Flying Instrument Approaches without Activating the Approach

Many pilots who use sophisticated GPS-based navigators have difficulty consistently loading and flying approaches. As I’ve noted elsewhere, pilots who use the vectors-to-final option may find themselves scrambling to comply with a clearance that directs them to a specific fix in the approach. Other pilots fumble with activating an approach, a process that sometimes leads the airplane in an unexpected direction.

Many instructors, myself included, have long advocated using the flight plan page on your navigator to simplify flying instrument approaches (and SIDs and STARs). In fact, the flight plan page or menu is typically the most misunderstood and least-utilized feature of most GPS navigators.

I’ve created a short presentation that guides you through the process of loading (and “activating”) an approach on the Garmin GTN 750. The presentation, Flying an Approach with the GTN 750, is available as a free PDF that you can download from the Aviation Documents folder at my OneDrive page. You can find many more useful, free references there.

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The basic technique and principles described in the presentation apply to most IFR-approved GPS navigators, but you should, of course, review the handbook and AFM supplement applicable to the unit in the aircraft that you fly.

After reviewing the presentation, practice with the free simulators available from Garmin and fly with an instructor or safety pilot in VMC before you launch on an actual IFR flight.

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.

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.”

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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).

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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.

FAA-TerminalProcedureSearch

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.

PDF-compare

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.

VFR-Bulletins

Logging Instrument Approaches as a Flight Instructor

Aspen 1000I recently acted as a flight instructor for a customer who is learning new avionics (especially an Aspen Evolution PFD and a Garmin GTN750) recently installed in his 1970s vintage Cessna Turbo Centurion (T210).

For more information about logging flight time, see this item here at BruceAir.

Typical autumn weather prevailed in Seattle, so we conducted the entire flight under IFR, and we were in the clouds for most of the 1.5 hour flight. The owner flew two ILS approaches and one RNAV (GPS) procedure with LPV minimums. We also flew a hold-in-lieu of a procedure turn (see AIM 5-4-9).

Now, IFR pilots generally must meet the requirements of 14 CFR 61.57(c) to maintain their IFR currency. That regulation states:

…(c) Instrument experience. Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, a person may act as pilot in command under IFR or weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR only if:

…Within the 6 calendar months preceding the month of the flight, that person performed and logged at least the following tasks and iterations in an airplane, powered-lift, helicopter, or airship, as appropriate,…

(i) Six instrument approaches.

(ii) Holding procedures and tasks.

(iii) Intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems.

The question, often asked, is whether I, as the flight instructor, can log the approaches flown by the owner. FAA issued a legal interpretation on this specific issue in 2008. (You can search the FAA website for legal interpretations here.)

The 2008 letter states in part:

Am I correct in understanding that a CFII may log approaches that a student flies when the approaches are conducted in actual instrument conditions? Is there a reference to this anywhere in the rules?

Ref. § 61.51(g)(2); Yes, a CFII may log approaches that a student flies when those approaches are conducted in actual instrument flight conditions. And this would also permit that instructor who is performing as an authorized instructor to “log instrument time when conducting instrument flight instruction in actual instrument flight instructions” and this would count for instrument currency requirements under § 61.67(c).

The letter elaborates by noting that:

The FAA views the instructor’s oversight responsibility when instructing in actual instrument flight conditions to meet the obligation of 61.57(c) to have performed the approaches.

Although the letter does not specifically address the other requirements for IFR currency–holding procedures and tasks and intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems–the reasoning of the interpretation seems to support allowing an instrument instructor also to log those tasks when the aircraft is operating in actual IMC.

Update on VOR Decommissioning

The Aeronautical Charting Forum, a forum sponsored by FAA, met on April 29, 2014 outside Washington, DC. Among the items on the agenda was an update on FAA’s plans to reduce the number of VORs to a minimum operational network (MON). You can download and review a PDF version of the FAA’s PowerPoint presentation here. (Minutes from the full two-day meeting are available here.)

Key points:

  • FAA now plans to transition from a legacy network of 967 VORs to a MON of  approximately 500 VORs by FY2025. That’s a slip of five years from the previous goal of establishing the MON by 2020. For more background, see the FAA’s VOR Minimum Operational Network (MON) Information Paper (PDF).
  • The number of VORs comprising the MON may increase or decrease depending on the requirements for the Department of Defense and the Tactical Operations Committee.

You can find additional details about the FAA’s program to decommission VORs here at BruceAir’s blog:

New Edition of the Instrument Procedures Handbook

The FAA has published a new edition of the Instrument Procedures Handbook (FAA-H-8083-16). You can download the free PDF from the FAA website, here.

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This is first major update to the IPH since 2007. As the preface notes:

It is designed as a technical reference for all pilots who operate under instrument flight rules (IFR) in the National Airspace System (NAS). It expands and updates information contained in the FAA-H-8083-15B, Instrument Flying Handbook, and introduces advanced information for IFR operations. Instrument flight instructors, instrument pilots, and instrument students will also find this handbook a valuable resource since it is used as a reference for the Airline Transport Pilot and Instrument Knowledge Tests and for the Practical Test Standards. It also provides detailed coverage of instrument charts and procedures including IFR takeoff, departure, en route, arrival, approach, and landing. Safety information covering relevant subjects such as runway incursion, land and hold short operations, controlled flight into terrain, and human factors issues also are included.

Updates to AIM, Effective April 3, 2014

The FAA has published updates to the Aeronautical Information Manual, effective April 3, 2014. You can download the PDF version of the new AIM here. The Explanation of Changes section describes the updates to the AIM. The online version of the new edition will be available on the FAA website on the effective date, here.

Key changes for general aviation pilots include:

1−1−3. VHF Omni−directional Range (VOR)

The only positive method of identifying a VOR is by its Morse Code identification or by the recorded
automatic voice identification which is always indicated by use of the word “VOR” following the
range’s name…Some VOR receivers are capable of identifying the VOR and will display the identifier of the VOR if it has successfully done so. However, it is still the pilot’s responsibility to verify the identity of the VOR by conventional methods.

1−1−18. Global Positioning System (GPS)—j. 2. Computer Navigation Fix (CNF)

A Computer Navigation Fix (CNF) is also a point defined by a latitude/longitude coordinate and is required to support area navigation (RNAV) system operations. The GPS receiver uses CNFs in conjunction with waypoints to navigate from point to point. However, CNFs are not recognized by Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC does not maintain CNFs in their database and they do not use CNFs for any air traffic control purpose. CNFs may or may not be charted on FAA aeronautical navigation products, are listed in the chart legends, and are for advisory purposes only. Pilots are not to use CNFs for point to point navigation (proceed direct), filing a flight plan, or in aircraft/ATC communications. CNFs that do appear on aeronautical charts allow pilots increased situational awareness by identifying points in the aircraft database route of flight with points on the aeronautical chart. CNFs are random five−letter identifiers, not pronounceable like waypoints, and placed in parenthesis. Eventually, all CNFs will begin with the letters “CF” followed by three consonants (for example, CFWBG). This five−letter identifier will be found next to an “x” on enroute charts and possibly on an approach chart. On instrument approach procedures(charts) in the terminal procedures publication, CNFs may represent unnamed DME fixes, beginning and ending points of DME arcs, and sensor (ground−based signal i.e., VOR, NDB ILS) final approach fixes on GPS overlay approaches. These CNFs provide the GPS with points on the procedure that allow the overlay approach to mirror the ground−based sensor approach. These points should only be used by the GPS system for navigation and should not be used by pilots for any other purpose on the approach. The CNF concept has not been adopted or recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Here are examples of CNFs as shown on the plan view of the ILS Y RWY 27 at KYKM:

CNFs.

5−4−1. j. Waypoints

1. GPS receivers navigate from one defined point to another retrieved from the aircraft’s on board navigational database. These points are waypoints (5-letter pronounceable name), existing VHF intersections, DME fixes with 5-letter pronounceable names and 3-letter NAVAID IDs. Each waypoint is a geographical location defined by a latitude/longitude geographic coordinate. These 5-letter waypoints, VHF intersections, 5-letter pronounceable DME fixes, and 3-letter NAVAID IDs are published on various FAA aeronautical navigation products (IFR Enroute Charts, VFR Charts, Terminal Procedures Publications, etc.)…

3. GPS approaches use fly−over and fly−by waypoints to join route segments on an approach. Fly−by waypoints connect the two segments by allowing the aircraft to turn prior to the current waypoint in order to roll out on course to the next waypoint. This is known as turn anticipation and is compensated for in the airspace and terrain clearances. The MAWP and the missed approach
holding waypoint (MAHWP) are normally the only two waypoints on the approach that are not fly−by waypoints. Fly−over waypoints are used when the aircraft must overfly the waypoint prior to starting a turn to the new course. The symbol for a fly-over waypoint is a circled waypoint. Some waypoints may have dual use; for example, as a fly-by waypoint when used as an IF for a NoPT route and as a fly-over waypoint when the same waypoint is also used as an IAF/IF hold-in-lieu of PT. When this occurs, the less restrictive (fly-by) symbology will be charted. Overlay approach charts and some early stand-alone GPS approach charts may not reflect this convention.

4. Unnamed waypoints for each airport will be uniquely identified in the database. Although the identifier may be used at different airports (for example, RW36 will be the identifier at each airport with a runway 36), the actual point, at each airport, is defined by a specific latitude/longitude coordinate.

5. The runway threshold waypoint, normally the MAWP, may have a five−letter identifier (for example, SNEEZ) or be coded as RW## (for example, RW36, RW36L). MAWPs located at the runway threshold are being changed to the RW## identifier, while MAWPs not located at the threshold will have a five− letter identifier. This may cause the approach chart to differ from the aircraft database until all changes are complete. The runway threshold waypoint is also used as the center of the Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) on most GPS approaches.

5−4−1. l. Impact of Magnetic Variation on RNAV Systems

1. Differences may exist between charted magnetic courses on ground-based navigational aid
(NAVAID) instrument flight procedures (IFP), area navigation (RNAV) procedures, and RNAV systems on enroute charts, approach charts, and Standard Instrument Departure/Standard Terminal Arrival (SID/STAR) charts. These differences are due to the magnetic variance used to calculate the magnetic course. Every leg of an instrument procedure is first computed along a desired ground track with reference to true north. A magnetic variation correction is then applied to the true course in order to calculate a magnetic course for publication. The type of procedure will determine what magnetic variation value is added to the true course. A ground-based NAVAID IFP applies the facility magnetic variation of record to the true course to get the charted magnetic course. Magnetic courses on RNAV procedures are calculated two different ways. SID/STAR procedures use the airport magnetic variation of record, while IFR enroute charts use magnetic reference bearing. RNAV systems make a correction to true north by adding a magnetic variation calculated with an algorithm based on aircraft position, or by adding the magnetic variation coded in their navigational database. This may result in the RNAV system and the procedure designer using a different magnetic variation, which causes the magnetic course displayed by the RNAV system and the magnetic course charted on the IFP plate to be different. It is important to understand, however, that RNAV systems (with the exception of VOR/DME RNAV equipment) navigate by reference to true north and display magnetic course only for pilot reference. As such, a properly functioning RNAV system, containing a current and accurate navigational database, should still fly the correct ground track for any loaded instrument procedure, despite any differences in magnetic course that may be attributed to magnetic variation application. Should significant differences between the approach chart and the RNAV system avionics’ application of the navigation database arise, the published approach chart, supplemented by NOTAMs, holds precedence.

2. The course into a waypoint may not always be 180 degrees different from the course leaving the previous waypoint, due to the RNAV system avionics’ computation of geodesic paths, distance between waypoints and differences in magnetic variation application. Variations in distances may also occur since RNAV system distance−to−waypoint values are along−track distances (ATD) computed to the next waypoint and the DME values published on underlying procedures are slant−range distances measured to the station. This difference increases with aircraft altitude and proximity to the NAVAID.

5−3−4. Airways and Route Systems

(b) Unpublished RNAV routes are direct routes, based on area navigation capability, between waypoints defined in terms of latitude/longitude coordinates, degree−distance fixes, or offsets from established routes/airways at a specified distance and direction. Radar monitoring by ATC is required on all unpublished RNAV routes, except for GNSS−equipped aircraft cleared via filed published waypoints recallable from the aircraft’s navigation database.

5−4−1. Standard Terminal Arrival(STAR), Area Navigation (RNAV) STAR, and Flight Management System Procedures (FMSP) for Arrivals

This change incorporates updated guidance on resumption of published altitude and speed restrictions, guidance on what is expected of aircrews when issued a “climb via” clearance, and clarifies the expectation that pilots will advise the receiving controller of the altitude being vacated and the altitude they are climbing to when changing frequencies.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

i. 5−4−5. Instrument Approach Procedure Charts

This change updates guidance to reflect the fact that the initial approach fix (IAF) waypoint is not an IAF, but an intermediate fix (IF). This change also updates guidance on descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA).

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

7−1−11. Flight Information Services (FIS)

This change updates information and guidance to modify outdated information, reflect policy and terminology changes, and address changing technologies.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

7−1−14. ATC Inflight Weather Avoidance Assistance

This change was added to expand the meaning of the phrase “when able” when used in conjunction with a clearance to deviate around weather. The clearance to deviate is clarified to allow maneuvering within the lateral limits of the deviation clearance.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

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