Updated: April 28th ,2022
A recurrent question I get through my social media platforms from aviation colleagues and enthusiasts is regarding how to start in the world of aeronautical charting and instrument flight procedure design aka PANS-OPS. Since the question keeps popping up and the answer is pretty much the same I provide to everyone that asks, I thought it would be a good idea if I created a blog post that I can update from time to time with what I think is the best way to dive into both fascinating worlds.
For both options I assume you have some general introductory aviation knowledge and are just seeking to do the specialization part. I think this is a fair assumption considering that you would likely not be aware of the two topics unless exposed somehow to them and this usually occurs from within the aviation industry.
In case you are not already involved in the aviation world then you would require to get some basic training which depending on how you access the market can come in the form of Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) Ab-Initio courses, ATC initial training or maybe even pilot ground school.
Now diving in the two main topics of this blog post!
Aeronautical Charting Track
ICAO through Annex 4 Aeronautical Charts (currently being reviewed for proposed amendments if any) assumes for the most part that anyone working with aeronautical charts already has a solid background on the basic charting principles, and I am not referring to a Basic Aeronautical Charting course which deals mainly with Annex 4 specifications but I am referring to the training cartographers get in the basic topics like using fonts, colors, selecting and retrieving data, generalization, smoothing etc.
I think this was a good assumption when the manuals/annexes were initially drafted in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s but from at least a decade ago in my personal experience what happens is that aviation service providers either in the public or in the private sector are employing people with different backgrounds to work in the aeronautical information service/management (AIS/AIM) and then give some aeronautical charting training and expecting software to aid in having correct templates (look and feel).
Now, we need to also consider that cartography as a specialization or colleague degree is basically dead (please don’t hate me cartographers) and most geography related degrees have made the transition towards the more widely known map making thing called GIS (Geographic Information Systems). You can find cartography and geography degrees still around the world but they are not so much looked for at least from an outside perspective like other newer things.
If you feel you need to get a primer on some basic cartographic ideas I think the ESRI Massive open online course (MOOC) Cartography is a good start along with other MOOCs they offer, you can check the details at the following link https://www.esri.com/training/mooc/
ESRI ArcGIS platform is a good one and you can try their MOOCs which are free but the software is quite expensive even just for the basic functionality and not counting additional extensions, however if your budget allows and the work flow aligns with it then it is a solid choice, it may even be the case that you have some licenses already purchased at your current job and you can use those and supplement what you do not have with other software. Never buy into this purist thinking about using everything proprietary or everything open, you need to figure out what the best tools are for delivering results.
Besides ESRI ecosystem which is Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or proprietary you may choose to use Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). Although in many offices you may find use of AutoCAD, Microstation or other CAD tool I have personally not used it in my career more than a very few times, I prefer the GIS workflow and ease of use for one.
As many of you may know I use on my day to day operations for teaching and business the open-source software QGIS which I recommend. You can get visit the official website for the QGIS project to learn more.
An advantage of using an open-source software like QGIS is that besides being feature rich and including quite a lot of functionalities, there are no licensing costs for using neither the base software nor for most plugins (not sure all plugins are free thus most are). This means that if you need five or six persons with full access to a GIS you do not require network or individual licenses, also you can have more things plugged in like GIS severs but never forget about the total cost of ownership which needs to include the potential support and training on the tools. I still believe the opensource route can be beneficial even if the initial investment to learn the tools may seem high.
When you see advocates of FOSS you will usually hear or read about the ability to have access to the code base and you can monitor or modify according to your needs. I will assume for this post that the average user does not have the skills to do this so the choice between COTS and FOSS would be dictated pretty much by preference, costs or both. Also most air navigation service providers (ANSP) do not have a solid IT team that has the capabilities to look into this. The money you save on licenses and maintenance can be used at least a fraction of it to improve the opensource software used.
You can check several general (non-aviation) tutorials here for QGIS, I have used the first two links and the two other links are my YouTube Channel and this blog for sure, there are many more resources out there but I think these will provide you with a good start.
Probably, as we dig into this topic it should be noted that even the aeronautical charting training has slowly come to a sad state where just very few training places around the world still provide the required knowledge to be able to perform this job correctly. Myself together with Managed-AIS have been working on filling a gap we see.
Besides the general QGIS stuff, there are some specific Aeronautical Charting resources. For starters I have a github repository with symbology, templates and other interesting material tailored for QGIS at https://github.com/antoniolocandro/aeronautical_charting and we got some aviation specific training for charting using QGIS with Managed – AIS here https://www.mais-learning.com/shop the training is not free but it does save you tons of hours of time and effort of deducing what are the required symbology, labels, charting font etc both with and without using AIXM data stores.
Also, we have done quite a few webinars with Managed-AIS about the charting topics which you can check here https://www.mais-learning.com/blog/categories/webinar
Instrument Flight Procedure Design (PANS OPS)
This is a bit more complex mainly due to the fact that the resources online are scarce and that the pre-requisite courses are always quite expensive and honestly prohibitive in terms of cost to be footed the bill by an individual just to have a PANS OPS certificate. If you want to become a PANS OPS expert you will require to get a Basic PANS OPS course, I currently do guest lecturing at Singapore Aviation Academy and if you are interested in attending there you can visit the following link for the complete course, general criteria and PBN parts.
We are working on doing a more workshops and practical training by my company (FLYGHT7) but I still think it would be a bit expensive for an individual to pay and it is still in development and probably it is not for everyone as not all persons like remote training but it will in theory open access to some of you for which travel is actually and additional burden.
After taking your Basic PANS OPS course you will probably take a PBN or RNAV course, the name of the program changes depending of the institution but it is basically a course where you will learn to design procedures based on LNAV, LNAV/VNAV, LPV, etc. Finally you will enter into the specialization courses which can be RNP AR, PinS, etc. For me recurrent training has mix feelings, some places retake a course every X amount of years while others just cover the new topics since the last amendment every X years. Whatever approach is taken you will no doubt still need to do it in order to satisfy your Civil Aviation Authority Regulator.
No PANS OPS training is quite finished if On the Job training is not performed, unfortuantely for many States this is not feasible as there is no one to provide such a training. We have seen that lately there have been other type of OJT offering some remotely, some via internships but rest assured there are ways to take care of the OJT that will really provide a benefit. If this is something that you may be interested then we could be able to assist, contact us to check what can be done.
We do offer also from Workshops like this one https://flyght7.com/hands-on-pans-ops-pbn-lnav-workshop-en/ which is about 50 Euros plus VAT where applicable but it is not a full course and assumes basic PANS OPS knowledge
Hope the above helps and if you find this content useful please do let me know, the contents of this page will be updated periodically with new information or better advice.