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ICAO flight plan requirement begins next week – here’s how to comply

You'll be required to file all flight plans using the ICAO format later this year.
You’ll soon be required to file all flight plans using the ICAO format.

After several years of delays, the requirement to file flight plans in U.S. using the ICAO format is finally here. Beginning on August 27, 2019, all flight plans must be submitted using the international standard form.

Fortunately, most of the major iPad apps and online web planning services support the ICAO flight plan form as an option when submitting a flight plan, so the infrastructure is in place to make it an easy transition for you.

After a quick glance, you’ll notice that the ICAO form requires much of the same information as the domestic form. The big difference is that you’ll need to include your airplane’s navigation, communication, surveillance (transponder) and survival equipment in greater detail. While this may seem intimidating at first, you’ll only need to do it once when setting up your airplane’s profile in the app and it’ll be saved for future use. Here we’re going to take a look at the actual information needed and some sample airplane configurations to help make this initial setup easier.

Setting up your airplane profile

The ICAO flight plan form requires you to identify each part of your avionics configuration.

We’re going to focus on ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and FltPlan.com for this discussion since they all offer ICAO flight plan support. While all 3 ultimately require the same set of information, some of the equipment requirements are grouped together differently in each program, which can lead to confusion. For that reason, we’re going to help you identify your equipment first, which will make it easier to then enter in your specific application.

In ForeFlight, go to the More tab, select Aircraft from the options on the left, and here you can either add a new aircraft or modify an existing one. You’ll see fields to enter the ICAO equipment details towards the bottom of the screen after selecting one of the N#s from the list.

In Garmin Pilot, select Home at the top left of the screen, tap Settings from the Menu icons, and then choose Aircraft from the options on the left. Just like with ForeFlight, you can either add a new aircraft or modify one of your existing profiles.

FltPlan.com app users can use the web interface to enter flight plans, and this is also the place to go to enter your ICAO aircraft data. Once logged in, select Settings from the menu on the left side of the screen, and then A/C ICAO Data.

The exact layout of each app’s aircraft profile data-entry screen varies a bit, but in the end, they’re all looking for the same information to ensure you meet the ICAO requirements:

  • Basic Airplane Data–The first step is to enter the standard data, like N#, aircraft type, color and the home airport. Something new you’ll see is Wake Turbulence Category, and you’ll enter Light (L) here when under 15,500 lbs.
  • Communication Radios–Most GA airplanes are equipped with VHF radios, so this is the only selection necessary here. If your radio has 8.33 kHz spacing and allows you to select the 3rd decimal place when tuning in a frequency (e.g. 122.975 vs. 122.97), select that option as well.
  • Navigation and Approach Aids–Here you’ll specify which type of navigation radios are on board. The most common selections are ADF, GPS (listed sometimes as GNSS), DME, ILS, VOR and LPV (if you have an approach-approved WAAS GPS). You can also use the “S” code if you have the standard configuration of VOR, VHF radio and ILS receiver. If you have a GPS receiver that meets a minimum level of performance-based navigation (see next bullet point on PBN), you’ll also use the “R” code here to indicate that capability. You probably don’t have any of the other equipment options listed in this group like ACARS/SATCOM/CPDLC (unless you own an Airbus or a Boeing jet), so skip those options and continue on.
  • Performance-Based Navigation (PBN)–This grouping is used to identify the RNAV & RNP capabilities of your GPS receiver if installed. This is one of the more confusing aspects of the form, but fortunately, Garmin publishes a “cheat sheet” to help you out if you have a Garmin GPS or glass cockpit system in your panel: Garmin ICAO Flight Plan Equipment Codes.  In this file, you’ll see 3 tabs across the bottom — choose the first one, labeled ICAO Flight Plans & Eligibility. This will list out exactly what codes to select in the PBN category for your particular setup.
  • Surveillance–The upcoming ADS-B out requirement has expanded the number of transponder options and configurations available. There are 2 parts to the ICAO equipment requirement: first, identify the transponder type, and second specify the ADS-B capabilities. If you have a Garmin transponder installed, refer back to their Excel spreadsheet and go to the 3rd tab, labeled ICAO Surveillance Equipment for help. If you’re not ADS-B out equipped, you’ll only enter one code–most likely code “C” for a Mode C transponder or code “S” for a Mode S transponder.
  • Survival Equipment–The last step is to add is any survival equipment on board, including life jackets, emergency radios and dinghies. In Garmin and FltPlan.com you’ll enter this data when setting up the aircraft profile, while ForeFlight has you list any survival equipment when filling out each individual flight plan form.

ICAO Flight Plan Tips

It doesn’t take long to be overwhelmed by all the information required. Take your time and be thorough with your airplane’s assessment. Garmin Pilot includes helpful tips for each field while filling out the data and a comprehensive filing resource here. ForeFlight offers an ICAO Filing Manual, How-to blog and video to guide you along the way. The FAA also offers helpful guidance in their international filing guide.

Both the Garmin Pilot app and ForeFlight are now compatible with select Garmin panel-mount avionics.
Check with your avionics manufacturer for help on specific equipment codes to select.

The best advice is if you’re unsure of whether or not you have a piece of navigation equipment on the list, leave it unchecked, as this is what ATC will look at when clearing you for advanced routes and procedures. It’s the not the end of the world if you mess this up–it’s more important for high-altitude RVSM aircraft, international flights and when flying to busy airports where RNAV arrivals and approaches are used. If you’re still unsure, check with your avionics manufacturer, as they will be able to help you identify the specific codes for your GPS and transponder configuration.

We came across one point of confusion to be aware of: the code B1 is used in two different areas and means 2 completely different things. In the surveillance section, it is used to categorize an ADS-B transponder with dedicated 1090 MHz ADS-B “out” capability. You’ll also see B1 in the PBN section, which is used to identify RNAV 5 capability.

Some of the forms will also ask for your Mode S transponder’s unique Hex Code, which is required if you’re equipped with an ADS-B out transponder. You can look up your code using your airplane’s N# on the FAA registry site.

Finally, we’ll point out that you only should identify certified, panel-mount ADS-B in/out equipment in the Surveillance section, and not portables. While there are equipment codes for ADS-B in capabilities, portable receivers like Stratus and Garmin GDL-50 should not be included here.

Sample aircraft:

Putting this all together, here are some example configurations and respective equipment codes:

Cessna 172 Dual Nav/Com, Bendix/King Mode S transponder, SkyBeacon ADS-B Out

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS)

ICAO Surveillance: “S” (Mode S Transponder), “U1” (ADS-B, UAT/978 Out)

ICAO PBN: leave this blank, since you’re not RNAV/GPS equipped

Cirrus SR22 Dual Garmin 430W Nav/Comm/GPS, Garmin GTX345 Transponder

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS), “Y” (VHF 8.33 kHz spacing), “G” (GNSS), “B” (LPV), “R” (PBN approved)

ICAO Surveillance: “E” (Mode S, ID, Altitude, Extended Squitter), “B2” (ADS-B 1090 MHz Extended Squitter, in and out)

ICAO PBN: A1, B2, C2, D2, L1, O2, S1, S2 (RNAV 10/5/2/1, RNP 4/1/Appch)

Bonanza A36 Garmin G500 TXi, Garmin GTN650 Nav/Comm/GPS, Apprareo Stratus ESG transponder

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS), “Y” (VHF 8.33 kHz spacing), “G” (GNSS), “B” (LPV), “R” (PBN approved)

ICAO Surveillance: ICAO Surveillance: “L” (Mode S Transponder, Enhanced Surveillance, Extended Squitter), “B1” (ADS-B with dedicated 1090 MHz ADS-B “out” capability)

ICAO PBN: A1, B2, C2, D2, L1, O2, S1, S2 (RNAV 10/5/2/1, RNP 4/1/Appch)

Filing an ICAO Flight Plan

The ICAO flight plan form in ForeFlight looks very similar to the FAA domestic form.

So here’s the good news–all the hard work is now behind you. Once your aircraft profile is set up in the app, filing the actual ICAO flight plan before a flight is really no different than filing a domestic flight plan. In ForeFlight go to the Flights tab, and at the top of the form select ICAO as the type, instead of FAA/Domestic. This is filed the same way through Flight Service, and the main difference is you’ll see a few extra fields to list out any emergency equipment on board.

Garmin Pilot handles ICAO flight plans the same way. When in the Trip Planning section of the app, tap the Filing Information at the top of the flight plan form, and select ICAO as the form type.

Here are few videos from ForeFlight and Garmin with additional instructions on filing with the ICAO flight plan form:

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Source: Ipad appsICAO flight plan requirement begins next week – here’s how to comply

Five overlooked ForeFlight features

ForeFlight has gained a loyal following in part by continuously adding features, so the ForeFlight of two years ago looks almost unrecognizable today. That’s great news for pilots, who get powerful new tools seemingly every month, but it does mean that some features occasionally get lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a look at five helpful features in ForeFlight that you may not be using.

1 – Nearest Weather.

The Airports page has a wealth of information, from frequencies to runway data to fuel prices, but most of it is organized around a specific airport (often your departure or destination). Sometimes, though, you just want to get a quick idea of nearby weather conditions. While you could go to the Maps page and tap on a bunch of METAR symbols, this takes time.

A quicker and simpler option is to tap the crosshair button at the top right corner of the Airports page. This will show all the airports closest to your current position that report weather. At a glance you can see the wind, ceiling and visibility in your immediate area. Is that fog only at the one airport in the river valley or is it widespread? With one tap you can find out.

2 – Set speed/altitude at a waypoint. 

Entering a cruising altitude in the FPL box in ForeFlight is essential for proper route planning – the app will calculate a highly accurate time en route and fuel burn total based on winds aloft forecasts. But what If you’re flying a flight with legs at multiple altitudes? For example, maybe you need to fly 30 miles below a Class B shelf before climbing up to cruise altitude.

Fortunately, ForeFlight has a handy feature that allows you to specify a speed or altitude at specific waypoints. From the Maps page, enter a route in the FPL box, then tap on a waypoint. A drop-down menu will show a variety of options, including set speed/altitude. Tap that option to set a specific altitude and/or speed. In the example below, we are planning to cross the LUCIT intersection at 3000 feet, IFR. Note that this won’t update your time en route calculations, but it’s a handy reminder if you’re creating your own route and it’s also useful for European pilots who may have to frequently change altitudes on cross-country flights.

3 – Content Packs.

Last year ForeFlight introduced Content Packs for all Plus subscribers, a way to import custom data and display it in the app. This includes map layers, waypoints, and documents, and is useful for all kinds of pilots. The easiest way to use Content Packs is to download a sample ForeFlight pack and modify it, but it’s also fairly straightforward to create your own .zip file and email it to your iPad. Then you can open it in ForeFlight and add it to the Custom Content page under the More tab.

In the example below, we’ve created a custom map layer for the practice area at Sporty’s Academy (our flight school), so student pilots can stay aware of the boundaries. Once the Content Pack was imported, we simply went to the Maps page, tapped the layers menu and selected the custom layer at the bottom.

4 – FBO directions.

This is a simple problem, but one that is easily solved by ForeFlight: you’ve finished your lunch or meeting and it’s time to head back to the airport, but you don’t know how to get there. Simply open ForeFlight, go to the Airports page and tap on the FBO button. The pop-up window shows options for calling them (phone symbol), emailing them (letter symbol), or getting directions (arrow symbol). Just tap the arrow and the address will open up in the Maps app on your device. Tap Directions to start navigation. It’s a fast and reliable way to get turn-by-turn directions.

5 – Takeoff and landing performance.

This requires a Performance Plus subscription, but it’s a surprisingly helpful tool. Sure, jet pilots are very concerned about runway performance, but plenty of Cirrus and Mooney pilots should be too – especially in summer. Instead of guessing whether that 3100 foot runway is long enough, ForeFlight makes it incredibly easy to calculate the exact numbers, including runway slope, wind direction, and airplane weight.

From the Flights page, create a flight then tap the Takeoff button next to your departure airport or the Landing button next to your destination airport. That will bring up a new page with runway and weather information pre-filled. You can adjust all the values to play around with different scenarios, and get a very precise takeoff/landing distance, plus Vref (approach speed) and climb performance. Like weight and balance, there’s no excuse for failing to run the numbers every time.

For more ForeFlight tips, check out Sporty’s Flying with ForeFlight Course.

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FAA Seeks Stakeholder Input on Drone Tests

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Request for Information (RFI) this week seeking to work with stakeholders on the administration of a new aeronautical knowledge test for recreational drone operators.

Section 349 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires new conditions to operate recreational small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Many drones can be flown today with minimal training or knowledge of aviation rules or safety practices. The new statute is an opportunity to educate recreational flyers on UAS safety and to bring new flyers into the existing aviation safety culture.

The law requires that flyers of recreational drones pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. The test will demonstrate a recreational flyers understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge and rules for operating a UAS.

The FAA is developing the test content and the training in consultation with stakeholders. The test must be administered electronically by the FAA, community-based organizations, or other persons designated by the FAA. The FAAs objective is to work with third party entities to allow them to administer the knowledge training and test content on various platforms for the recreational flyer community.

The FAA is looking for entities who want to become testing designees, who will administer the training and testing to the widest audience possible, and who will develop a standard electronic record that will be issued to the potential operator upon completion of the test. The entity will provide the potential drone operator with documentation that they passed the test, which may be requested by the FAA or local law enforcement.

Interested parties should review the RFI and respond by September 12, 2019.

Source: FAAFAA Seeks Stakeholder Input on Drone Tests

How to quickly scan documents into your EFB app

More and more pilots are going completely paperless in the cockpit, but that requires some paper documents to be scanned first. Fortunately, Apple includes some hidden capabilities in the Notes app, including the addition of a powerful scanner utility. This can be used to scan just about any type of physical document or receipt and save or share it using the traditional iOS methods. The scanned images can even be sent to apps that support document viewing, like ForeFlight or FltPlan Go. Here’s how to do it:

1. Open the Notes app

2. Tap the icon in the upper right corner to make a new note

3. Tap the “+” button in the at the top of the keyboard (this button will be in the bottom right corner of the screen if the keyboard is not in view), and select Scan Documents

4. The camera will activate, allowing you to take a snapshot of the document. Use the button with three circles to choose color, grayscale or black and white.

5. Make sure the yellow box is lined up with your document, and press the white circle camera button to take the picture.

6. Adjust the edges using the small corner buttons around the document to refine the edges of the scan.

7. Press the Keep Scan button in the bottom right corner. If you’d like to add more pages to the document (to create a multipage PDF for example), scan additional pages using the same steps listed above. When finished, press the Save button in the lower right corner.

8. The scanned document will now be saved in the new note, and you can use the share button in the upper right corner to create a PDF, share it or send it to another app. Select the “Copy to ForeFlight” (or Garmin Pilot, FltPlan Go, WingX, FlyQ, etc.) to send it right to the Documents section of the respective app, where it’ll be stored with your other aviation resources.

We’ve used the Notes scanner for all kinds of things: checklists, pilot’s operating handbook pages, avionics supplements, non-aviation maps, insurance information, fly-in procedures, and even restaurant menus. Once you get the hang of it, the process is fast and reliable – and the app is included on every iPhone and iPad.

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Source: Ipad appsHow to quickly scan documents into your EFB app

New QuickClear app simplifies U.S. Customs and eAPIS reporting

All pilots flying across the U.S. border in either direction are required to file a report using eAPIS, which stands for Electronic Advance Passenger Information System, to notify U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) of the name and details of each person entering or leaving the country. eAPIS requires the pilot to send a manifest to CBP at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

Pilots have several options when it comes to filing this report, including the CBP website, and premium services from FlashPass and FltPlan.com. There’s now a fourth option available from Jeppesen that is worth checking out which was just released during Oshkosh, called QuickClear. This CBP-approved service was developed as a partnership between Jeppesen and Airside Mobile, the company behind the popular Mobile Passport app.

It’s important to note that unlike the Mobile Passport app for airline and cruise passengers arriving in the U.S., QuickClear for general aviation pilots is a premium service that costs $25 to file each manifest. Like the other premium services, you’re paying for convenience and pilots will find it helpful to save all passenger and crew information in one secure place to make future filings quick and easy.

You’ll find the app’s flow similar to the other eAPIS filing methods. You’ll first enter crew, passenger and trip information:

QuickClear is linked with Airside’s Mobile Passport app, so passengers and crew using that app already can quickly send their personal data and passport details right from Mobile Passport, saving the pilot time by not having to enter all the information manually. Once the flight details are complete, it takes just one tap (and $25) to send the manifest through.

While there are free (CBP website) and cheaper (Flashpass) options available, Jepp’s QuickClear is easy to use and will definitely save time for those that frequently fly across the border, especially for those flying with a different set of passengers each on each flight.

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Source: Ipad appsNew QuickClear app simplifies U.S. Customs and eAPIS reporting

Flying with Garmin Flight Stream and Fltplan Go

Since acquiring Fltplan.com and the companion Fltplan Go apps last year, Garmin has been busy integrating the free app with its line of avionics. That includes the popular GDL 50/51/52 line of portable weather receivers, but also Garmin’s industry-leading panel-mount avionics like the GTX 345 transponder, GTN 650/750, and the Flight Stream line of wireless bridges that make the connection.

On a recent flight we got to try Fltplan Go when connected to a Garmin Flight Stream 510, and came away impressed. While Fltplan Go is not as polished and powerful as the Garmin Pilot app, it still packs a number of useful features into a free app, including weather and flight plan transfer. And of course the price is right.

To get started, pair your iPad to your Flight Stream. To do this, go to the Connext page on your GTN 650 or 750 (which the Flight Stream 510 smart data card plugs into), and tap Manage Paired Devices. Then, on your iPad, go to Settings -> Bluetooth and tap on the Flight Stream option. You should see a prompt on the GTN screen to pair, and then you’re all set. In future, the pairing should be automatic.

Next, open up the Fltplan Go app and go to the External page, accessed from the menu on the left side of the screen. Choose Garmin from the list of options on the left side and you’ll see basic information like connection status, GPS position, and age of weather. This is the place to start if you suspect performance problems.

Once you know you’re connected properly, go to the Maps page to view weather information. In this case, the Flight Stream 510 allowed us to pull ADS-B weather from the panel-mount GTX 345 transponder, so we could see radar, METARs, PIREPs, and more. It’s important that you select these options from the ADS-B menu at the top of the Maps page – if you choose it from the Layers option you will be looking at older, Internet-sourced weather data.

This ADS-B menu also shows key status information like age of weather and the number of ADS-B ground stations you’re receiving. In general this is more convenient than going to the External page.

We used Fltplan Go to look at radar images, read METARs and TAFs, and check on relevant PIREPs. Like most apps, just tap on a weather icon for more details.

ADS-B also means traffic, and that’s another check-box option from the ADS-B menu. Fltplan Go has a slightly different presentation of nearby aircraft, and you can choose either relative altitude or MSL altitude for targets. In the screenshot below, we’ve chosen actual MSL altitude:

When you first turn traffic on, the screen can quickly get cluttered, so tap the gear symbol next to traffic to either minimize or hide distant traffic. That makes a big difference.

Besides weather and traffic, the Flight Stream can also provide AHRS data to drive backup instruments (if it’s connected to a GTX 345 or G500/600 glass cockpit). This isn’t as impressive as the instruments in Garmin Pilot, and there’s no synthetic vision option, but it’s still a nice safety feature in an emergency.

Finally, Fltplan Go can connect to a GTN 650 or 750 for flight plan sharing. This is a great way to save time, as the iPad can send a complicated route to the panel with just a few taps. From the Maps page, tap the up/down arrow button at the top of the screen to bring up the Connectivity menu. This allows you to export the active flight plan to either the Garmin Pilot app or the panel (in this case Garmin (null) next to the Connext icon). You’ll need to confirm the new route on your GTN.

There are some limitations with Fltplan Go. First, if your airplane has a SiriusXM weather receiver in the panel, that information can only be displayed in Garmin Pilot – not Fltplan Go. You’ll be limited to ADS-B weather in the free app. Likewise for Garmin’s database concierge, which allows pilots to update panel-mount avionics databases from their iPad. This is a handy feature, but is not available in Fltplan Go.

For more detailed compatibility questions, consult Fltplan.com’s chart:

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Source: Ipad appsFlying with Garmin Flight Stream and Fltplan Go

ADS-B vs. SiriusXM datalink weather – what’s the difference?

Datalink weather, either from ADS-B or SiriusXM, is an essential tool for almost all pilots. Once you’ve flown a cross country with in-flight radar, up-to-date METARs, and visual AIRMETs, it’s awfully hard to go back to flying without it. It makes flying safer, easier, and more comfortable – a rare combination.

Garmin’s GDL 52 receives both ADS-B and SiriusXM.

If you’re considering a datalink weather receiver for your iPad (like a Sentry, Stratus, or GDL), one of the first decisions you’ll face is the source of your weather data: ADS-B or SiriusXM? Both are reliable systems that deliver the same key information, so neither one is a bad choice. But there are important differences to consider. Let’s review each option.

The basics

There are enough acronyms to confuse even the most experienced pilot, so let’s begin with the essential information. If you’re shopping for a weather receiver, you probably know the quick features of ADS-B and SiriusXM.


  • Information is broadcast up from ground stations
  • No monthly subscription is required
  • Includes the essential weather information (radar, METARs, TFRs, etc.)


  • Information is broadcast down from geostationary satellites
  • A subscription is required ($30-100/month)
  • Includes higher end weather products (satellite, storm cell information, etc.)

All of those bullets are correct, and they summarize the main differences. A deeper dive into the details, though, may help you make a smarter decision.


The first thing to consider is coverage area. After all, the best weather receiver is useless if you won’t be able to access the information you want. And here’s the first major difference between the two systems.

ADS-B uses a network of over 700 ground stations to broadcast weather on the 978 MHz frequency. Like a VOR, if you have a radio tuned to the right frequency (and with an ADS-B receiver, you do) then you’ll get weather. Also like a VOR, reception is based on line of sight, so higher altitude improves reception and mountains prevent reception. East of the Mississippi, ADS-B coverage is quite good but you likely won’t receive weather on the ground (at Sporty’s airport we typically get reception at 200-300 feet and the closest tower is about 25 miles away). Almost the entire country has coverage at 3-5,000 feet AGL, but if you’re flying over the Rockies at low altitude, coverage can be spotty.

Here’s a map from the FAA, estimating ADS-B coverage at 5,000 feet AGL:

It’s worth noting that ADS-B uses different types of ground stations that transmit different weather products. In everyday flying, this doesn’t matter – one ADS-B ground station is enough to get weather, but you’ll typically receive somewhere between 3 and 12 towers. The only time this difference between towers comes into play is if you’re only receiving one tower and it’s a surface station. In that case, you might not see national (CONUS) radar.

SiriusXM, since it uses satellites, has no altitude limitations – you’ll receive all weather products even on the ground. This makes it ideal for pilots flying at low altitude in remote areas. It also offers some coverage in southern Canada and the Caribbean, but it’s important to note that satellite reception does not guarantee there is weather data for your location. That is, you may get good SiriusXM reception in the southern Bahamas, but there is no radar data to display.

Here’s the coverage map for SiriusXM:

Weather Products

After reception, the next difference is in the weather products that ADS-B and SiriusXM broadcast. Both transmit the most important ones, including: NEXRAD radar, METARs, TAFs, PIREPs, AIRMETs, SIGMETs, lightning, and TFRs. Those are the tools most pilots need to avoid thunderstorms, IFR conditions, and restricted airspace, but there are some details to consider.

SiriusXM offers four main subscription packages, and depending on the subscription level you can access additional weather products. This includes freezing level graphics, surface wind forecasts, and both cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning (ADS-B only shows the latter).

Perhaps the most useful additional product on SiriusXM is Storm Cell Attributes. This adds echo tops, direction of movement, and speed of movement to the typical radar image. These extra data points can help you determine whether that yellow cell is convective or just rain. In the example below, that line of weather has tops between 25,000 feet and 45,000 feet, and is moving east at a fairly good pace. That suggests real convection and a nasty ride:

While SiriusXM has the higher end weather products, ADS-B has closed the gap recently by adding lightning, cloud tops, Center Weather Advisories, and icing forecasts. The biggest thing missing from that list is satellite, although we would put that in the nice-to-have category, not the must-have category.

Also note that while SiriusXM transmits all weather data simultaneously, ADS-B will often only show METARs and TAFs within about 500 miles of your airplane. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of ADS-B and SiriusXM weather products:


One final topic that gets a lot of attention when it comes to weather products is radar. You’ll often hear something like, “ADS-B radar is blocky; SiriusXM is high resolution.” That’s sort of true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story; it depends on two questions. First, what receiver are you using and where are you displaying the radar (ForeFlight on your iPad, G1000 screen in the panel, etc.)? Some apps and avionics do a lot of radar smoothing to make it look higher resolution than it really is. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it doesn’t have much to do with the raw radar data. Make sure you understand your system and what it’s showing.

Secondly, while SiriusXM has a single resolution nationwide, ADS-B uses a higher resolution regional NEXRAD and a lower resolution national NEXRAD image. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of ADS-B regional radar and SiriusXM, as displayed in ForeFlight. As you can see, the resolution is basically the same:

The difference is that SiriusXM radar is full resolution nationwide. In the example below, we can see full resolution radar in northern Wisconsin, even though our airplane is 800 miles away:

With ADS-B radar, you can see higher resolution radar close to the airplane (near Tulsa, Oklahoma), but further away the radar gets blockier (into Mississippi). That blockier image is the national radar picture, and as you get closer to it, the image will change to the regional radar image:

In our experience, the two resolutions of ADS-B radar are not a major limitation unless you’re flying a high performance aircraft. Red is red, no matter how good the resolution. In a Cessna 172 or a Cirrus SR22, for example, 250 miles (the range of regional radar on ADS-B) is a long time – probably over two hours in the Cessna. The fact that longer range radar is blocky does not change the way we fly because there’s plenty of time to look at the higher resolution radar when we get closer.

On the other hand, if you’re flying a jet at 400 knots, that blockier ADS-B radar beyond 250 miles may be a more important limitation. It does make long range planning a little more difficult at high speeds.

In our experience, SiriusXM tends to overestimate the weather compared to ADS-B. This depends on the app to some extent, and conservative is a good way to fly, but there are many days where a green return on SiriusXM does not show up on ADS-B. Here’s an example:

One reason for this difference is that ADS-B and SiriusXM show different colors at different levels of reflectivity (dBZ). Note the chart below, where 15dBZ is green on SiriusXM but blank on ADS-B:

One final detail to consider is base vs. composite reflectivity. This is a complicated subject, but in essence, base radar shows the lowest scan angle from a radar site – what’s coming out the bottom of the cloud. Composite radar shows the highest reflectivity from all scan angles – the worst case, even if the only red in that cell is at 35,000 feet. Composite radar is the most conservative option, since as pilots we fly in three dimensions and we want to know what the weather is doing aloft. For this reason, most pilots use composite reflectivity, and both ADS-B and SiriusXM transmit this product.

However, SiriusXM offers the option to view base reflectivity as well. This is mostly useful as a spot check or for real weather geeks who want to get a detailed view of the weather. If the composite picture shows solid green but the base picture is clear, you can probably assume the rain is at high altitude and none of it is reaching the ground. This could be useful for a VFR pilot who will be flying under an overcast – will there be rain showers to reduce visibility?

Here’s an example of base and composite reflectivity in ForeFlight. You can see that composite shows a lot more yellow, suggesting that most of the rain is aloft and only light rain is falling at the ground:

Final analysis

As you can see, a detailed discussion of ADS-B vs. SiriusXM quickly gets confusing. But strip away all the talk of dBZ and ground stations, and the message is clear: fly with some type of datalink weather. The similarities are much more important than the differences, and when used properly we believe either service can improve your safety.

If you fly a piston airplane 50 or 75 hours per year, we think ADS-B is a perfectly good solution. You won’t miss the higher end weather products and the lower resolution national radar is not a practical limitation. Since there’s no subscription, it’s a great value – just buy a receiver and start looking weather.

If you fly a high performance airplane, or if you fly at low altitude or in Canada, SiriusXM is probably worth the extra money. You won’t have to worry about different radar resolutions and some of the additional weather layers can be very helpful. Especially if you fly a lot of IFR, having a satellite image or storm cell information can make the difference between an easy flight and an uncomfortable one. Just remember you’ll be paying around $350/year for that extra data – only you can decide whether that’s a good investment for your flying.

Whichever system you fly with, make sure to use it properly. This Flying magazine article has some good advice for using datalink weather as a safety tool and not as a crutch. Remember, it’s for big picture awareness and large deviations – not for picking your way through a tightly packed line of storms.

Shop all ADS-B and SiriusXM receivers here

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Redesigned B4UFLY App Available Now

Today, the FAA in partnership with Kittyhawk relaunched its B4UFLY mobile application that allows recreational drone flyers know where they can and cannot fly in the national airspace system (NAS). The new B4UFLY app is now available to download for free at theApp Storefor iOS andGoogle Play storefor Android.

As we continue our efforts to safely integrate drones into the NAS, working with our industry partners to provide innovative technology is critical, said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. The B4UFLY app is another tool the FAA can provide recreational drone flyers to help them fly safely and responsibly.

Some of the key features users can expect include:

  • A clear “status” indicator that informs the operator whether it is safe to fly or not. (For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. is prohibited.)
  • Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
  • Information about controlled airspace, special use airspace, critical infrastructure, airports, national parks, military training routes and temporary flight restrictions.
  • A link to LAANC, the FAAs Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, to obtain authorization to fly in controlled airspace.
  • The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.
  • Links to other FAA drone resources and regulatory information.

The app provides situational awareness to recreational flyers and other drone users. It does not allow users to obtain airspace authorizations to fly in controlled airspace, which are only available through LAANC.

For more information, view B4UFLY.

Source: FAARedesigned B4UFLY App Available Now

Sporty’s Pilot Training app adds four new Garmin avionics courses

Sporty’s Pilot Training app platform has become the go-to app for mobile aviation training, offering a growing collection of courses from Private Pilot prep to advanced avionics and aircraft transitions. In addition to high-quality HD video and animation content, the courses offer unparalleled flexibility by allowing you to access your courses on a wide range of devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android, web browser, AppleTV, RokuTV and Chromecast – all of which keep your progress seamlessly in sync.

In the last two years, Sporty’s Pilot Training app has grown from its initial offering of 6 aviation courses to 17 now. The newest additions come from a partnership between Sporty’s Pilot Shop and Garmin to offer several of Garmin’s new avionics eLearning courses on Sporty’s award-winning platform:

Garmin TXi Essentials Course

Garmin Aviation Weather Radar 2.0 Course

Garmin G5000 Essentials 2.0 Course

Garmin G5000 Plus Essentials 2.0 Course (Autothrottle Airplanes)

These courses use scenario-based video training to ensure you not only know how to operate all the features but how to best use them in all phases of VFR and IFR flying. They incorporate interactive exercises that allow you to take advantage of your mobile device’s touchscreen display to interact with the flight displays through a series of real-world scenarios as if you were actually loading an instrument approach or scanning an active weather system using the radar controls.

Garmin’s courses also include review quizzes to help reinforce keep learning points from the videos and interactive exercises:

After completing each course, you will receive a completion certificate, which is useful for your CFI during a checkout or insurance company as a aircraft owner. Here’s more on what’s covered in each course.

Garmin TXi Essentials Course

Garmin’s TXi series of touchscreen displays have quickly found a home in thousands of general aviation panels. With bright displays, easy-to-use menus, and powerful features, they are the new standard for retrofit glass cockpits. This interactive TXi Essentials eLearning course provides initial instruction on the fundamental operation of these highly-capable systems. Pilots who complete this course will be able to confidently complete standard tasks encountered during a flight, from preflight tests to in-flight navigation.

Garmin Aviation Weather Radar Course

An airborne weather radar can be a great tool to help detect and avoid adverse weather during flight. The Garmin Aviation Weather Radar eLearning course goes beyond the content of weather radar pilot’s guides to help you maximize the benefits of your weather radar system’s capabilities, regardless of brand or model. This course will introduce you to radar fundamentals, operational principles, industry-standard practices and operational considerations and techniques for all phases of flight. This course also addresses the features, functions and operation of three of Garmin’s airborne weather radars: GWX 70, GWX 75 and GWX 80, as well as reviews techniques employed for managing weather threats.

Garmin G5000 and G5000 Plus Courses

The Garmin G5000 flight deck is available in new corporate jet aircraft, like the Citation Longitude, and is also offered as an upgrade for existing turbine aircraft. The Garmin G5000 Essentials 2.0 course provides instruction on the fundamental operation of this advanced flight management system, enabling you to be better prepared for your initial flights.

This course goes beyond the Pilot’s Guide to help you maximize the benefits and capabilities of the system. The course will introduce you to the overall G5000 system, provide an understanding of the specific Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) that comprise the system, describe the pilot-aircraft interface and present a flight scenario that demonstrates use of the system during a typical flight.

As with all Sporty’s Pilot Training courses, access never expires and includes all online, mobile and TV platforms:

Download Sporty’s Pilot Training app for iPhone and iPad

Download Sporty’s Pilot Training app for Android

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