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Training Tip: When all else fails, navigateTraining Tip: When all else fails, navigate

A flight instructor and student were flying a VFR cross-country with a freshly updated navigational database, but they still penetrated a firefighting temporary flight restriction (TFR) along the route, as air traffic control was quick to point out.

Photo by Mike Fizer

Well, maybe the pilot’s precautionary measures hadn’t been so meticulous. After downloading data relevant to the flight, the pilot broke off the session rather than continue the download of more than 40 more items. Unfortunately, updated TFR information had not yet been transferred, contrary to the instructor’s assumption.

Some pilots know their databases aren’t current, but still rely on them for basic information—a practice not without some unique perils to know and avoid. A flight instructor and student pilot flying near the boundary of an outlying section of Seattle’s Class B airspace committed an airspace incursion when the student pilot failed to descend at the appropriate moment, and the CFI didn’t notice until it was too late. The instructor reported “typically” using the portable GPS unit “for weather and basic terrain orientation since the database is out of date.” The method ignored a dangerous detail of dated-database dependency: The incorrect depiction of the floor of the sector’s Class B airspace.

The problem was unmasked when the instructor checked a different nav unit—at which point the CFI “immediately took control of the aircraft and made an immediate left 180” to return to the non-Class-B airspace.

Upon examining the flight’s track on the portable GPS, however, “it appears we made a 0.3 nm incursion into the airspace,” the instructor said in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

It may surprise you to learn that if the incursion constituted an infraction, flying under visual flight rules with the out-of-date database didn’t. But legal isn’t always the same as safe, as the Aeronautical Information Manual highlights in this passage on database currency (page 1-1-18): “Check the currency of the database. Databases must be updated for IFR operations and should be updated for all other operations. However, there is no requirement for databases to be updated for VFR navigation. It is not recommended to use a moving map with an outdated database in and around critical airspace. Pilots using an outdated database should verify waypoints using current aeronautical products; for example, Chart Supplement U.S., Sectional Chart, or En Route Chart.”

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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: Flight Training, Student, Temporary Flight Restriction
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