accomplished in an aircraft, the pilot would continue to be required to verify and document this time in his or her logbook. The FAA is retaining the requirement that an authorized instructor must be present in an FSTD or ATD when a pilot is logging time to meet the requirements of a certificate or rating, for example, under §§ 61.51(g)(4), 61.65 and 61.129.

The FAA proposals would also eliminate much of the confusion about varying time intervals and tasks required when using a training device or simulator to maintain instrument currency.

Currently, under § 61.57(c), to act as pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft under instrument flight rules (IFR) or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for visual flight rules (VFR), an instrument-rated pilot must accomplish instrument experience (often described as instrument practice, currency or recency) within a certain period preceding the month of the flight.

If a pilot accomplishes the instrument recency experience in an aircraft, FFS, FTD, or a combination, then § 61.57(c)(1)-(2) requires that, within the preceding 6 months, the pilot must have performed: (1) Six instrument approaches; (2) holding procedures and tasks; and (3) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems. [10] If a pilot accomplishes instrument experience exclusively in an ATD, then § 61.57(c)(3) requires that, within the preceding two months, the pilot must have performed the same tasks and maneuvers listed previously plus “two unusual attitude recoveries while in descending V ne airspeed condition and two unusual attitude recoveries while in an ascending stall speed condition.” 14 CFR 61.57(c)(3). Section 61.57(c)(3) also requires a minimum of three hours of instrument recency experience when using an ATD, whereas no minimum time requirement applies when using an aircraft, FFS, or FTD to accomplish the instrument experience.

If a pilot accomplishes the instrument recency experience using an ATD in combination with using an FFS or FTD, then the pilot must—when using an ATD—perform the additional tasks but the “look back” period to act as PIC is six months rather than two months. 14 CFR 61.57(c)(5). The FAA stated in 2009 that the more restrictive time limitations and additional tasks were based on the fact that, at the time, ATDs represented new technology.

Since the ATD provisions were added to § 61.57 in the 2009 final rule, the FAA has received numerous inquiries regarding the terms used in the rule and what might be acceptable combinations when using various aircraft or training devices to satisfy the currency requirements. [11]

The FAA is proposing to amend § 61.57(c) to allow pilots to accomplish instrument experience in ATDs at the same 6-month interval allowed for FFSs and FTDs. In addition, the FAA is proposing to no longer require those pilots who opt to use ATDs exclusively to accomplish instrument recency experience to complete a specific number of additional hours of instrument experience or additional tasks (in existing § 61.57(c)(3)) to remain current. As discussed previously, significant improvements in technology for these training devices have made it possible to allow pilots to use ATDs for instrument recency experience at the same frequency and task level as FSTDs. The FAA believes that this proposal would encourage pilots to maintain instrument currency, promote safety by expanding the options to maintain currency, and be cost saving. As proposed, a pilot would be permitted to complete instrument recency experience in any combination of aircraft, FFS, FTD, or ATD.

Pilots training for a commercial pilot certificate with a single-engine-land rating or a certified flight instructor certificate would no longer have to train in a aircraft with retractable landing gear or use such an aircraft on the corresponding practical tests. Instead, FAA proposes to allow the use of technically advanced aircraft (TAA) for those purposes.

Under the current requirements, an applicant for a commercial pilot certificate with airplane category single engine class rating must accomplish 10 hours of flight training in a complex airplane  or in a turbine-powered airplane…In addition, the Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane (as well as the Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards for Airplane) require a pilot to use a complex airplane for takeoff and landing maneuvers and appropriate emergency tasks for the initial practical test for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category…

With the prominence of airplanes equipped with glass cockpits (i.e., TAA) in today’s general aviation aircraft fleet, the FAA believes it is appropriate to permit the use of certain TAA to complete the training required in § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141 as well as to meet the requirements of the commercial single engine airplane pilot and flight instructor practical test standards…

This trend toward exclusive production of airplanes with glass cockpits (TAA) is due to an increase in demand for advanced avionics cockpit platforms by general aviation consumers. [39] At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in the production of single engine complex airplanes. [40] The FAA understands the decrease in single engine complex airplane manufacturing is due, at least in part, to newer airframe and power plant technologies that allow for aircraft to achieve higher performance (e.g., airspeed, reduced fuel consumption, etc.) without the manufacturing and maintenance costs associated with a retractable gear system that is characteristic of a complex airplane. Cirrus Aircraft has delivered 5,326 aircraft with this fixed gear configuration as of 2012. [41]

Notwithstanding the previous use of terms such as glass cockpit and electronic flight instrument displays, the FAA is proposing to adopt an updated definition of “technically advanced airplane” in § 61.1 based on the common and essential components of advanced avionics systems equipped on the airplane, including a PFD, MFD and an integrated two axis autopilot. These components would be required in order to ensure the TAA used to meet the aeronautical experience requirements for commercial pilots in § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141, as well as the related practical test standards, as amended, have the necessary level of complexity comparable to the traditional single engine complex airplane.

TAA would be required to include a PFD that is an electronic display integrating all of the following flight instruments together: An airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, attitude indicator, heading indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator. Additionally, an independent MFD must be installed that provides a GPS with moving map navigation system and an integrated two axis autopilot. [44] In general, the pilot interfaces with one or more computers in order to operate, navigate, or communicate. The proposed definition of TAA would apply to permanently-installed equipment and would not apply to any portable electronic device. The FAA recognizes the continuing advancements in aircraft avionics and the need for a pilot to be proficient with modern cockpit equipment and automation. As proposed, the FAA would define the term TAA as an airplane with an electronic PFD and an MFD that includes, at a minimum, a GPS moving map navigation and integrated two-axis autopilot.

In addition to adding a definition of TAA to § 61.1, the FAA is proposing to amend the existing training requirements to permit the use of a TAA instead of a complex or turbine-powered airplane by commercial pilot applicants seeking an airplane category single engine class rating. In addition to the regulatory changes, the FAA would revise the practical test standards for commercial pilot applicants and flight instructors seeking an airplane category single engine class rating.

Update to AC 61-98

FAA has published AC 61-98C: Currency Requirements and Guidance for the Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check. This document supplants the previous edition, published in 2012.

Most of the document appears to be an update to reflect changes to references and online resources. But instructors and pilots should note that the AC now recommends that pilots submit a form 8710-1 when they complete a flight review or instrument proficiency check.

1-8. AIRMAN CERTIFICATE AND/OR RATING APPLICATION.

a. Revised Airman Application Form. The FAA frequently updates FAA Form 8710-1, Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application, to meet the needs of the airmen certification process and the aviation community. CFIs, pilots, and stakeholders should note that the latest Form 8710-1 contains enhancements that include a new field for a flight review and another for IPC.

b. Flight Review and IPC. When a pilot satisfactorily completes a flight review or IPC, the applicant should provide, and the evaluating CFI should submit, a completed Form 8710-1 to the Airmen Certification Branch (AFS-760). The FAA does not require Form 8710-1 for a pilot’s flight review or IPC; however, the FAA strongly encourages all applicants and CFIs to follow this recommendation. An airman certificate application updates a pilot’s FAA record. Pilots should ensure that their data is current because up-to-date records benefit everyone. For example, a pilot’s total flight time and aeronautical experience determines insurance premiums. If a pilot loses his or her logbook, an FAA record is on file and available. Nevertheless, submitting Form 8710-1 for a flight review or IPC is optional.

c. Preferred Method. The preferred method for submitting an Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application is through the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system. The FAA did not have the IACRA system updated at the time of this publication; but the latest Form 8710-1 iteration will soon be available in IACRA. IACRA is the web-based certification/rating application that guides the user through the FAA’s airman application process. IACRA validates data. It also uses electronic signatures to protect the information’s integrity and eliminates paper forms.

You can find the IACRA homepage at https://iacra.faa.gov/iacra/

You can find FAA Form 8710-1 online at http://www.faa.gov/forms/

 

VOR Decommissioning: Latest FAA Update

The latest meeting of the FAA’s Aeronautical Charting Forum included an update from FAA on its plans to decommission many VORs as the nation’s air navigation and air traffic control services transition to a GPS-based system. Here’s a summary of the briefing from the ACF meeting minutes:

Discontinuation of VOR Services

Leonixa Salcedo, AJM-324, briefed the issue. Leonixa gave an overview of the VOR MON program and a status report since the last ACF. She reviewed the progress made to date on identifying VORs that may be decommissioned. She pointed out to the audience a significant change in the number of VORs expected to be decommissioned. Previously, it had been reported that approximately 50% of all the VORs in the NAS would be decommissioned. That estimation has been readjusted to just over 33% (approximately 308).

Leonixa stated that since the last ACF, the criteria for decommissioning VORs has been developed by the FAA and MITRE. Discussions have also taken place between the FAA and the DoD, during which the military emphasized that their operational requirements within the NAS require that fewer VORs be decommissioned.

Leonixa explained that the VOR MON program will be on a 10 year timeline of three phases, with the decommissioning of approximately 100 VORs during each phase. The goal is for final transition to the VOR MON by 2025. In the short term, Leonixa stated that a list of VORs initially selected for decommissioning will be released to the public sometime in 2015.

You can review the PowerPoint presentation about the VOR decommissioning program from the ACF meeting here (PDF).

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.

How FAA Hopes to Change the Airway Structure

FAA has outlined a concept for overhauling the current network of low- and high-altitude airways. The plan is part of the FAA’s initiative to move toward performance-based navigation (PBN). At present, the proposal is just that—it isn’t a formal program with full funding.

The presentation, given at the FAA’s Aeronautical Charting Forum meeting on October 28-30, is available as a PDF in my  Aviation Documents folder at OneDrive.

The guiding principles of the proposal are:

  • “Structure where structure is necessary and point-to-point where it is not.”
  • Route structure requirements will be based on factors such as traffic demand, airspace utilization, ATC task complexity, airspace access, and user operational efficiencies.
  • Ground based airways will be retained in areas of with poor radar coverage and in mountainous terrain.

Pilots of light aircraft are most concerned about low-altitude airways and routings, including the venerable victor airways and newer T-routes.

image

Regarding T-routes, FAA hopes to publish low-altitude PBN ATS routes “precisely where needed to”:

  • Access rather than circumvent Class B/C airspace
  • Lower minimum altitudes in areas of high terrain to improve access and avoid icing
  • Circumvent Special Use Airspace in safe and optimal manner

The presentation includes an interesting slide that shows daily utilization of victor airways. The average for the top 81-100 low-altitude airways was just 3 operations (in FY2013).

The graphic below shows how V2, which runs east-west across the northern part of the US, was used in the last two fiscal years. Very few aircraft flew most segments of the airway.

image

Note that the segment that crosses the Cascades east of Seattle (SEA-ELN) gets regular traffic. Other segments, such as MINNY-MKG across Lake Michigan, and legs near BUF, are also well-used, probably due to ATC requirements in these high-traffic areas.

The FAA notes that 80-90% of the aircraft flying the 20 most-used victor airways are already equipped to fly T-routes, which require an IFR-approved GPS.

image

Given that so many aircraft are RNAV-capable, FAA notes that “Users file any combination of route segments, NAVAIDs, and  waypoints when not route restricted by ATC and automation.”

The proposal advocates retiring existing point-to-point navigation programs to give pilots more flexibility in planning and filing direct routes. FAA says it will work with users to create a network of optimally placed waypoints. When specific routes are required, the plan would expand the network of ATC IFR preferred routes, which would not necessarily follow existing airways. Point-to-point navigation would available elsewhere.

The new routes outlines in the plan would also:

  • Increase the number of parallel route options through high density airspace
  • Reduce separation between centerlines of published routes to 8 nm
  • Circumnavigate Special Activity Airspace

For example, the program noted that T-319 passes directly over KATL, giving controllers a straightforward way to route aircraft through the Atlanta Class B airspace.

image

Latest Update from FAA on Plans to Decommission VORs

Two representatives from the FAA recently provided an update on the agency’s plans to decommission VORs. The presentation, given at the FAA’s Aeronautical Charting Forum meeting on October 28-30, is available as a PDF in my Aviation Documents folder at OneDrive. The presentation largely recapped information described in briefings and white papers (described here, here, and here), but it did restate several key points and provide some new information.

Highlights from the latest presentation include:

  • The VOR MON Program will implement the [minimum operational network of VORs] by decommissioning 30-50% of the VORs in the NAS by 2025 (although the current plan retains all VORs in the designated mountainous region of the U.S.—roughly the western third of the country).
  • The reduction will begin gradually over the first five years during which time the bulk of the procedural/airway/airspace work will assessed. Then the plan is to accelerate the process, with 20-25 VORs shut down each year.
  • Only FAA owned/operated VORs will be considered for shutdown.
  • DMEs and TACANs will generally be retained.
  • Many of the remaining VORs will be enhanced to supply increased service volume. VOR standard service volume (SSV) will become 77 NM radius at 5000 ft. AGL.
  • Increase support for direct navigation between VORs without airways.
  • Retain sufficient ILSs, LOCs, and VORs to support “safe-landing” at a suitable destination with a GPS-independent approach (ILS, LOC or VOR) within 100 NM of any location within CONUS.
  • Provide seamless VOR coverage at and above 5000 ft AGL.
  • More than 5,000 instrument approaches may be affected by the reduction in operational VORs.
  • Nearly 1,300 SIDs, STARs, and ODPs may be affected by the reduction in operational VORs.
  • FAA is considering how to refer to and chart DME-only facilities.
  • Graphics in the presentation include a pair of maps that show how the current airway structure will be changed when the MON is established.

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