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IFR Fix: Cones of silenceIFR Fix: Cones of silence

Time flies: About three years ago this column shared the tale of an old-school, no-radio-type VFR-only flight instructor who one day shocked everyone on the frequency by announcing that he was “tracking inbound” to the VOR.

Turned out the old fellow was using the vortac facility, which sits atop a hill and appears as a white cone in a circle, as a handy visual checkpoint.

That article noted that soon, many VORs would serve that purpose and no other as the legacy air traffic system is replaced by NextGen technology and procedures. And if you have checked out the FAA’s NextGen for General Aviation website lately, you’ll see that the agency is keeping score.

There are 3,424 new procedures in place, and 1,686 airports accessed by NextGen; soon, pilots who fly in what we can call today’s transponder airspace will have less than four years to bone up on Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology and decide when to install at least the ADS-B Out component in aircraft.

Not ready to contemplate that? You may derive some comfort from knowing that you can keep flying your ILS, VOR-DME, and VOR approaches for now—but there may be fewer there than meets the eye.

As NextGen approaches are coming online, legacy navaids are signing off—sometimes more quickly than the system keeps up with change. It would be a rude shock to plan an IFR flight in an aircraft with a /U equipment suffix when a more updated navigation capability is required in weather at the destination.

Check to make sure that your legacy navaid is operating.

Then check again. AOPA recently worked with the FAA to distribute a notam advising pilots that VOR approach procedures published as recently as Sept. 15 under an airport’s identifier could not be used because the navaid’s notams were filed under a separate identifier—including the notam advising that the VOR had been shut down (by vote of a local airport authority).

Having separate three-letter identifiers for an airport and a co-located navaid may seem incongruous, but that was not an isolated example. In another, Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Airport, and instrument approaches, have the identifier LNS; the vortac located there goes by LRP.

Search your destination and navaid identifiers on this FAA notam search page. Then check the Notices to Airmen publication for notams not made available in a briefing.

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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