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IFR Fix: He's making a listIFR Fix: He's making a list

An FAA specialist was conducting a random sampling of aircraft operating in the National Airspace System when he was struck by how many flight plans were active for Piper PA-46s.

Intrigued, Keith Dutch drilled down into the data. He discovered that some of the aircraft filed as Malibus were actually horses of a different color.

“They were using ‘PA46,’ which is the piston-powered version, when in fact they were flying the turboprop version, which is ‘P46T,’" explained Dutch, an international procedures specialist, Oceanic Air Traffic Procedures Group, AJV-84, Air Traffic Operations Mission Support.

Does it make a difference? 

“In most cases it may because many of our arrival and departure procedures divide the turboprops from the pistons,” he said.

From homebuilt aircraft to converted production models to aircraft families that span a wide range of design or performance, about 2,600 specific designators have been issued to help system operatives know what’s out there.

Dutch doesn’t fault a pilot who enters an inaccurate designator on a flight plan. As an agency veteran whose career traces back to on-airport flight service stations and face-to-face weather briefings, he has completed many a flight plan for pilots, looking up designators himself.

You could say he became a wonk on designators so you didn’t have to.

He’s also the go-to guy for a new designator, interacting on the issue with a committee of the International Council of Aviation Organizations (ICAO). And they’ve been busy.

Recently homebuilts of at least 1,000 pounds takeoff weight have gained designators. Model 36 Beechcraft Bonanzas have been differentiated from a few of their “fire-breathing” siblings.

In the last two years, the ICAO effort has divided up Cessna 210s as C210, P210, and T210, depending on whether the aircraft is a normally aspirated Centurion, pressurized, or turbocharged. 

“The Cessna 182 now has four unique designators, and the Piper PA-28 has six,” Dutch said.

Is the designator you file on your IFR flight plans the right match for what you fly?

Check your work against the list. If you don’t see your aircraft, reach out to AOPA for help.

“We are heading to a much more automated ATC system and having the correct code could get you certain preferential treatment,” said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.

Or contact Dutch directly. If necessary, he would sponsor the request to create a designator for the aircraft you fly.

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: Aircraft Regulation, Aircraft, FAA Information and Services

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