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4 Answers

IFR Terminology for VFR Pilots

Asked by: 5498 views , , ,
Instrument Rating, Private Pilot

I am a VFR pilot and purposely vigilant about "seeing and avoiding" other traffic.  Frequently, in the pattern at an uncontrolled airport, I will hear IFR traffic broadcasting their location as "over the localizer" or other using other IFR terminology. As a VFR pilot, I have no idea where those planes are (and isn't the whole point of them broadcasting their location to let other pilots know where they are?).  Localizers and other instrument-specific locations aren't anywhere on my VFR sectional charts. As a VFR pilot who wants to understand and accommodate IFR terminology, what research should I be doing to know where things like "localizers" are located, and are there separate maps I should be carrying? Thanks for the help!!

4 Answers

  1. Paul Tocknell on Oct 27, 2010

    You bring up a good point and one that I discuss with my instrument students quite often.  When conducting an approach to an airport that has better than VFR conditions, I always encourage students to announce their position using references that a private / student pilot could relate to such as “5 mile final” instead of “over the marker / fix”.  However, my teaching techniques aren’t of much help to you (unless you’re talking about one of my students…not likely)

    So what I would do is do some research on your own.  At the very least you’ll learn about your local airspace and maybe it will pique your interest to work on your instrument rating.    To start, read the chapter 1 of the AIM on  “Air Navigation”.   Although there is a LOT of information there, you can quickly pick up on some terminology like “localizer” and “Final Approach Fix”.  The other thing I would do is download the instrument approach charts for your airport and become familiar with some of the fixes used at your airport.  My recommendation would be to use airnav.com (or numerous other sites).  Scroll down to where it says “IAPs – Instrument Approach Procedures”.  Download the first couple of charts and just glance over them.   

    Again, you shouldn’t HAVE to do all of this but this will probably be easier than trying to change the communication habits of each pilot at your airport.

    Great question!

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  2. Brian on Oct 27, 2010

    “As a VFR pilot, I have no idea where those planes are (and isn’t the whole point of them broadcasting their location to let other pilots know where they are?).”
    Ryan, as a rated IFR pilot, without the instrument approach plate, I have no clue where they are either. You’ve stumbled onto one of aviations big faux pas. Just because we file IFR does not mean we should treat all operations as if they are IFR operations. 
    To answer your question simply, the only way you will be prepared for these callouts is to fully study the approach plates for every airport you intend on visiting. Without knowledge of the fixes these pilots use for position reports you cannot know where they are.
    My remedy is to politely ask said pilot for visual position reports. I inform them that I do not have the subsequent approach plates and am uncertain where CLOWW intersection (example) is. Usually this gets a prompt response with a visual report, something I find useful.
    PS Instructors: Paul’s last sentence sheds light on something we do have power over. We can teach new pilots to make visual reports in visual conditions, thereby making the skies safer for all of us.

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  3. Kent Shook on Oct 27, 2010

    While it’s possible to find all of these things via looking up all the approach plates, chances are you’re not going to be able to remember them for airports other than your home airport, and in visual conditions the last thing you want to be doing is looking through a pile of approach plates looking for where “CERTO” is.

    So, a good rule of thumb is that if a pilot reports “over CERTO for the GPS 10 approach,” he’s generally going to be on a 5-mile straight-in final for runway 10 and no closer. As with most rules of thumb, though, there are exceptions, so keep your eyes peeled.

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  4. Shane Gorman on Apr 10, 2011

    I think this is a matter of who should carry the burden.  Is it the pilot making the call or those listening?  If the purpose of position calls is to alert other pilots to your location and intention, shouldn’t the burden be on the caller?  I think it is.  Every instrument rated pilot was first a VFR pilot and should have some appreciation for clarity, especially for student or low time pilots.  My instruction to my primary students is to ask in plain language for a position and intention report when they hear a call they don’t completely understand.  This is of course applicable in any situation but particularly so with unfamiliar IFR terms, the inexperienced pilot is often embarrassed that they don’t understand the terms being used by the more experienced pilot and may be reluctant to ask for clarification.

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