Friday, October 10, 2008

Fresh Perspective

A while back I wrote:
VFR charts use basically two colors and various types of shading to depict all possible airspace. And if you don't think pilots are confused, just sit in on one of the many flight reviews I give and you'll have more than enough evidence. Sure I complain, but here's just one constructive suggestion. For MOAs, Prohibited, Restricted, and Alert areas, NACO could just put the altitude depictions and the frequency of the controlling agency right next to the airspace depiction. That way, pilots won't have to remember an identifying number, unfold their sectional in flight, and look it up on another part of the chart. Who cares about the hours of operation for an area when you can just talk to the controlling agency and ask them if the area is hot?
Well the FAA hasn't changed the sacred VFR sectional and terminal area charts that most U.S. pilots use, but Jeppesen seems to think there's a market for improved VFR charts. They've begun introducing what they call VFR+GPS charts that have an easier-to-read layout and some nifty features. As of this writing the VFR+CPS charts are only available for selected areas in the U.S., but Jeppesen says they plan to cover all the major Class B areas within the next few months.

There isn't a VFR+GPS chart available yet for Northern California, so I purchased one that covers a particularly complicated area of airspace in the Southeastern U.S. that I flew through on my trip to the Caribbean back in June. The area around Eglin Air Force Base is pretty messy. I count about 6 restricted areas, one alert area, 2 military operation areas, several warning areas with a smattering of Class Delta and Charlie thrown in for good measure. When I transited the area en route from Lake Charles to Tallahassee, the FAA's depiction on the New Orleans sections was complicated enough that I decided to cut the Gordian knot and transited the area under IFR.



Compare the NACO representation with the new Jeppesen VFR+GPS Chart ... Now this is where I'd like to show you part of a Jeppesen VFR+GPS chart (marked "Do Not Use for Navigation" of course), but I'm unable to do so since their products are protected by copyright and they don't seem to want to respond to my request for permission to show an excerpt. Sigh ...

Nevertheless, I see several advantages with the Jepp VFR+GPS charts.
  • The background contrast is much better than what you see in the NACO charts. I've never been a big fan of light blue lettering against a background consisting of varying shades of green and yellow. The improved contrast certainly makes the Jepp charts easier to read.
  • TRSA, Class E, D, C and Class B are all labeled and have explicit depictions of the altitudes for each area.
  • Areas of controlled airspace that begin at the surface are shaded so they stand out.
  • Since all controlled airspace is explicitly labeled, you don't have to remember a particular color or shading to determine what type of airspace you're looking at.
  • The altitudes for restricted, prohibited, and other special use airspace are explicitly labeled.
  • If you've ever struggled to locate intersecting lines of latitude and longitude, the Jepp charts highlight these as bold red crosses.
  • Popular VFR reporting points, intersections, and waypoints are clearly depicted, making them easier to use for GPS navigation.
  • Instead of Minimum Elevation Figures that provide an obstruction clearance of 300 to 400 feet, the Jepp charts depict a much more conservative Minimum Grid Area Elevation that provide 1000 feet of clearance for obstructions below 5000 feet MSL and 2000 feet of clearance for obstructions above 5000 feet MSL.
Now for the downside.
  • Approach control frequencies are not depicted on the chart next to the associated airspace. Instead, you have to look on the back of the chart to find the particular Class C or Class B airspace and then determine the sector you are closest to before you can determine the frequency to use. I think this is a big oversight on Jeppesen's part because it forces pilots to engage in chart wrestling (having to unfold the chart and turn it over), which is a real safety concern for single-pilot operations.
  • The special use airspace table on the back of the chart I purchased does not list any frequencies for the controlling agencies. What's up with that?!
  • I would have preferred to see the altitude depictions for Restricted, Prohibited, Warning Areas, and MOAs be the same as for controlled airspace rather than use a different convention.
Overall, I think the Jepp VFR+GPS charts offer improved readability over NACO charts. And while these charts are a bit more expensive that their NACO counterparts, the Jepp charts will not be published on a regular basis. Instead, you'll need to visit the Jepp site or subscribe to their email chart updates and, one would assume, pencil in the changes on the chart yourself. Time will tell whether or not this will be a usable system of updating charts.

I have yet to see the VFR Area Charts that Jeppesen is producing. I'll wait until they publish these new charts for the SFO Class B area and then post another review. Who knows, by then Jeppesen might have responded to my copyright request. Overall, I say kudos to Jeppesen for trying to build a better mouse trap.

1 comment:

IFR Pilot said...

John, I'd think if you posted an excerpt of a Jepp chart, you don't need their consent. "Fair use" under the federal copyright law should protect you, esp. since you are posting it as part of a review for comparison purposes. See http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

Best,

IFR Pilot