Using a VFR Moving Map

Over the years, technological advancements supported by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have delivered a range of electronic navigation solutions. Many of these have been developed for the sport and recreational General Aviation pilot, to support VFR flight planning and airborne navigation when used on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.  

The software makes flight planning simple and allows routes to be built to incorporate many of the recommendations that the CAA and its safety partners recommend such as: planning to remain, where able, a minimum of  2NM laterally and 200 feet vertically from the limits of controlled airspace/and or notified airspace (Take 2), and the use of Frequency Monitoring Codes.  Some software solutions allow planned routes to be flown in simulator mode, where the plan can be assessed, and threats can be identified and mitigated.  NOTAM and weather information are sometimes available on the same planning source and a Pilot Log (PLOG)and frequency card can be made available for the route.

In addition, the applications allow the calculation of Weight and Balance, filing of VFR Flight Plans, and General Aviation Reports (GAR) – all making pre-flight preparation less complex and stress-free giving more time to focus on effective route study.

Inflight, Moving Maps provide a significant enhancement to situational awareness in relation to your position, adjacent airspace, aerial sporting sites and activity areas which may be hazardous to aviation, ad hoc unusual aerial activity subject to NOTAM activity along with both visual and aural warnings.

If incorporated with an Electronic Conspicuity (EC) device, a significant mitigation of mid-air collisions is available inflight and at the most basic level; aircraft equipped with an EC device effectively signal their presence to other airspace users which may in some cases be displayed on the moving map platform; this turns the ‘see and avoid’ concept into ‘see, BE SEEN, and avoid’.

However, as with all technological solutions, it is imperative that the user is fully aware of the functionality of the software in use.  It is essential that users pay particular attention to associated manuals/user guides in order that the correct settings are selected and that they are fully familiar with the operation of the equipment. You may have the best plan and alternate plan formulated but if you do not know how to operate the equipment that you are relying on for your navigation, your preparation has been compromised; if you were using a paper chart, you would not get airborne with your chart stowed in your bag and the chart folded in such a way that the route was not visible.  The incorrect use of a Moving Map can be as significant as not using one; in recent causal factor analysis (CAP1749 – Causal Factor Analysis of Airspace Infringements in the United Kingdom), the correct use of Moving Map technology could have helped prevent 85% of analysed airspace infringements from occurring.  The following is a non-exhaustive list of observed issues in analysis of airspace infringements where Moving Maps were in use:

  1. Moving Map platform not connected to the WiFi when flight planning occurred resulting in a plan being based on outdated or missing information;
  2. Pilots forgetting to take their Moving Map to the aerodrome/aircraft and not considering it as an essential part of flight equipment;
  3. Moving Map platform not being sufficiently charged, so failing inflight resulting in a loss of plan and situational awareness;
  4. Moving Map platform overheating in flight resulting in a loss of plan and situational awareness;
  5. Moving Map platforms not being appropriately secured in the cockpit leading to them falling/moving out of sight in turbulence/manoeuvres;
  6. Application/Charts not having been updated pre-flight planning resulting in a plan being based on inaccurate/outdated aeronautical information;
  7. Planning a route to fly too close to the boundaries of notified airspace in the anticipation of being able to ‘fly the magenta line’ but then being impacted by distraction, weather or traffic avoidance inflight leading to an airspace infringement. Irrespective of your method of navigation, it is always good practice to plan to Take 2;
  8. Insufficient pre-flight planning due to plotting a straight line between departure and destination aerodromes without reference to what lies between; it is sound practice to also plot your route on a  paper chart so that you will see more features along the route but you will also have a contingency if your Moving Map fails;
  9. In-flight deletion of visual alerts, without first checking them, (sometimes the result of “alert overload”) leading to inappropriate response to alert;
  10. Moving Maps being carried but left out of sight, typically in a pocket of either the pilot or the aircraft. In 2019 almost 10% of airspace infringements occurred when the Moving Map was present in the aircraft but was not being used (this is often found to be the case in airspace infringements occurring during instructional or examination flights); and  
  11. Pilots operating with a tablet that did not have built in GPS, so GNSS information was not available in flight when the Moving Map was the sole source of planned route information.

It is important that users are aware of the integrity of the information that they receive from of 3rd Party Service Providers. Under current UK legislation there are no regulatory requirements in place for third-party providers that redistribute or “re-package” official aeronautical information beyond the UK AIP.  Aeronautical data and information are necessary for the safety of air navigation and it is highly recommended that all organisations or individuals that process such data/information sourced from UK Aeronautical Information products apply best practices to ensure that it maintains its integrity, is delivered in a timely manner, is complete, and in a form suitable for users [CAP779: Regulation of aeronautical information management services].  

In summary, the bulk of gathered evidence from incident reports indicates that pilots were found either not to be using a Moving Map, or not using it correctly. This is particularly evident during instructional flights where instructor workload is high and distractions highly likely. Using Moving Maps not only gives pilots a profile along the planned route showing notified airspace along, above and below the route but it offers other airspace warnings of unusual aerial activity; it is essential that functions of the equipment are correctly understood and the settings are correctly applied/configured to enable updates and warnings to be available both pre- and in-flight.

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