Wednesday, March 05, 2014

8 Things the FAA Could do to Simplify Instrument Procedures

Studious instrument pilots read, assimilate, and they ask questions that can be difficult to answer. A recent discussion about why the FAA depicts Computer Navigation Fixes (CNF) on instrument approach procedures is a good example. After the usual spiel, "CNFs aren't to be used for flight planning and will never be referred to by ATC or included in a clearance ..." the pilot responded that he understood what CNFs were, but didn't understand why they are shown on the charts." Why indeed! These sorts of questions can lead to a blue sky discussion about what kinds of changes would make instrument charts easier to use, reduce confusion, and enhance safety. Here are 8 things the FAA might do to make instrument charts easier to use.


I wrote about the problem of depicting Computer Navigation Fixes (CNF) on approach procedures over three years ago and Computer Navigation Fixes being depicted on charts is still stupid. CNFs create confusion. They are visual/procedural cockroaches. One get's the feeling they were devised by people who primarily fly a desk for living instead of an aircraft. One of the most egregious examples (KSAC ILS or LOC RWY 2) is shown below - an approach segment that is 0.2 nautical miles long and involves a 45 degree change in course. Seriously? The FAA and the various GPS database providers need to recognize that CNFs add no value and eliminate their use on the various chart products.

By Any Other Name

The naming conventions for RNAV approaches is needlessly complicated and while this might seem trivial, complexity adds to everyones' workload. Consider the KOAK RNAV (GPS) Y 28R and RNAV (RNP) Z 28R. The first problem is that someone decided that RNAV approach titles needed to have a designation contained in parenthesis - GPS or RNP. Then someone decided that any item in an approach title contained within parenthesis should not be used when requesting the approach or clearing a pilot for the approach. Seriously? RNAV 28R and RNP 28R would do just fine, thank you very much. Most of us don't fly aircraft with the necessary authorization to fly RNP approaches, the silly naming is just extra workload for pilots and instructors, and it's confusing for ATC, too. Okay, maybe a committee (no doubt consisting of non-pilots) will have to be convened to make this happen, but the FAA should sweat small stuff like this because it's the little things that add up in day-to-day operations - death by a thousand cuts, some might say.

Round Up, Please

For minimum descent altitudes (MDA) and decision altitudes (DA) on instrument approaches, why not round up to the nearest 10 feet.  Is 2' lower really going to make an operational difference?

Required Equipment

During training, instrument students learn that the equipment required to fly an approach is contained in the approach title, except when it isn't. If certain equipment is required to transition from the en route phase (say an airway) or required to fly the missed approach, then that equipment is depicted in the notes section or on the plan view entry. It's almost as if the FAA wanted pilots to make mistakes! Why not just put the equipment that is required for an approach on the plan view and make it nice and clear to everyone. And if IFR-certified GPS is a substitute for DME, NDB, or a marker beacon, why not say so on the chart? Which of the two representations shown below is easier to understand?

Non-Local Altimeter Setting

When the surface weather is not available for an airport and you must use another reporting station (as in the KSNS ILS RWY 31 shown above), why not include the frequency on the approach procedure in the notes section?

VORs aren't Dead ... Yet

Some RNAV approaches depict VORs as part of a missed approach procedure or for missed approach holding. So why not include the VOR frequency so that pilots can use all available resources with less confusion and head-down time?

OAK VOR frequency, please!

Departure Obstructions

There are some departures that go into such detail about obstructions it make one wonder how long it took to obtain that information and, in the case of trees, how accurate that information is over time. Consider the Kanan 2 departure from Concord. The designers may as well given each tree a name. The chart designers chose to push the departure route description to the second page rather than have it next to the graphic depiction of the route so they could describe where the trees are. Even then, there wasn't room and they had to continue the list on the second page. This level of detail is mind-numbing. If you meet the required climb performance, why would a pilot need to know where each obstruction is located? Oh and in case you missed it in that sea of ink, ADF is required ...

Terrain Depiction

When terrain within the plan view exceeds 4,000 feet above the airport elevation or terrain rises to at least 2,000 feet above the airport within six miles of the field, it will be depicted on an approach procedure plan view. That may seem reasonable, but one size does not fit all. The wheels fall off when multiple transitions exist with multiple fixes, altitudes, and courses depicted. Does a plan view depiction like the KSTS ILS or LOC RWY 32 really enhance safety or does it simply make the chart harder to read? Someone should to apply common sense to the rules about depicting terrain or at least review the placement of the information that could also be important to safety of flight.

Pipe Up

Have your own pet peeves about instrument procedure minutiae along with possible solution? Fire away!

1 comment:

Robert Chapin said...

My pet peeve is missed approach points. There are only two types, precision and non-precision, yet there are several different depictions on common procedures. I've written about this in some detail on my blog.

Non-local altimeter frequencies do need to be added. Charts here at F00 only say "Use Greenville" or "Use Majors". They mean the same thing, but it's up to the pilot to sort it out.

The ILS at KSTS looks busy with 5 VORs, 2 airports, and separate GSIA and FAF altitude. I wonder if all those step downs are really necessary?