Airborne Navigation Databases (Part Five)

Naming Conventions

Obvious differences exist between the names of procedures shown on charts and those that appear on the displays of many RNAV systems. Most of these differences can be accounted for simply by the way the avionics manufacturers elect to display the information to the pilot. It is the avionics manufacturer that creates the interface between the pilot and the database. For example, the VOR 12R approach in San Jose, California, might be displayed several different ways depending on how the manufacturer designs the pilot interface. Some systems display procedure names exactly as they are charted, but many do not.


The naming of multiple approaches of the same type to the same runway is also changing. Multiple approaches with the same guidance will be annotated with an alphabetical suffix beginning at the end of the alphabet and working backwards for subsequent procedures (e.g., ILS Z RWY 28, ILS Y RWY 28, etc.). The existing annotations, such as ILS 2 RWY 28 or Silver ILS RWY 28, will be phased out and replaced with the new designation.

NAVAIDs are also subject to naming discrepancies as well. This problem is complicated by the fact that multiple NAVAIDs can be designated with the same identifier. VOR XYZ may occur several times in a provider’s database, so the avionics manufacturer must design a way to identify these fixes by a more specific means than the three-letter identifier. Selection of geographic region is used in most instances to narrow the pilot’s selection of NAVAIDs with like identifiers.

Non-directional beacons (NDBs) and locator outer markers (LOMs) can be displayed differently than they are charted. When the first airborne navigation databases were being implemented, NDBs were included in the database as waypoints instead of NAVAIDs. This necessitated the use of five character identifiers for NDBs. Eventually, the NDBs were coded into the database as NAVAIDs, but many of the RNAV systems in use today continue to use the fivecharacter identifier. These systems display the characters “NB” after the charted NDB identifier. Therefore, NDB ABC would be displayed as “ABCNB.”

Other systems refer to NDB NAVAIDs using either the NDB’s charted name if it is five or fewer letters, or the one to three character identifier. PENDY NDB located in North Carolina, for instance, is displayed on some systems as“PENDY,”while other systems might only display the NDBs identifier “ACZ.” [Figure 6-31]

Figure 6-31. Manufacturer’s naming conventions.

Figure 6-31. Manufacturer’s naming conventions.

Using the VOR/DME Runway 34 approach at Eugene Mahlon Sweet Airport (KEUG) in Eugene, Oregon, as another example, which is named V34, may be displayed differently by another avionics platform. For example, a GPS produced by one manufacturer might display the approach as VOR 34, whereas another might refer to the approach as VOR/DME 34, and an FMS produced by another manufacturer may refer to it as VOR34. These differences can cause visual inconsistencies between chart and GPS displays, as well as confusion with approach clearances and other ATC instructions for pilots unfamiliar with specific manufacturer’s naming conventions.

For detailed operational guidance, refer to Advisory Circular (AC) 90-100, U.S. Terminal and En Route Area Navigation (RNAV) Operations; AC 90-101, Approval Guidance for Required Navigation Performance (RNP) Procedures with Authorization Required (AR); AC 90-105, Approval guidance for RNP Operations and Barometic Vertical Navigation in the U.S. National Airspace System and in Oceanic and Remote Continental Airspace; and AC 90-107, Guidance for Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance and Localizer Performance without Vertical Guidance Approach Operations in the U.S. National Airspace System.


Issues Related To Magnetic Variation

Magnetic variations for locations coded into airborne navigation databases can be acquired in several ways. In many cases they are supplied by government agencies in the epoch year variation format. Theoretically, this value is determined by government sources and published for public use every five years. Providers of airborne navigation databases do not use annual drift values; instead the database uses the epoch year variation until it is updated by the appropriate source provider. In the United States, this is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In some cases the variation for a given location is a value that has been calculated by the avionics system. These dynamic magnetic variation values can be different than those used for locations during aeronautical charting and must not be used for conventional NAVAIDs or airports.

Discrepancies can occur for many reasons. Even when the variation values from the database are used, the resulting calculated course might be different from the course depicted on the charts. Using the magnetic variation for the region instead of the actual station declination can result in differences between charted and calculated courses and incorrect ground track. Station declination is only updated when a NAVAID is site checked by the governing authority that controls it, so it is often different than the current magnetic variation for that location. Using an onboard means of determining variation usually entails coding some sort of earth model into the avionics memory. Since magnetic variation for a given location changes predictably over time, this model may only be correct for one time in the lifecycle of the avionics. This means that if the intended lifecycle of a GPS unit were 20 years, the point at which the variation model might be correct would be when the GPS unit was 10 years old. The discrepancy would be greatest when the unit was new, and again near the end of its life span.

Another issue that can cause slight differences between charted course values and those in the database occurs when a terminal procedure is coded using magnetic variation of record. When approaches or other procedures are designed, the designers use specific rules to apply variation to a given procedure. Some controlling government agencies may elect to use the epoch year variation of an airport to define entire procedures at that airport. This may result in course discrepancies between the charted value and the value calculated using the actual variations from the database.

Issues Related To Revision Cycle

Pilots should be aware that the length of the airborne navigation database revision cycle could cause discrepancies between aeronautical charts and information derived from the database. One important difference between aeronautical charts and databases is the length of cutoff time. Cutoff refers to the length of time between the last day that changes can be made in the revision, and the date the information becomes effective. Aeronautical charts typically have a cutoff date of 10 days prior to the effective date of the charts.