IFR procedure changes coming to Houston area

May 15, 2014

Pilots flying IFR in the Houston area need to be aware of changes coming on May 29 that will optimize airspace and procedures. These changes are the first large scale metroplex implementation of more to come in other parts of the country.

The FAA claims these correctly designed performance based navigation (PBN) procedures, when fully utilized, will bring fuel efficiencies, time efficiencies, and reduced carbon emissions. Both general aviation and the airlines will be affected by the new procedures.

While the airspace around Houston, including altitudes and Class B, will not change, ATC hand-off boundaries and 61 new terminal procedures are coming: 29 standard terminal arrival routes (STARs), 20 standard instrument departures (SIDs), six required navigation performance (RNP) arrivals, and five ILS transitions. Therefore, some approach plates, low enroute and high enroute charts, and new IFR preferred routes on the airport/facility directory (A/FD) are being updated, while the Houston sectional and terminal will remain the same.

AOPA Central Southwest Regional Manager Yasmina Platt attended a May 6 meeting at the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) with representatives from organizations including the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, general aviation operators, the airlines, and Jeppesen, where the changes were discussed. GA pilots flying in and out of the Houston area should be alert, said Platt.

Jet aircraft descending from the flight levels and going into Houston Hobby (KHOU) and Houston Bush Intercontinental (KIAH) may be in areas and altitudes different from those required by current routes. Some aircraft may be flying outside of the Class B airspace while following the new procedures (for example, the new ILS to Runway 27 at Houston Bush Intercontinental has a final out to about 40 miles—approximately 10 miles east of the Class B ring at 4,000 feet msl). Some changes will also ask for aircraft to climb sooner and faster. If pilots are unable to comply, controllers ask that pilots make them aware of it so they can plan better.

New STARs and SIDs, along with preferred IFR routes for those flying at 18,000 feet and below (for both conventional and RNAV/GPS equipped aircraft), will be updated for Houston Hobby and Houston Bush Intercontinental. Some of those arrivals and departures will also be published and applicable to Houston satellite airports, like Conroe Executive (KCXO), Hooks (KDWH), Ellington Field (KEFD), and West Houston (KIWS). In addition, Cleveland Municipal (6R3) and Liberty Municipal (T78) will be adapted and able to receive and file SIDs and STARs. Today, aircraft departing these airports are not able to file these procedures.

Notam 4-8000 will be effective May 29 to June 6. It includes contingency plans for people who do not have the new charts/procedures or the new GPS database, and includes routes to be filed and expected by controllers. Local ATC has also requested that pilots know and understand the new “climb/descend via” procedures. Pilots who are unsure should ask ATC.

As always, pilots are urged to fly with up-to-date charts and GPS databases and to check notams before every flight. “The implementation will take about four days due to controller turnover and shifts, so the FAA asks for patience from pilots while the implementation and changes are initially happening,” said Platt. “So learn the basics of the new changes. Review the new charts and procedures before flying, and review new `climb via’ and `descend via’ ATC phraseology.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.