Fall 2017 Update on VOR Decommissioning

At the October 2017 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum, the FAA provided an update on the program gradually to decommission about 309 VORs by 2025 as part of the switch to GNSS-based performance based navigation (PBN).

To see the full list of VORs that FAA plans to decommission, visit this post at BruceAir.

VORandMON-Overview

According to the minutes of that meeting and a presentation from an FAA representative, the switch to the mininimum operational network (MON) of about 587 VORs includes the following highlights:

Discontinued 16 VORs to date:
– [EDS] Edisto, in Orangeburg, SC – February 4, 2016
– [BUA] Buffalo, in Buffalo, SD – July 21, 2016
– [PNN] Princeton, in Princeton ME – July 21, 2016
– [PLB] Plattsburgh, in Plattsburgh, NY – September 15, 2016
– [AOH] Allen County , in Lima, OH – September 15, 2016
– [ABB] Nabb, in Nabb Indiana – January 5, 2017
– [SYO] Sayre, in Sayre Oklahoma – April 27, 2017
– [ENW] Kenosha, in Kenosha Wisconsin – June 22, 2017
– [BTL] Battle Creek, in Battle Creek, Michigan – June 22,2017
– [HRK] Horlick, in Horlick Wisconsin – June 22, 2017
– [HUW] West Plains, Missouri – August 17, 2017
– [RIS] Kansas City, Missouri – September 14, 2017
– [DDD] Port City, in Muscatine, IA – October 12, 2017
– [JKS] Jacks Creek, TN – October 12, 2017
– [MXW] Maxwell, CA – October 12, 2017
– [STE] Stevens Point, WI – October 12, 2017

Over the next six months, the following  seven VORs are scheduled to be shut down:

– [AOO] Altoona, PA
– [BRD] Brainerd, MN
– [DKK] Dunkirk, NY
– [HVN] New Haven, CT
– [PNE] North Philadelphia, PA
– [RNL] Rainelle, WV
– [RUT] Rutland, VT

You can follow the links in the list above to see the VORs on a VFR chart. Note that these navaids are not the only VORs in the vicinity. In fact, in most cases, at least one VOR is within just a few miles of the facility slated for shutdown.

HVN-VOR

Part of the switch to the MON is establishing new VOR service volumes. The FAA representative noted that upgrading and flight checking remaining VORs is one the next steps in the VOR MON program. The upgraded service volume values will be 70 nm at or above 5000 ft and 130 nm above 18,000 ft for high VORs. When the flight checks are complete, new information about VOR service volumes will be published in the Chart Supplement and the AIM.

Advertisements

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).

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).

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.

SeattleSectional-NewFormat

A New Way to Open and Close VFR Flight Plans

I recently ferried a C182 from Boulder City, NV to Boulder, CO (route at SkyVector here).

This a was VFR trip with the airplane’s new owner (who hadn’t flown in more than 30 years–talk about getting back into flying), and, based on previous experience flying the route, I knew that for much of the trip we’d be in poor radar/communications coverage at 9500 MSL. It was a good opportunity to try the new EasyActivate and EasyClose features available via Lockheed Martin Flight Services (video below).

Now, I know the arguments about the value of filing VFR flight plans, and like many pilots, I rarely file VFR flight plans. Contacting FSS to open a VFR flight plan, especially when departing busy airspace, can be cumbersome, and even with cell phones, calling FSS at the other end and navigating the prompts/menus to close a flight plan with a briefer can also be pain.

But on long trips like this one, across sparsely populated areas and in a new airplane, I like having backup for SAR. For that purpose, I filed a detailed route (see above) and stuck to it. (I did pick up flight following on the leg from KAEG–necessary to get through the ABQ Class C and to deal efficiently with the airspace around Denver.)

This new feature is handy. File your VFR flight plan directly with L-M (not DUAT or DUATS) and select the appropriate options. About 30 minutes before your ETD, you’ll get an email or text message with a link to open the flight plan. When you’re ready to go, click/tap the link. You’ll receive a confirmation.

About 30 minutes before your ETA, you’ll get another message from L-M with a link to close the flight plan. After you land, click/tap the link, and almost immediately you’ll receive a confirmation.

No menus. No waiting to talk to a briefer over a scratchy connection. And with the reminders, less risk of forgetting to close a VFR flight plan.

Given that many of my flights involve trips into the wide open spaces of the West, often in airplanes that either aren’t equipped or suitable for IFR, I’m going to take advantage of this new way to use VFR flight plans.

Flying (and Filing) Direct v. Airways

Many pilots who use GPS as their primary navigation tool, whether operating VFR or IFR, now plan their flights assuming a direct course from departure to destination. They do so for several common reasons:

  • To save time and fuel by trimming miles from long flights
  • To simplify the creation of flight plans (lists of waypoints) in GPS navigators, especially units that don’t support entry of airway designations
  • To simplify navigation in flight by reducing the number of turn points
  • To avoid major changes from a filed IFR flight plan when they receive their actual clearance from ATC. Pilots who file direct often say, “Filing a specific route is futile. ATC assigns a different route when you get your clearance, so why bother planning a detailed route?”
Direct or…

Direct

…Airways?

Airway

While it’s true that direct routes are by definition shorter than those that include zigs and zags, as we’ll see shortly, the difference, especially on trips of the length typically flown by piston-powered aircraft operating below the flight levels, is usually much smaller than most pilots assume.

In the event, terrain, airspace, and preferred routes (under IFR) can make direct routes ill-advised, impractical, or impossible, especially in the mountainous regions of the West and within the congested airspace of areas like the Northeast, the Bay Area, and the LA Basin.

A route with several waypoints or which travels at least partially along airways has several advantages, including:

  • Making it easier to track your progress on charts
  • Helping you remain aware of alternatives should you need to stop for fuel, accommodate passengers, avoid weather, or deal with a malfunction

It’s also far easier to amend a flight plan than it is to build a complete flight plan from scratch, and having a detailed route “in the box” before you leave the ramp also helps reduce heads-down time while taxiing and during high-workload phases of flight like departure and arrival, especially when you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar airspace.

(Keep in mind that even if you prefer to file and fly direct under IFR, your route usually must include several waypoints. The procedures and requirements for filing direct and RNAV routes are described in AIM 5-1-8, especially sections C and D.)

But for the purposes of this exercise, assume that direct routes are feasible.

Direct v. airway: distance, time, and fuel

Today, many tools make laying out routes an easy, no-math proposition, so planning a flight with course changes is hardly a chore. Flight-planning/navigation apps like ForeFlight (version 4.6 is described here) now include flight-planning/route-building features that make it easy to compare direct and airway routings and to include preferred and TEC routes, and SIDs and STARs. The flight log features in iPad apps like ForeFlight also help you efficiently build flight plans in GPS navigators (such as the popular Garmin GNS 400/500 series boxes) that require manual entry of at least the fixes that define entry, turn, and exit points of airways or the initial fixes of SIDs and STARs.

Let’s use ForeFlight to explore some of the issues outlined above in more detail.

A typical flight: KBFI-S78

Here’s route between Seattle and Boise that I fly several times a year to support Pilots N Paws. It’s from Boeing Field (KBFI) to Emmett, ID (S78).

As you can see below, the direct route is 327 nm. In this example, at 160 KTAS, estimated time in en route is 02:10, and the trip requires about 32.5 gallons of fuel, not including time and fuel to climb.

020

And climb we must to fly this route, because under IFR we must cruise at or above 10,000 ft. to clear terrain (probably at least 11,000 ft. when flying southeast). The direct route also clips or comes close to a couple of restricted areas.

My typical, mostly airways, route, at 341 nm, is only 14 nm longer, about 5 minutes at 160 knots. This route follows the airway between SEA and ELN (MEA 8000) and clears the big restricted area near YKM. In fact, the total mileage is a bit less, because after takeoff, ATC typically vectors me to join V2. The KBFI-SEA leg is in the flight plan (and the box) just to make it easier to join the airway.

This route also passes near many airports and VORs, giving me options and backup navigation sources.

021

Another common route, via V4 out of Seattle, is, at 330 nm, practically the same as the others, although it requires a cruise altitude of at least 10,000 ft. under IFR.

022

Another example: Seattle to northern California

Here’s another trip that I make a few times a year: KBFI to the Bay Area with a fuel stop (for relatively inexpensive fuel) at KOVE (Oroville, CA). The direct route is 483 nm.

023

That route spends a lot of time over the mountains and clips some MOAs. Because of traffic between Seattle and Portland, ATC isn’t likely to offer it under IFR.

My usual filed route avoids those issues and comes in at 511 nm, a difference of 28 nm (about 10 minutes at 160 knots). It clears the busy corridor between Seattle and Portland, and ATC usually accommodates it. Again, this route remains close to many airports, and the majority of the flight is over terrain that allows reasonable MEAs. Because I have stored this route (including the fixes that define V23) in my GNS530W, it’s easy to include changes or shave miles if ATC approves shortcuts (e.g., between OLM and EUG) or deviations for weather. But as we’ve seen, on trips of this length, trimming a leg or two doesn’t typically offer significant savings in time or fuel.

024

One more example: KBFI-KOSH

But what about a much longer flight, say the annual trip to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI? Leaving aside the need to stop for fuel and spend the night, the direct route from KBFI to KOSH is 1,417 nm, about 08:38 of flying time at 160 KTAS.

028

A typical, mostly airway route (subject, of course, to changes for weather) is about 100 nm (some 7 percent) longer, but it adds less than 1 hour of flying time (winds aloft and other factors being equal). Total block time, of course, would be much greater to accommodate fuel and overnight stops, but those considerations also apply to the direct route.

029

More importantly, the mostly airways route guides you through mountain passes and keeps you relatively close to airports and highways (which means you’re also nearer towns and services).

Flight plans and flight planning

As I’ve suggested above, filing and filing a route that includes airway segments and multiple waypoints can also help you track your progress more easily than when following long direct segments. The act of laying out a route and building a flight log encourages you to become familiar with navigation fixes and to think about decision points along the way. What’s the weather like at nearby alternates? Which airports offer the best services? What types of instrument approaches are available along the way? What are good points en route to evaluate your actual flight time and fuel burn?

It’s certainly possible to ask and answer such questions when laying out a basic direct route, but there’s often real value—and little additional cost in time or money–in following another path.

Flight Navigator Handbook (FAA-H-80893-18)

The FAA has released a new aviation handbook, the Flight Navigator Handbook (FAA-H-80893-18), available as a free PDF that you can download from the Aviation Handbooks & Manuals page at the FAA website.

According to the preface:

The Flight Navigator Handbook provides information on all phases of air navigation. It is a source of reference for navigators and navigator students. This handbook explains how to measure, chart the earth, and use flight instruments to solve basic navigation problems. It also contains data pertaining to flight publications, preflight planning, in-flight procedures, and low altitude navigation. A listing of references and supporting information used in this publication is at Appendix A; mathematical formulas to use as an aid in preflight and in-flight computations are at Appendix B; chart and navigation symbols are at Appendix C.; and a Celestial Computation Sheet is at Appendix D.

In this age of GPS, learning the details of navigation may seem silly, but this guide can help pilots and flight instructors understand the the important principles of aerial navigation.