BizAv Flight Planning Tips: Crossing the Atlantic – Part 1: Airports & Routings
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on flight planning for Atlantic crossings.
For business aircraft operators contemplating an Atlantic crossing, there are numerous flight planning requirements to consider, and there are more of these in the North Atlantic than the South. In particular, additional pre-planning is required when transiting North Atlantic Tracks (NATs), especially for operator who have not flown these routes previously or have not done so for some time.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Planning NAT crossings
If you’re new to NAT ops we recommend researching all applicable regulations and procedures well in advance of day of operation, using an experienced 3rd-party provider and doing a tabletop planning exercise a day or two prior. While weather at locations may change, it’s rare for routings or jet stream activity to change drastically one day to the next. While you can anticipate that NATs will vary somewhat day of operation, pre-planning exercises will give you a good idea of what you’re going to get day of operation.
2. North and South considerations
NATs are published daily, eastbound and westbound, covering airspace from FL 290 up as high at FL 390 or 410. While latitudes impacted vary depending on the particular day, this can extend as far south as the Azores and Bermuda, and as far north as Iceland and lower Greenland. It’s permitted to random route above the NATs, or below FL 290, but be mindful that special equipment and operating requirements exist when operating within the NATs.
In the South Atlantic – known as the Atlantic Ocean Random Routing RNAV Area (AORRA) region – regulatory mandates only cover entry and exit points, as well as certain recommended altitudes. Within the South Atlantic region there few airport alternates available, and operators need to be mindful of entry/exit points.
3. Random routings
While it’s possible to random route above the NATs without RVSM certification or special equipment requirements, many operators choose not to do so, as they may find themselves in a position where they need to descend through the NATs’ RVSM, ADS-B and CPDLC airspace.
4. Range limited aircraft
If you don’t have the range to make it from Goose Bay (CYYR) to Kangerlussuaq (BGSF) you may need to reposition up to Iqaluit (CYFB) where it’s only a 560 mile leg to BGSF, as opposed to 1003 miles from CYYR. If you don’t have the range from BGSF to Iceland you may also consider an interim tech stop at Kulusuk (BGKK). While BGKK is an airport of entry (AOE), airport hours are just 0800-1700 local Monday-Saturday, and overtime is not usually possible to arrange.
5. Published NAT times
Westbound NATS are published daily and usually good 1130-2100Z. Westbound tracks are published early each day, usually at the beginning of the Zulu day, because Middle East-based carriers would already be in the air if the NATS came out later. For Eastbound crossings NATS are published about 1330Z, some 12 hours in advance of being used.
6. Coast in/coast out points
These are the first and last landfalls when entering/leaving North Atlantic oceanic airspace and are the points from which equal time points (ETPs) are calculated. These fixes include airports in Northeastern Canada, the Azores, and Ireland/Scotland. When operating across the North Atlantic coast in/coast out, airports should be open and available, so it’s important to monitor wind and surface conditions.
Several airports are available in the Azores for entry into the southern NATS, including Santa Maria (LPAZ), Ponta Delgada (LPPD) and Madeira (LPMA). While LPMA is often considered an attractive option, as it’s on the Western side of the Azores, it’s important to have some simulator time prior to going in to this location. Wind shear at LPMA can be severe, and airport authorities will not let you land when winds are in a certain range.
Additional planning lead time is recommended when flying the NATs for operators who have equipment limitations or are not fully familiar with mandated procedures/requirements. It’s always recommended to utilize an experienced 3rd-party provider who can assist you with information and creating the best flight plan options for your trip.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which covers equipment and certification mandates when crossing the Atlantic.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.