Flight Planning: Using the Track Advisory System
Track Advisory (TA) guidelines were put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to avoid traffic conflicts for operations along Anchorage Center’s (ZAN) Russian Trans East (RTE) route system. The TA User’s Guide articulates the requirements for using the TA.
When flying westbound from the U.S.to Russia, business aircraft operators may not simply file a flight plan to Russia but must follow these guidelines. If TA guidelines are not complied with, you’ll experience delays that may cause issues with overflight permits, crew duty times and airport curfews at your destination. It’s always best to work with your 3rd-party provider in this process, as there are a number of operating nuances and restrictions to consider.
Here are some things to keep in mind when using track advisories:
1. Know special procedures when filing flight plans transiting from Alaskan to Russian airspace
When traveling westbound between Alaskan and Russian airspace – depending upon the entry point you use for Russia – you’ll need to follow TA guidelines. This is a requirement for all operators, regardless of where the flight originates. If you do not complete this process, you’ll be delayed and, in some cases, will not be permitted to take off. For more information, please visit the FAA website.
2. Flying westbound into Russia requires certain steps
When flying westbound from U.S. to Russian airspace, the first step is to obtain a Russian overflight permit, which gives you an approved entry point into Russian airspace. You’ll then file a message to Anchorage (PANC) Air Traffic Control (ATC) known as a "TKF" message (which is a track request option message) to request an altitude reservation for the Russia gateway fix. The entry point on the Russian overflight permit and the gateway fix requested by TKF must match, or you’ll be rerouted or even diverted. (Be aware that polar routings are seldom approved for general aviation use.) When returning from Russian airspace to the U.S., you’ll need a permit from Russia, but you’re not required to send a TKF message or comply with TA guidelines.
3. Track advisories apply to most routings into Russian airspace
There are certain entry points – gateway fixes – that must be used when entering Russian airspace. Common gateways are MARCC, which takes you over the Kamchatka peninsula on routings toward Sapporo (RJCJ), and VALDA, a more northerly fix often used when travelling to Beijing (ZBAA). There’s also a commonly used, more northerly fix – FRENK – which may be advantageous when flying westbound toward Novosibirsk (UNNT). These are the three most common entry points. Also, Aleutian Island operations are not suggested, since this is a non-radar environment.
As of a late release, there are some more southerly exit points, but it would be up to Russia to allow you to enter at these points. Going into Russia off the Aleutian Islands could be very restrictive in altitude and Minimum En Route Altitudes (MEAs). Currently, when operating into Russia, the flight levels are at 280 and above, and they will not allow you to operate below MEA or plan an altitude above the capability of the aircraft. When transiting to Russia, it’s recommended to depart Alaskan airspace via the Anchorage (PANC) or Nome (PAOM) areas. You’ll always need to stay north of airway R220 – the northernmost airway going to the Far East.
4. Specific information is required when using the TA system
When using the TA system, and TKF requests, you’ll need to indicate flight level requests and estimated times of arrival for gateway entry point. It’s important to check all relevant Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS), especially on the date of operations. If your flight is delayed, the TA can be easily modified via phone to the FAA’s transmission message unit (TMU).
5. Track advisories are altitude-dependent
Only certain altitudes are available for entry at Russian gateway fixes, and you’ll need to request specific altitudes when flying westbound into Russia. After determining available altitudes, you’ll file a flight plan and send a TKF message to request an altitude reservation for the Russia gateway fix. You may request two or three alternative altitudes. The good news is that more altitude options have been available since Russia changed from a metric to a feet flight level environment in November 2011 when reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) was implemented.
6. Know TKF messaging procedures
TKF requests must be submitted between 0015 and 0430Z or 0915 and 1430Z. Once the request has been made, you’ll receive a message approving a flight level. ATC compiles all TKF requests and creates a gateway reservation list (GRL), which is sent to all operators, or 3rd-party providers, who’ve made TKF requests. There’s a negotiation phase available – between 0400-0900Z and 1430-0000Z – where operators may request different flight levels. This negotiation is done by phone, or via TKF message, but it’s easier to negotiate over the phone.
7. Pre-plan prior to submitting TA requests
TA guidelines come out every six months, but things can change on a daily basis, so it’s important to consider relevant NOTAMs. NOTAMs provide an updated list of restrictions to flight levels during certain times and approved routings to entry gateways. No confirmation of your approved TA needs to be put in remarks 18 section of flight plan. If an operator has not completed the TA process, ATC will be aware of this as the aircraft won’t be on the GRL list.
8. Consider best practice tips when using the TA system
Read through the latest TA guidelines published every six months to confirm permitted routings and approved flight levels at gateway points. Stay abreast of NOTAMs that may impact your operation, as there may be changes to previously published gateway point flight levels. If you receive a denial on your TKF request, you’ll need to re-file the TKF with an appropriate flight level. Check track advisory guidelines and latest NOTAMs to confirm acceptable flight levels.
Once you’ve secured your Russian overflight permit – for westbound entry into Russia – the next step is to file a TKF message in order to be in compliance with FAA TA guidelines. There are operators who skip this step and, in doing so, leave themselves open to the potential for delays and unnecessary operating complications. Best practice is to review current TA guidelines and work with your 3rd-party provider to secure optimum routings and flight levels.
If you have any questions about this article or international flight planning, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.