Chart Check — Are Yours Up to Date?

I got a real eye-opener from an airport operator the other day. After landing at Brandywine PA (N99), I watched a nice Piper Seneca come in for a landing. The pilot was too high on the approach, and had allowed too much of the 3000 foot long strip to pass by. Just as I was muttering to a friend that the pilot should do the right thing and go around, the pilot did the right thing and went around!

SOUNDS GOOD SO FAR, RIGHT? The pilot came around one more time, and this time put the plane down just past the numbers. He coasted down the runway, and turned off at the right place. I watched as the plane taxied in to the parking area, and shut down both engines.

THE AIRPORT MANAGER WALKED OUT TO THE PLANE. “I was listening, but didn’t hear your inbound call on the Unicom,” the manager noted. Brandywine can get fairly busy at times — I watched around five planes come and go in the 30 minutes I was sitting there, which is probably why the manager was asking about the lack of radio contact on the Unicom frequency. The pilot surprised me by saying “But I did call in — your radio must be on the fritz!

Oddly enough, I had called in to the airport as I was inbound, and got the winds on the ground. I knew the radio at the FBO worked, so there was something else going on. The airport manager was too familiar with this problem, because his next question was very direct and to the point. “What frequency are you broadcasting on?” the airport manager asked. The pilot replied, and the airport manager followed up with “Why are you using a frequency that was changed over a YEAR AGO!

The AIM contains specific guidance on what you should be flying with. In Section 5-1, it states:

Pilots are urged to use only the latest issue of aeronautical charts in planning and conducting flight operations. Aeronautical charts are revised and reissued on a regular scheduled basis to ensure that depicted data are current and reliable. In the conterminous U.S., Sectional Charts are updated every 6 months, IFR En Route Charts every 56 days, and amendments to civil IFR Approach Charts are accomplished on a 56-day cycle with a change notice volume issued on the 28-day midcycle. Charts that have been superseded by those of a more recent date may contain obsolete or incomplete flight information.

While the AIM provided guidance, the pilot had not heeded it. I watched five airplanes come in over a 30-minute span. This pilot could have caused a near miss — or worse — on his approach, because he was listening to and transmitting on the wrong frequency. Regardless of the potentially fatal nature of such an event, the pilot could have run afoul of

  • FAR 91.13, Careless and Reckless Operation. This reg states that No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. A NEAR MISS (or HIT for that matter) would be defined as careless.
  • FAR 91.103, Preflight action. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. It becomes a bit harder to prove you’ve done so when you call on a Unicom frequency that has not been active for a year.

The databases in this equipment get old just as fast as your charts. If you are depending on them to provide you with the information you need — consciously or otherwise — you had better assure that you have the database updated. Otherwise when you punch up the frequency you could end up a few kilocycles off, and in trouble. Imagine flying MVFR as a VFR pilot and missing the tower frequency by one digit.

Editor’s Note: One standby frequency recovered from nonvolatile memory in the radios of JFK, Jr.’s Saratoga II that July 16, 1999, crashed at night in poor visibility off the Coast of Martha’s Vineyard differed from Martha’s Vineyard ATIS by one digit.

It makes good sense. If you are flying with out of data charts, take a moment and get current charts, as well as a subscription. That way, you will be flying smart with the right information, and with a painless subscription, you will always get the charts you need, BEFORE they expire.

Editor’s Note: iPilot does offer charts and a chart subscription service, but iPilot’s chart page also provides chart expiration-date warnings for those who prefer other arrangements.