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IFR Fix: Dueling databasesIFR Fix Dueling databases

Inbound to Boeing Field beneath Seattle’s Class B airspace, the flight instructor checked the GPS/nav/comm’s moving map and realized that the left-seat pilot had failed to descend below the 5,000-foot floor of the oncoming block of airspace.

“I immediately took control of the aircraft and made an immediate left 180 to return to the 6,000 foot floor airspace,” the CFI later reported.

What happened? The student was navigating with a different unit—with a database that had not been updated. Meanwhile, the airspace’s floor had been lowered from 6,000 feet to 5,000 feet, the instructor explained in an Aviation Safety Reporting System lament.

The student’s GPS did report one item in digitally damning detail: a track showing that the incursion had taken the BE-36 Bonanza three-tenths of a mile into foul territory.

Call it the digital equivalent of flying with expired charts. Technology tends to produce technologically triggered troubles. If you are due for an instrument proficiency check, or desire an informal refresher, make a note to address that item.

If you fly with a CFII who does such drills “by the PTS,” it’s not your cell phone malfunctioning if you thought you just heard the instructor say “ACS” for airman certification standards, instead of invoking the practical test standards.

This is the new rulebook for instrument rating applicants, and by extension, refresher applicants. “Performance metrics” haven’t changed, but if you glance through the publication that is set to take effect in June, you will note that identifying, assessing, and mitigating risk is a demonstration item for every task (as are knowledge, and skills).

It is during evaluation of preflight procedures that the risk assessment turns to potential trouble areas as “scenarios that include appropriate time(s) to program avionics,” and “hazards of outdated navigation publications or databases.”

With the Bonanza story in mind and a VFR practice flight contemplated, remember that like a past-due database the future too, may be flawed: Another ASRS report recounts an episode of an instrument approach discrepantly displayed between a screen and electronic flight bag charts in an airliner cockpit. The captain discovered the problem while briefing for arrival, and figured out what was wrong.

“It was determined that maintenance had updated the database the night before and had prematurely activated that new revision,” wrote the first officer, who had been flying and conceded failure to verify that correct data was loaded.

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: Avionics, Safety and Education, Technology

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