How Do Aircraft Navigate?

Different vehicles have different levels of navigational freedom. Trains are very restricted, with their movements dictated by the…

How Do Aircraft Navigate?

Different vehicles have different levels of navigational freedom. Trains are very restricted, with their movements dictated by the rails on which they travel. Cars and other road vehicles enjoy greater flexibility, with the freedom to take several routes depending on the driver’s preference. But what about the factor of altitude comes into play? Aircraft travel further and faster than these vehicles, and at a range of different heights. So how exactly do they navigate?

What are the various ways in which aircraft navigate? Photo: Getty Images

In the air

How aircraft navigate while in the air is influenced by whether they are flying under Instrument (IFR) or Visual (VFR) Flight Rules. When flying under IFR, pilots will navigate their aircraft using aspects such as radio and satellite navigation (GPS), as well as, as the name suggests, the plane’s cockpit instruments.

Meanwhile, when flying under VFR, such aids are generally only used as supplementary features. For the most part, VFR flight tends to rely on observational navigation, in which pilots visually calculate their position relative to another fixed point, sometimes with the aid of maps.

Stay informed: Sign up for our  and  aviation news digests!

Aircraft contrails
How aircraft navigate inflight depends on whether they are flying under IFR or VFR. Photo: Getty Images

In years gone by, aircrews would sometimes feature a dedicated navigator in addition to the two pilots (and sometimes also a flight engineer). However, as technology has improved over the years, the need for this role has been eliminated. The navigator’s presence would allow pilots to concentrate on other tasks, at a time when fewer aspects were automated than today.

On the ground

Pilots also need to know their way around when taxiing their aircraft between the gate and the runway. At smaller airports, or ones with which the crew is familiar, this may not be the most challenging task. However, at large or unfamiliar airports, it is paramount that pilots can still find their way around without making a wrong turn that could cause delays.

Lufthansa A380 Frankfurt
Aircraft sometimes have additional navigational help from ground vehicles, like ‘Follow Me’ cars, while taxiing. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

The Points Guy reports that aircraft are often provided with a paper map of the airport in question. This will feature conspicuously-labeled gates and taxiways to ensure that even first-time visitors know where they’re going.

Additionally, modern aircraft also often have a computerized moving map for ground movements, similar to a car’s GPS. This is useful when there is low visibility, either during the hours of darkness or due to inclement weather.

A crucial safety aspect

An aircraft’s navigation systems are a vital aspect in terms of ensuring its safe operation. As such, failures are often taken very seriously, resulting in diversions. Simple Flying covered two such incidents in 2019.

Virgin Atlantic G-VROY Boeing 747-400 Cockpit
A plane’s navigation system is one of the many aspects of its cockpit setup that helps ensure it flies safely. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

The first of these, in August that year, involved an Icelandair Boeing 757. This aircraft had been en route from Reykjavík-Keflavík (KEF) to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). In this instance, the aircraft encountered issues with its LNAV (lateral navigation) and VNAV (vertical navigation) systems while cruising at 34,000 feet near Greenland. It eventually landed safely in Reykjavík.

Then, in November 2019, a similar incident befell a Delta Air Lines Airbus A220. Funnily enough, this flight had also been bound for Seattle, although its origin in this instance was Denver, Colorado. Having encountered problems with the navigation systems 36,000 feet over Idaho, the crew elected to divert to Salt Lake City, Utah, where, thankfully, they also landed safely.

Were you aware of the different ways in which aircraft navigate? Perhaps you’ve seen some of these systems in person on flight deck visits? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Source : Simple Flying More   

What's Your Reaction?


Next Article

Boeing 737 MAX Electrical Fix Gains FAA Approval

Boeing has received approval from the U.S Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proposed electrical fixes to the 737…

Boeing 737 MAX Electrical Fix Gains FAA Approval

Boeing has received approval from the U.S Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proposed electrical fixes to the 737 MAX. Electrical grounding issues forced over 100 MAX planes to be removed from service over the past month. Affected airlines will now be able to return their MAX jets to the skies.

Boeing has received approval for proposed fixes to electrical grounding issues affecting some MAX planes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

FAA grants approval for electrical fixes

The FAA has approved Boeing’s proposed modifications for the 737 MAX to fix the electrical grounding issues discovered last month. On Wednesday, Boeing sent out two service bulletins to MAX operators affected by electrical issues. The bulletins provide instructions on how to repair the problem, which will take airlines less than 24 hours per plane.

Boeing told Reuters,

“After gaining final approvals from the FAA, we have issued service bulletins for the affected fleet. We are also completing the work as we prepare to resume deliveries.”

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told U.S. lawmakers that the issue would require a “pretty straightforward fix.” Repair work is expected to take between nine and 24 hours per jet, at a total cost of around $155,000 for all affected planes in the U.S.

The FAA is satisfied affected MAX 8 and MAX 9 planes are now safe to return to the skies. Photo: Boeing

Dickson confirmed his full confidence in the safety of the MAX to a U.S House panel yesterday, saying,

“It is performing as well or better overall than any other airplane out there in the aviation system right now.” 

On May 4th, the FAA requested proof from Boeing that various MAX subsystems would not be affected by the electrical grounding issues. Despite many airlines expecting a swift solution to the problem, the FAA’s additional requests delayed the process to ensure other systems on the MAX were not compromised.

What exactly were the electrical issues?

The electrical problems are believed to have arisen after Boeing altered its manufacturing process to accelerate production of the MAX. Boeing discovered the issue in early April, issuing a safety recommendation to 16 airlines operating the MAX.

The problem was first traced to a backup power control unit in the cockpit, before concerns the issue could affect other areas of the plane, including the pilot instrument panel. In an airworthiness directive issued by the FAA, the regulator claimed the problem could have resulted in a loss of critical functions.

Southwest MAX
Southwest had 30 MAX planes affected by the electrical issue. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The FAA said the issue,

“… could affect the operation of certain systems, including engine ice protection, and result in loss of critical functions and/or multiple simultaneous flight deck effects, which may prevent continued safe flight and landing.”

Boeing gives the all-clear for affected planes

Boeing has also announced that airlines affected by the electrical issue are preparing to return the MAX to the skies. According to the FAA, 109 MAX-8 and MAX-9 planes were affected, with 71 of those registered in the U.S. Southwest Airlines grounded 30 of its MAX planes in April, with American Airlines and United Airlines grounding 17 and 16 jets respectively.

Boeing 737 MAX, Production, Return To Service
109 MAXs were affected by the problem – around 25% of all MAX planes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The announcement comes as a relief for U.S airlines, with a busy schedule and market recovery on the cards over the summer. Other affected airlines worldwide include Cayman Airways, Copa Airlines, GOL Linhas Aereas, Iceland Air, Minsheng Leasing, Neos Air, Shanding Airlines, SilkAir, SpiceJet, Sunwing Airlines, TUI, Turkish Airlines, Valla Jets Limited, WestJet Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

Do you have confidence in the Boeing 737 MAX? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Source : Simple Flying More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.