Understanding the FAA Approach Charts

Approaching The FAA Approach Plates

So most of the world uses Jeppesen plates, and as we know, the updated versions of these charts can be a little hard to obtain. For those of us flying in the US - never fear, for the FAA has their own version of IFR approach plates. And the best part - they’re freely available on websites like AirNav.com.

They are, however a little different from Jeppesen charts, which is why I thought I’d create this tutorial/how-to for the FAA approach plates. (Also it’s fun to do this as a newly-minted instrument ground instructor)


Okay! Let’s get right into it. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m gonna be primarily working with the KBUR 08 ILS or LOC Z approach. Here’s what it looks like, FAA-style!

Seems a little confusing, huh? But don’t worry. Let’s start from the top, and work our way down!

1. Margin Identification - Who, What, When!

This essentially contains the information about the approach itself, as well as its currency aka how up-to-date it is. We’ll start from the top left corner and go clockwise:

  • Burbank, California: This is where the airport is located

  • AL-67 (FAA): This is the chart number and the chart issuer. In this case it’s the FAA. In other cases or charts, it could be the Department of Defense, or another private company such as Jeppesen.

  • SW-3, 08 OCT 2020 to 05 NOV 2020: This refers to the validity period of the chart, unless otherwise indicated by any NOTAMs. This is on both sides on the chart margins.

  • BOB HOPE (BUR): This is the name of the airport, as well as the 3-letter identifier

  • ILS or LOC Z RWY 8: This is the name of the approach. It gives you the type of approach, the identifier (in this case, Z) and the runway corresponding to the approach.

  • 34º12’N-118º22’W: The latitude and longitude of the airport.

  • BURBANK, CALIFORNIA, Amdmt 39a 28FEB19: Once again, the name of the airport, and the last major amendment date to the chart.

2. Briefing Strip Information - How to Keep it Brief!

The briefing strip. All your important information to brief the approach is (mainly) contained here. Seems a little intimidating? Well, let’s take it one step at a time:

I. NAV and Airport Information

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  • LOC I-BUR 109.5: This tells you that you’ll be tuning into a localizer for this approach - not a VOR or an NDB or any other kind of NAVAID. The localizer frequency is 109.5, and the identifier is ‘I-BUR’ since it also contains an ILS. On Infinite Flight, this is accessed by going to the airport, tapping on it for the information, going to the RWYS tab, selecting the runway you want and hitting 'Set NAV 1." It should turn green with a ‘NAV1’ indication, just like below:

  • APP CRS 079º: This specifies the course you have to fly once you’re established on the localizer for the approach. In this case its a heading of 079º. This is also taken care of in IF if you’ve set your NAV as described above. Just remember the course heading - it comes in handy if your autopilot goes haywire!

  • Rwy ldg 5801, TDZE 727, Apt Elev 778: Just a little information about the runway and the airport you’re landing at. The landing distance for this runway is 5801 feet, the touchdown zone elevation is 727 feet and the airport elevation is 778 feet. Pro tip: If you’re in solid IFR conditions and you can’t see the runway but can see the approach lights, you can descend below minimums to a height of 50 feet above TDZE. In this case that would be 727 + 50 = 777 feet. (not applicable for CAT III approaches aka autoland).

II. Name Of Approach

In case you needed a reminder, this is the official name of the approach, as you’d request it from ATC. This is the ILS (or Localizer) Runway 8 approach for Burbank (BUR) Bob Hope airport.

III. Remarks Section

Oooh, here’s where it starts to get deliciously complex! Well, not really if you look carefully. This section basically deals with a bunch of remarks about what you can or can’t do on this approach, or what happens if the airport lighting equipment fails on you.

It also specifies that this airport has non-standard takeoff minimums and non-standard alternate minimums as specified by the thick black triangles with T and A in them. To look up what those are, you’d have to consult yet another document known as the Airport/Facilities directory, also called the Chart Supplement. It also specifies the type of lighting used on this runway (MALSR, A5).

Most importantly though… the far right, it contains a textual description of the missed approach instructions. In this case, if you chose to go missed, you’d have to climb to 1300 feet, then make a climbing right turn to 4600 feet on a heading of 210º, pick up the VTU (Ventura) VOR/DME radial 086 all the way to the VOR and hold over there. It also specifies a hash mark (#) which says that the missed approach requires a climb gradient of 340 feet per nautical mile. More on this later.

IV. Frequencies

This section contains all the frequencies you’ll need to keep handy:

-D-ATIS (digital ATIS) is 134.5.
-SoCal Approach has not one, not two, but FOUR frequencies! 120.2 and 134.2 for civilian aircraft, and 360.3 and 338.2 for military - all depending on the direction you’re coming from.
-Similarly, Burbank Tower has two frequencies - one for civilians (118.7) and one for the military (254.3)
-GND CON is simply Ground Control - which also has two frequencies. Can you figure out which one is for civilians and which for the military?
-CLNC DEL is the frequency to get your IFR clearance, before you depart.
-CPDLC - this means that CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communications) - like a text message interface for pilots and controllers - is available at this airport.

3. The Plan View - Top-Down Planning

This is the meat of the approach plate. The top-down view of the approach itself. It looks a little messy, but let’s get into it. Remember, north is upwards here!

For starters, we need to find a place to start our approach from. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’re typically going to select something called the IAF (Initial Approach Fix) to start from. Let’s just make it easy, and say we’re coming in from the northwest, maybe from San Francisco or someplace. We can easily intercept TOAKS as the IAF. And indeed, TOAKS is one of the options in Infinite Flight too:

How do we identify TOAKS? Well, see that arrow coming straight out of the Filmore VOR cutting through TOAKS that says R-136? That means, on our NAV 2 (usually a backup VOR), we can tune Filmore (FIM) with a radial of 136º - and when we’re established on the localizer (aka, ‘needle centered’), and also centered on the 136 radial of Filmore, we’ll be exactly at TOAKS. This ‘cross-radial’ method of identifying fixes is useful if you want to hand-fly an approach and don’t want to only rely on a GPS or a map.

Now, our approach is a straight-in approach, pretty much. That means we’re probably not gonna fly that procedure turn (like a hold) that’s marked there where it says ‘1 min.’ In case we were coming in from the east, our initial approach fix would be SILEX, and we’d have to fly that procedure turn to reverse our course and turn westbound. But for now, it says ‘NoPT’ which means ‘No Procedure Turn.’ So that’s all good.

There’s also a few more fixes and NAVAIDS marked along your way to help you out, such as VNY, SILEX, BUDDE etc., as well as those ‘cross-radials’ to help identify them. And it also gives you the heights to fly at. For example, at BUDDE, you should be at 3000 feet. Remember, if there’s a line below 3000, it means you can’t descend below 3000. If there’s a line above 3000, it means you can’t climb above 3000. In this case…well, it seems like you gotta stick at 3000! More on this later!

Take a look at the lower right side of the Plan View section. See this circle with various altitudes?

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It also says MSA VNY 25 NM. What does all of this mean?
It means that when you’re within 25 nautical miles of the VNY (Van Nuys) VOR, these are the Minimum Sector Altitudes - or Minimum Safe Altitudes (MSA) that you can fly, which assures you of obstacle clearance, depending on which quadrant you’re flying in. If you’re flying between the 095º radial and the 185º radial, the lowest you can fly and be safe (unless ATC decides otherwise) is 7300 feet. Between the 185º radial and the 275º radial, the MSA changes to 9300 feet, because of high mountains in the area. This is a must for both ATC and pilots to know, as bad vectoring altitudes could cause a situation called Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).

Also, if you look closely, see the ‘dotted’ or ‘dashed’ arrow path just east of the airport that makes a sharp turn to the southwest? That’s like a little ‘preview’ of your missed approach path, should you choose to go missed. Sometimes, for some approaches, in Infinite Flight when you load up the approach, this ‘missed approach path’ sometimes loads up too - it’s been a point of confusion for a lot of people. Which brings me to the next section on missed approaches.

4. Missed Approach Information - Missed Again!

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This is your section on missed approaches - both the regular one and the alternate one, in case you can’t fly the regular one. The regular one is depicted in step-by-step, side-by-side format and matches the textual description in the briefing strip. In this case, it’s as follows:

  1. Fly straight, climbing to 1300 feet
  2. Make a climbing right turn to 4600 on a heading of 210º
  3. VTU R-086 - intercept the 086 radial of the Ventura VOR (VTU)
  4. Fly to VTU and hold over the VOR

The alternate missed approach fix is SILEX, in case you don’t have enough fuel or can’t make it to VTU. It gives you headings to hold over SILEX and also some more cross-radials to help identify SILEX, in case your radios are shot. Remember, in most cases, ATC will tell you how to execute your missed approach. You usually only fly the published missed approach if your radios are broken, or ATC has high traffic load.

5. The Profile View - Side-By-Side Planning

This is nothing but a super-simplified version of the Plan View, except viewed from the side instead of a top-down view. The nice part is that it shows you only the information you need, and not all the additional messy cross-radials or addendums that make the Plan View rather messy. The only thing it notes is that the visual glideslope indicator (VGSI) and the ILS glide path do not coincide with each other. So don’t worry if you’re centered on the ILS and the visual glideslope indicator shows you’re too high - you’re fine.

Let’s start with our approach from the left hand side all the way down to the runway:

  • If you’re flying the procedure turn at SILEX, the Profile View reconfirms that you have to do a one minute holding pattern between 5200 and 4000 feet.

  • At SILEX, once you’re established on the approach on a heading/course of 079º, you can be at or above 3700 feet. It also shows you that SILEX is 6.1 DME distance from VNY (the Van Nuys VOR).

  • After 6 nautical miles, you should reach BUDDE. But just before BUDDE, there’s a lightning bolt arrow, which says that you should be at or above 3000 feet. If you’re flying an ILS - a precision approach - this is the point at where you’ll intercept your glideslope, and you can rely on it to get you down accurately. On an ILS, you should intercept BUDDE at 2753 feet.

  • If you’re flying a localiser-only approach (LOC) or if your ILS is busted with no glideslope, you have to intercept BUDDE at exactly 3000 feet. See that star next to the 3000 at BUDDE? (*) You have to follow that altitude if you’re doing a localiser-only approach. In that case, BUDDE is also the final approach fix (FAF), marked by a Maltese cross (the fancy X shape), after which you can descend all the way down to minimums. Look on the lower left side of the chart, and you’ll also see the time that it should take you to get to the missed approach point (MAP) from BUDDE.

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If you’re flying at 60 knots, start your timer at BUDDE, and if you can’t see the airport by 5 mins and 12 seconds, you gotta go missed. If you’re in a jet and flying the approach at 180 knots, it’s 1 minute and 44 seconds.

  • Finally, there’s a weird fix called CFBXN, which is 5.2 nautical miles from BUDDE, which is your missed approach point (MAP).

  • There’s also an arrow that pulls up after the missed approach point, which indicates that after that point, you have to go missed.

And guess what? These altitudes also shows up in your map on Infinite flight! Check out the screenshot below:

6. Landing Minimums - Minimums! Minimums!

Aha! We finally get to minimums!
Aircraft, according to the FAA, have different categories based on their approach speed (also called Vref):

-Category A = 90 knots or less
-Category B = 91-120 knots
-Category C = 121-140 knots
-Category D = 141-156 knots
-Category E (Military only) = 166 knots or greater

The minimums usually differ for each category. However, in this particular approach, they’re mostly the same for all.

  • S-ILS 8#: The straight-in ILS approach for Runway 08. Remember that hash mark we saw in the briefing strip/missed approach remarks? That’s what this refers to. The minimums for a straight-in ILS approach for all aircraft are 1075/50. Wait what? Alright, that’s 1075 feet MSL, and a minimum visibility of 50 x 100 = 5000 feet RVR (Runway Visual Range). It also says 348 - that’s 348 feet above the runway threshold. The numbers in brackets (300-1) are for reference to military pilots only.

  • S-LOC 8#: Oh goody, you’re flying a localiser-only approach. It’s not a precision approach. so your minimums are bound to be higher. And indeed, this says 1160/50. That’s 1160 feet MSL, with a visibility of 5000 feet RVR. That’s also 433 feet above the runway threshold, and once again the (400-1) is for military reference only.

  • C - Circling: This refers to a circling approach - when your approach is not straight-in. And here, the minimums are different for each category of aircraft. For Category A aircraft, minimums for a circling approach are 1280 feet (equivalent to 502 feet above the runway threshold), with a visibility of 1 and one-eighth (weird, right?) statute miles. And so on, for Category B, C, and D aircraft. These minimums are typically higher than straight-in approaches, because you have to have the runway in sight at all times on a circling approach.

7. Airport Sketch - Keeping You Grounded

Finally, we have the airport sketch - kinda like a mini airport diagram with additional information We’re told that the airport elevation is 778 feet, and a big fat D (excuse the unintended gutter-minded joke) tells us that the runway declared distance information exists for this airport. The touchdown zone elevation (TDZE) is 727 feet. There’s also some information on airport lighting - Runway 8 has HIRL which stands for High Intensity Runway Lighting, while the others have MIRL (try and guess what that means!), along with REIL (Runway End Identifier Lights). For a more detailed diagram, you can look at the dedicated airport diagram, which is a separate chart by itself, or follow Infinite Flight’s own home-grown airport diagram (show below)


I hope you enjoy this tutorial, and please feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, concerns or criticisms! Blue skies and tailwinds to all of you!

Primary source: https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/digital_products/aero_guide/media/editions/cug-complete.pdf

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Looks like the photos didn’t upload properly 😬

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Should be fixed, check now!

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Great Job @CaptainSooraj!

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Thanks for this help, I was always scanning and taking the most important information out of the final approach charts and the missed approach part was annoying to interpret. If only I had seen this step by step diagram before it would have been amazing.

Thank you again

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Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Haha yep, that’s why they give it in multiple forms - in the briefing strip, and the plan view, and then finally just above the profile view because it’s such an important part of IFR flying. Glad this cleared things up for you!

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This is one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen. You went into every detail which I’m sure less experienced people would understand easily. Nice work and keep it up!

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Very helpful tutorial - bookmarked!

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Thank you! A lot of what I learned was from attending an FAA Safety Wings seminar in California called “Beyond The Approach” by Ron Bernstein, so I figured I could take what I learned IRL and see how it could be applied to IF as well.

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This is very, very well done. Goes in-depth where it’s needed and does so step by step, which greatly helps the understanding. Thanks for sharing, really good work!

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Thank you for this. Easy to read and understand with a complex scope of depth at the same time.

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Thanks I’m so glad!

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Glad you liked it! Hoping it helps newbies especially.

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I’m glad you enjoyed it! Planning on creating more soon!