PBN Everywhere

This is the third in a series of posts on the rapid and ongoing adoption of NextGen procedures and processes, and what that means for 21st-century flight crews.

Perhaps after last month’s post you have had the chance to browse the FAA’s NextGen Website; chances are you were surprised to see how quickly and widely the FAA has been implementing changes to the national airspace. In September of this year, the FAA unveiled its “PBN NAS Navigation Strategy 2016”—a detailed plan to make Performance Based Navigation the primary means of navigation in the U. S. within 15 years (by the way, that strategy is well under way). In my regular contact with aviation professionals from all parts of the industry, I’m constantly reminded of the lack of understanding and readiness of pilots to move from conventional instrument flight procedures to those that are compatible with NextGen airspace.

In short, it means that much of what many of us have been using for nearly five decades as the primary means of aircraft navigation—including instrument approach procedures—is changing. Those of us who can readily recite the “on course” or “established” guidelines for VOR, NDB, LOC, and ILS approaches will have to understand just as fully the meaning of RNP value, accuracy limit, containment limit, and lateral TSE, among other terms of art for 21st-century instrument flying. There are too many differences between the “old way” of flying approaches to cover in a brief web post; but understanding the foundational concept of why things are so rapidly evolving towards RNP approach operations is essential. RNP operations are, essentially, described this way:

RNP is RNAV with the addition of onboard performance monitoring and alerting capability. A defining characteristic of RNP operations is the ability of the aircraft navigation system to monitor the navigation performance it achieves and inform the pilot if the requirement is not met during an operation.*

RNAV operations have become both universally understood and applied by the majority of pilots operating in today’s flying environment. RNP operations are closely related, but offer some significantly different capabilities depending on the aircraft, airspace (terminal area, etc.), and pilot qualifications.

In the same way the FAA has laid down their plan for implementing PBN, pilots need a strategy for adopting it, too. Here’s a short checklist that most pilots could improve upon to fit their individual needs:

  1. Get the resources you need to brush up on both the terminology and procedures for RNP operations (we’ve suggested a few over the course of the year);
  2. Study and share the new knowledge with members of your crew, flight department, flying club—or any organization you are part of that will be sharing the new airspace with other aircraft;
  3. [Once you are properly equipped and qualified] Practice the new procedures whenever you can during routine operations, including both simulator training and normal flight operations.

You can wait around for PBN to be required at your operation or at your home airport, and face the pain of rapid adoption of new technology and procedures, or you can get involved now in your own professional development. Being as expert at RNP operations as you are presently with conventional instrument procedures, in a profession as dependent on expertise as ours, is not optional.

Think about it.

Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first.

*PBN NAS Navigation Strategy 2016. Department of Transportation, FAA. 800 Independence Avenue, SW. Washington, DC 20591.

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