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Are current charts a required item?

Posted by on September 25, 2009 10 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

I received a question last night from Ed and this is what he wrote:

While performing a practice BFR for reinstatement, the P.P. said that current sectional charts are no longer a required item!?  Can not find any reference to this on web or AIM.

This is one of those questions I was SURE I knew the answer to as soon as I read it.  I mean I was positive about my response.  Of course current aeronautical charts are required to be on board, right? Well….

Before I fired off my reply, I thought that I should look through the FARs and AIM in order to provide a solid legal footing for my answer.  I grabbed my handy (and current) 2010 FAR / AIM and….well, it’s got to be in here somewhere.  I mean, where is the FAR reference that all aeronautical charts have to be current and valid?

What I found shocked me.   There is only one reference to “charts” in all of Part 91 and that is 91.503 which reads:

The pilot in command of an airplane shall ensure that the following flying equipment and aeronautical charts and data, in current and appropriate form, are accessible for each flight…

There is only one problem with this reference.  It falls under Part 91 Subpart F which is applicable to “Large and Turbine-Powered Multiengine Airplanes and Fractional Ownership Program Aircraft”  In other words, not to most of General Aviation and it’s pilots.

However, a little more searching did turn up a FAQ on the FAA NACO charting website that answers this question directly:


The FAA has rendered interpretations that have stated the foregoing. The subject of current charts was thoroughly covered in an article in the FAA’s July/August 1997 issue of FAA Aviation News. That article was cleared through the FAA’s Chief Counsel’s office. In that article the FAA stated the following:

  1. “You can carry old charts in your aircraft.” “It is not FAA policy to violate anyone for having outdated charts in the aircraft.”
  2. “Not all pilots are required to carry a chart.” “91.503..requires the pilot in command of large and multiengine airplanes to have charts.” “Other operating sections of the FAR such as Part 121 and Part 135 operations have similar requirements.”
  3. …”since some pilots thought they could be violated for having outdated or no charts on board during a flight, we need to clarify an important issue. As we have said, it is NOT FAA policy to initiate enforcement action against a pilot for having an old chart on board or no chart on board.” That’s because there is no regulation on the issue.
  4. …”the issue of current chart data bases in handheld GPS receivers is a non-issue because the units are neither approved by the FAA or required for flight, nor do panel-mounted VFR-only GPS receivers have to have a current data base because, like handheld GPS receivers, the pilot is responsible for pilotage under VFR.
  5. “If a pilot is involved in an enforcement investigation and there is evidence that the use of an out-of-date chart, no chart, or an out-of-date database contributed to the condition that brought on the enforcement investigation, then that information could be used in any enforcement action that might be taken.”

In other words, because there is no specific federal regulation that requires current charts to be carried on board the FAA can not say you violated a regulation by carrying out of date charts.  HOWEVER all  pilots are required by FAR 91.103 (preflight action) to:

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.

That legally means that if you failed in your preflight preparations to notice a new restricted area and you violated that restricted area because you used non current charts, well, that’s another ball game (in other words, you are in trouble).

Here is another way to look at it.  Take a look at this table:

Product Type Changes/Cycle (average) Cycle Length
Terminal Area Chart 100 6 months
Sectional Chart 278 6 months
World Aeronautical Chart 493 1 year
Airport/Facility Directory 775 56 days
Enroute Low Altitude Chart 35 56 days
Enroute High Altitude Chart 66 56 days
Terminal Procedures Publication 75 56 days

That means if you are flying with a sectional chart for instance, that is 6 years out of date,you have approximately 3,336 changes that have not been made to your chart.  Good luck guessing which ones they are! Hopefully the changes are not to a prohibited area along your route of flight, or maybe a new obstacle that has just been added to that ridge you are about to cross.

So in summary:  Are current aeronautical charts specifically required by the FARs for general part 91 operations, no.  But carrying current charts are much more than just a good idea.  They are critical to being able to operate safely and legally in today’s ever changing airspace system.

Fly Safe! (and carry current charts)


  1. Patrick Flanigan on Sep 27, 2009

    Great Q&A Paul. That’s a question I’ve pondered a few times myself, thanks for answering it once and for all. And that NACO interpretation is well worth remembering.

    After all, we should all try to fly with current charts, but it’s reassuring to know that we’re mostly safe on those few times where a sectional or two slip between the cracks.

  2. Mike Driver on Oct 01, 2009

    Although this is old news now, this is one of the few really common sense clarifications the feds have made. This clarification and interpretation was not to state that you don’t need current charts but that you cannot be faulted during a ramp check for not having current charts or for carrying old charts. While it might make sense to have them sometimes you can’t. Ever have trouble getting current charts from an FBO a couple of days after they come out? I have. Ever have an FBO simply say “we don’t carry charts”? I’ve had that happen several times. When this “news” hit the flying community so many years ago it was absolutely wonderful news for those of us that fly 25nm hops 3-4 times a week without ever looking at a chart, nevermind worrying about current ones.

  3. Paul on Oct 02, 2009

    Your right Mike. I too have seen many times where charts aren’t carried at all by an FBO or when making a fuel stop enroute, charts aren’t carried to where you are going and with the new chart distribution requirements for dealers, I only see this problem growing. And yes, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t carry current charts (because you should make every attempt to do so) but that you can’t be faulted during a ramp check for having or using expired charts because there isn’t a specific regulation that requires them. You’ve made some very good points.

  4. Sylvia on Oct 02, 2009

    I could have sworn they were required – well done for digging through to get an absolute answer.

    Having said that, I’m keeping mine up-to-date 🙂

    On the other hand, you do have to have local charts for your flight, right?

  5. RV on Oct 05, 2009

    Great Q&A Paul. That’s a question I’ve pondered a few times myself, thanks for answering it once and for all. And that NACO interpretation is well worth remembering.

    After all, we should all try to fly with current charts, but it’s reassuring to know that we’re mostly safe on those few times where a sectional or two slip between the cracks.

  6. Christopher Ian on Aug 31, 2010

    Surprise! I was wrong. Always been told current charts are required and it is better to not have any charts, than to have outdated charts.
    Only required for large and multi-engine planes. However, if you use an outdated chart w/ incorrect information and have an accident or incident and it is discovered you used outdated information, you have not learned all you need to know about the flight before departing – but that is a non-sequitor – you have simply violated a different regulation.

  7. Mike Snapp on Jan 04, 2011

    I wonder then about the disclaimer on ipad apps like SkyCharts that say they shouldn’t be used for primary navigation. If flying a light airplane (so no charts required by reg) with an ipad chock full of current charts, both VFR and IFR with sectionals, plates, terminal VFR charts, etc – why wouldn’t anyone be disclaiming it as a viable source of data? It’s an awesome source of data! I can now ALWAYS have current charts with me regardless of the FBO’s failure to carry them (plus I don’t have to try to open/unfold/refold in front of my instruments while trying to keep the airplane upright). This source of aviation data should be welcomed without reservation.

  8. Are current charts required? at EAA31 – Creswell, OR on Jan 06, 2011

    […] Ask A CFI handled this question recently, and rather than reinvent the wheel, I suggest visiting this excellent write-up: http://www.askacfi.com/1276/are-current-charts-a-required-item.htm […]

  9. John R. "Buck" Aitken on Feb 02, 2011

    what does the numbers mean when there is one number on the sectional chart OVER another number? i.e. 297/124 What does this indicate?

  10. Alp on Apr 01, 2014

    Regarding eu ops : what if aerodrome has new ils proc. Not published on charts but has the sufficient info written on the notams, are we allowed to execute it??

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