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IFR Fix: Red flag warningIFR Fix: Red flag warning

A pilot heads to the airport for an evening proficiency flight on the last valid day of current navigational charts. The plan is to meet the flight instructor at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, brief for the mission, and fly for two hours.

Wait a minute—8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time translates to 0000Z the following day. How will the flight instructor react if the pilot shows up with expired charts? Is it a violation to launch anyway?

Unwilling to cut corners, the pilot confesses the dilemma. The instructor points out the "edition effective" dates and times published on the chart cover. The effective time says "0901Z," which in this pilot's case means the chart would remain valid until 5:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time the following day.  

Had they been expired, would it have been bad business to launch anyway? 

Here’s the FAA’s answer: "The specific FAA regulation, FAR 91.103 ‘Preflight Actions,’ states that each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. Although the regulation does not specifically require it, you should always carry a current chart with you in flight. Expired charts may not show frequency changes or newly constructed obstructions, both of which when unknown could create a hazard."  

If you ever felt tempted to just grab a recently expired VFR or IFR chart and fly, take a look at this table provided on the FAA website showing the average number of changes you can expect on a type of product from one publication cycle to the next. 

From one 56-day cycle to the next, a U.S. en route low altitude chart contains an average of 1,361 changes. A terminal procedures publication, over the same cycle, averages 75 changes.

Updating charts promptly on expiration is always recommended, but don’t jump the gun using the new data, or let new navigation technology add confusion. When an air-carrier pilot in a test program using iPads and an electronic flight bag (EFB) saw a red flag that warned of a chart’s expiration, “I convinced my First Officer we should also change over the FMC database,” the pilot reported to the Aviation Safety Reporting System. 

But the effective Zulu time had not been reached, so that was premature. The pilot offered a recommendation that all published effective and expiration dates include the valid time on paper and electronic charts, and that EFB training include a lesson on red flag warnings.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Instrument Rating, IFR, Pilot Training and Certification

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