Airspace redesign, increased use of RNAV and optimum climb/descent profiles complicate and clutter STARs and SIDs. Procedure complexity previously stemmed from complicated lateral paths. Course changes and cross-radials required frequencies to be tuned and OBS knobs spun like the man behind the curtain. (I’m supposed to identify each of these stations too?) The HAARP arrival into LaGuardia is an example: tracking outbound on Kingston R-203, the number two radio is set on Deer Park R-338, then number one on the Pawling R-211 or Huguenot R-107 to identify BASYE intersection.
FMS and GPS magic wonder boxes eliminated lateral navigation complexity. Instead of tuning, identifying and twisting, a pilot could sit back and watch waypoints tick off in the box and the path neatly displayed on the MFD. A coupled autopilot could even fly the jagged line, further reducing pilot workload. But procedure complexity continued increasing, with a third dimension of altitude and a fourth dimension of speed.
As tablets and EFBs supplanted paper charts, new problems arose. Pilots zoom in, often missing important margin notes like general speed restrictions. The general procedure speed note on the SID out of Chicago O’Hare is frequently missed, despite multiple chart re-designs. As general notes replace fix-specific constraints, violations of general requirements are increasing.
Jeppesen’s update to STAR and SID charting is designed to address these problems. The hype promises that the changes will increase situational awareness, reduce likelihood of violating restrictions and enhance EFB usage. Let’s see.
Meet the New Chart
Some of the changes are immediately apparent—the charts look a lot more like approach charts. Other changes are subtle and represent an incremental step to an EFB-oriented charting system.
To improve situational awareness, terrain and water will be depicted on SIDs and STARs. Currently these features are only shown on approach charts. The importance of publishing this information can be quickly seen on the SPANE arrival and ILS 34R into SLC. Flying over FFU, there is no clue that terrain is all around until flipping to the approach chart and seeing the plan view filled with browns and oranges.
Going two steps further, the minimum safe altitude (MSA) and grid minimum off-route altitude (MORA) will also be depicted on the charts. Publishing the MSA improves situational awareness of where the 25-mile ring extends, particularly when the reference point isn’t on-field. Grid MORAs increase terrain awareness and give pilots a chance to double check ATC-assigned altitudes when off the published path.
The new charts will also be drawn to scale. This understatedly huge improvement allows for EFBs with geo-referenced charts to display ownship position. This will indeed be a big help on complex procedures.
Constraints, published in high contrast colors, will scream at a pilot to comply. Altitude restrictions will be shown in blue with speeds in magenta. The magenta is consistent with earlier attempts to highlight speed constraints. Additionally, the constraint box is being dropped and replaced with under/over bars as found on approach charts. If a constraint is “at or above” there will be a line under it, an “at or below” will have a bar above the number and an “at” requirement will have bars above and below. A “between” restrictions will have two altitudes stacked with lines over and under; like an altitude sandwich with bars being the bread.
Questions were also raised about the visibility of these colors in low light, especially red light and the magenta speed constraint color. According to Jepp, the actual hue used in the printing processes combines enough other pigments that the writing is visible even under red light.
An ever-increasing number of pilots use backlit EFBs. These eliminate low light problems but create new ones. Notes that don’t fit the orientation of the chart are a challenge to read. Flipping the orientation of the chart, even using an iPad, to scan chart notes is painful. It’s even more complicated for EFB’s fixed to the aircraft.
The new charts align the notes with the orientation of the chart. No orientation flipping is required to read them. More charts will be published with a horizontal orientation on fold-out pages for those still using paper.
Why They’re So Complicated
RNAV ended dependence on ground based navaids and the contorted routings they caused. Yet new procedures are more complicated than ever. Much of this complication is driven by airspace.
Controllers are experts about the airspace they control. Not only do they know the boundaries (encroaching on another’s airspace is as serious as a loss of separation between aircraft), but also all the navaids, routes, frequencies and letters of agreement between facilities.
Those letters of agreement can be complex if there are significant traffic or airspace concerns. It’s not uncommon for a SID or a STAR to be developed in four dimensions around these agreements to greatly simplify the controllers’ jobs.
Additionally, clearances to fly these four-dimensional procedures mean one controller is clearing a flight through another’s airspace. This is a huge cultural change for ATC where separation was usually achieved using vertical clearances and personal controller-to-controller coordination was required to clear an aircraft through somebody else’s airspace.
Efficient designs that allow smooth descents often touch multiple controllers’ airspace. Previously, flights were just given an inefficient altitude so they’d remain in a single sector. To gain efficiency either airspace has to be moved or areas cut out to fit procedures. Few humans like change, so ATC uses safety and workload arguments to limit changes.
The biggest problems occur at the convergence of different airspaces. Airports close to the boarder of multiple centers and approach controls will have messy procedures. No way around that until a major national overhaul takes place.
Wanna see some ugly STARS? Check out the VYPPR1 into ATL, affectionately known as “the dreamcatcher,” or the GIIBS2 into IND.
These changes aren’t a panacea perfecting the delivery of arrival and departure information for EFBs. Instead, think of these changes as intermediate and incremental updates journeying towards all-digital charting. The charts don’t have hover boxes or the ability to dynamically highlight routing.
Jeppesen promised to give us at least two months to train pilots before rolling out the changes. Briefing bulletins, updated legend pages, pilot-training documents and online videos will ease the transition. The preview indicates that the changes should be intuitive.
With 19,876 STAR/SID charts, Jepp has its work cut out. The plan is to roll out the changes about the time you’re reading this, first updating Europe then the U.S. airports that benefit the most from the changes (those with lots of terrain and traffic). All charts at an airport will be updated concurrently.
Jepp revolutionized approach charts with the briefing strip. It put vital information in a logical and clear format. These changes aren’t as revolutionary. But, they are significant and will achieve Jepp’s stated goals of increasing situational awareness, reducing likelihood of violating restrictions and improving EFB usage. Watch for them and see what you think.
Comply with Those Speeds
Speeds are the most missed requirements on SIDs and STARs. Either they are unnoticed when looking at the charts or the pilot mistakenly thinks they don’t apply. We shouldn’t be surprised. STARs are taught during initial instrument training, but they’re mostly theoretical at that time because GA doesn’t use many and often instructors don’t have any more experience.
The basics of speeds on STARs are simple; speeds are part of a lateral clearance. When cleared for a STAR, comply with speeds at fixes unless ATC assigns something else. Don’t be cute and speed up between fixes. The speed applies to the whole path until it is necessary to adjust for the next constraint. Neither constraints nor clearances supersede regulatory speeds: 250 KIAS below 10,000 feet, 200 KIAS within four miles of a class C or D airport, and 200 KIAS below class B airspace (91.117).
Adding the vertical element and descend-via clearances (“Descend via ARIVL One”) can be confusing. Compliance with altitudes on STARs isn’t required except when given a descend-via clearance. The temptation is to ignore every constraint when not on a descend-via. You shouldn’t.
General speed boxes, often found around the chart title on Jepps, are becoming increasingly popular. These replace many fix-specific constraints and clean-up charts. There’s debate within the industry about how they apply when off a published path. Normal speed constraints are path specific and don’t apply when off the published route. Whether general speed notes apply off a published path is being debated by aviation acronym groups.
Jordan Miller is a pilot for a major U.S. airline and enjoys the minutia of being on a committee that deals with all the details like this.