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VFR waypoints overviewVFR waypoints overview

Background

For the past several years the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish waypoints especially for pilots operating under visual flight rules (VFR). In the spring of 1998, AOPA submitted a request to the FAA via the Government and Industry Aeronautical Charting Forum (ACF) to establish VFR waypoints as a supplementary navigational tool for VFR operations.

In response to AOPA’s proposal, the ACF established an ad hoc committee, chaired by AOPA, which developed a process for implementation of VFR waypoints, developed symbology, and coordinated the implementation process through the FAA. FAA offices involved are the Air Traffic Cartographic Standards Branch, the National Aeronautical Charting Office, the Air Traffic Satellite Navigation Implementation Office, the Flight Standards Service, and Aviation System Standards.

In addition, users participating in the ad hoc committee include AOPA, Jeppesen, and Helicopter Association International (HAI).

The ad hoc committee decided that VFR waypoints should be evaluated on a trial basis in several Class B terminal areas to obtain pilot feedback before expanding the program nationwide. National implementation will involve local airspace users working with FAA airspace specialists to determine the best locations for the waypoints.

With the assistance of the Southern California airspace users and the FAA Western-Pacific Regional Office, VFR waypoints were established in the Los Angeles (LAX) and San Diego (SAN) terminal areas in July 1999. Since then, waypoints have also been developed and published on the following charts:

  • Los Angeles and Boston Helicopter Route charts
  • Washington-Baltimore Tri-Area VFR Terminal Area Chart (TAC)
  • Kansas City TAC
  • Houston TAC
  • Salt Lake City TAC

The FAA is currently developing VFR waypoints for publication on sectional charts to assist pilots in avoiding the special-use airspace areas along the coast from western Florida to North Carolina. Also, the FAA has initiated an evaluation of VFR waypoints to assist pilots in locating a specific mountain pass when operating in mountainous terrain. Aeronautical chart detail is seldom sufficient to assist pilots in their search for low-altitude navigation through mountainous terrain. These waypoints would pinpoint the proper entrance and exit points for navigation through valleys. VFR waypoints will not, however, be used to create mountain pass routes.

Benefits

VFR waypoints will ease navigation for VFR pilots, using the Global Positioning System (GPS) for supplemental information, operating around, under, and between airspace that may require clearance or be restricted from their operation. These waypoints will provide pilots with additional tools to improve positive situational awareness.

VFR waypoints will be assigned a discrete five-letter designator, which will be added to navigation databases. The waypoints will all begin with the letters “VP” and then have an additional three letters. The “VP” letters will provide immediate recognition that the waypoint is for VFR purposes only.

VFR waypoints will also be used in conjunction with visual reporting points. These points are used by air traffic control (ATC) for position reporting purposes. These VFR waypoints will also be assigned a five-letter identifier. However, in communications with ATC, the reporting point will still be referred to by the full name (i.e., Blue Lake) and not by the assigned five-letter identifier.

Risks

As with any navaid such as a VOR that places multiple aircraft over a single point on the ground, pilots must exercise added traffic avoidance techniques normally associated with airport traffic patterns or overflight of frequently flown landmarks. In fact, the increased accuracy of navigation through the use of GPS will demand even greater vigilance because off-course deviations among different pilots and receivers will be less. VFR waypoints may also lead pilots to believe they do not need to use aeronautical publications to operate safely from a departure point to a destination. This is a dangerous assumption that carries a high degree of risk.

How should VFR waypoints be used?

VFR waypoints should be used as a tool to supplement current navigation procedures. Pilots are strongly encouraged to rely on aeronautical charts published specifically for visual navigation. If operating in a terminal area, pilots should take advantage of the TAC available for that area.

Any waypoints intended for use during a given flight should be entered into the navigation receiver in sequence prior to departure. Once airborne, pilots should avoid programming routes or waypoint chains into their receivers.

When filing VFR flight plans, pilots may use the five letter identifier as a waypoint in the “route of flight” box if there will be a course change at that point or if it is used to describe the planned route of flight. This procedure is similar to the way VORs would be used in describing a route.

Finally, pilots must use the waypoints only when operating under VFR conditions. Anytime cloud clearance or flight visibility diminishes below minimums, VFR flight should be terminated immediately.

How should VFR waypoints not be used?

VFR waypoints should not be used as a sole or primary means of visual navigation. Use of these waypoints, as one of many supplemental sources to navigation, will increase proper situational awareness.

The five-letter identifier shall not be used in communications with ATC facilities. ATC will not be required to be familiar with VFR waypoint positions or identifiers. However, in communications with ATC, those waypoints used in conjunction with VFR reporting points shall be referred to by the visual reporting point name (e.g., “Cessna 12345 is over Blue Lake”).

VFR waypoints shall not be used to plan flights under instrument flight rules (IFR). These waypoints will not be recognized by the IFR system and will be rejected for IFR routing purposes.

VFR waypoints used improperly may lead pilots through airspace that requires the pilot to obtain an ATC clearance or airspace that may be restricted or prohibited from civilian operations. Pilots are responsible for using VFR waypoints to ensure a route of flight that is safe and clear of any restrictions.

VFR waypoints in the GPS database

VFR waypoints will be retrievable from navigation databases. All VFR waypoints will be assigned a five-letter designator beginning with “VP.” Pilots should attempt to retrieve the waypoints they intend to use in flight prior to departure. If pilots are unable to retrieve these points, they should verify they have the most recent database available. If they still cannot retrieve these waypoints, pilots should contact the manufacturer of the receiver and verify that the VFR waypoint option is available for that receiver model.

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