Many people ask, which set of charts is better? Should I use the FAA Aeroservices charts on Foreflight or pay extra for the Jeppesen charts? Since you have to pay for Jeppesen, they are probably better, right?
I am not here to say which one is better as a chart preference is just that, a preference for one over the other or for certain features. After a while, muscle memory and routine take over and you probably wont even notice the difference.
In 1934, Elroy Jeppesen began making his own charts and sold them to other pilots. His little company grew into the giant Boeing chart company we know today. Jeppesen charts are used internationally and therefore include information that might otherwise seem common knowledge, like transition altitudes. The key is, you cannot get FAA Aeroservices charts for international destinations. Jeppesen is the only option for outside the US.
National Aerospace Charting Office (NACO), or the new(er) name “Aeroservices” or FAA chart, whatever you decide to call them, are United States government issued charts. In addition to civilian use, Aeroservices charts are used by the military so there will be some terminology that does not apply to civilians. The best part about FAA Aeroservices charts are… they’re free!
If you are in the middle of a transition or trying to decide which charts to use, you have come to the right place. Here are a few key differences.
Obstacle Departure Procedure Chart
KAXX (Angel Fire, New Mexico) ODP
- Frequencies: FAA Chart provides the AWOS so you have all departure frequencies in once place.
- Airport: Jeppesen highlight the airport, which is a nice feature so you can easily see the flow from the airport.
- Notes and Remarks: Jeppesen bolds the speed restriction all over the chart so you won’t miss it. All other requirements are in the top right corner. Note the transition altitude 18,000′. Since Jeppesen is used internationally, it is published on the chart since other countries have different transition altitudes. It takes up a chunk of chart real estate, but it’s clear, easy to read, and always in the same place. The FAA charts post all the requirements and restrictions as notes off to the side. Since it’s in the same space as the chart graphic, it’s easy for the eyes to catch while studying the plate.
- Take off Minimums: NOT APPLICABLE for PART 91 – however, it’s wise for all pilots to look and abide by them. Jeppesen displays the standard take off minimums table, as well as the rate of climb table, which is nice to have all in one place. The FAA chart gives the non standard information but you need to know/look up the rest in the Digital Terminal Procedures Supplemental document. (Hint: It’s in the Documents section of Foreflight)
- Take Off Obstacles: About the same on both charts
- Route Description: Similar on both charts, but larger font and clearer description on the FAA chart. When there are different routes from different runways, the FAA chart layout is really helpful.
- Graphic Layout: Jeppesen and FAA use the same graphics for all their different charts and plates which makes it easy to read once you are familiar with the respective charts. FAA charts are easy to read and distractions are kept to a minimum. Jeppesen charts make things bold and enlarge pertinent information so you won’t miss it.
- Airport altitude: This is only on the Jeppesen chart (the FAA chart doesn’t include it), but it is very helpful for situational awareness. As you brief the arrival altitudes, I think it’s important to have an idea what AGL you are at.
One thing pilots love about Jeppesen approach charts is the clear set up for an approach brief. The top section is created as a “briefing strip” starting with the frequencies, then navigation frequencies, minimums, airport elevation and the missed approach. It’s very natural and user friendly.
FAA charts have a slightly bigger picture of the approach planview, but the profile view and minimums section can get a bit cluttered. It can feel a little discontinuous when briefing the approach to bounce all over the page. However, some pilots really like the small airport diagram in the corner, which I find really helpful for situational awareness (particularly for students learning circle approaches). Non- standard alternate and takeoff minimums are also clearly noted, but unfortunately we must hunt elsewhere to find them. The Jeppesen alternate minimums and takeoff minimums will both be on the airport diagram
- Frequencies: Getting weather and tuning radios is easy on the Jeppesen charts – just follow the briefing strip. The frequency section on the FAA charts is still easy to read, but closer to the center of the page. It’s split up from the nav frequencies and other important briefing information.
a. FAA charts are created by the government and have military specific information, which are the odd looking frequencies and channels on the chart.
- Approach Navigation: On a Jeppesen chart, you will continue to the next line to verify your frequency, course and set minimums (assuming you are straight in on the ILS). On the FAA chart, you will then have to skip to the top of the chart to get the frequency and course, and then scan to the bottom of the page to input your minimums. However, since you could be flying a localizer approach or a circle to land, it’s a good reminder that not everyone using this approach chart will be using the same Decision Altitude (DA). The FAA chart also includes runway distance information so pilots can make determinations of approach speeds and stopping distance if the runway is wet or icy.
- Missed Approach – Textual
- Approach Lighting
- Missed Approach- Graphical: The missed approach information is the same on both charts. The lighting information is key for determining a missed approach and is next to the missed approach text on the FAA chart. It’s found next to the missed approach graphic on the Jeppesen chart. Personally, I find it easier to find and read the lighting information on the Jeppesen chart. Remember, on both charts, the placement of the PAPI on the chart indicates the physical location of the lights (left or right of the runway).
- Notes: Both charts have a notes box, but they use them a little differently. Once again, remember that Jeppesen charts are used internationally and include the transition altitudes and altimeter setting info. On both charts, the notes section will be where other critical information will be shared which isn’t really applicable for this airport. On the FAA chart, the tower frequency is starred to note that there are operating hours (you’ll have to check the chart supplement AF/D to find out what those hours are). There is also an L next to the frequency to indicate it is the pilot controlled lighting frequency. You will also find the note about the VGSI and the Approach Glide path next to the profile view on the FAA chart, whereas the Jeppesen chart has that note in the notes section at the top. The FAA chart also has the T and an A in black triangles to note that this airport has non- standard alternate and take off minimums. Again, those are found in separate documents when using FAA charts and on the Airport Diagram when using Jeppesen charts.
- Minimum Sector Altitude: Similar on both charts, but in different locations (reminder: ATC vector altitudes may be lower. It is the pilot’s responsibility for safety of flight to maintain safe obstacle clearance, so if you are ever concerned about going below the MSA – just ask ATC).
- Planview: Other then differences in size, visuals, and text, the information displayed on both is very similar.
- Profile View: Again, the displays look different and pilots will have their preference, but the information is the same.
- Minimums: Jeppesen charts not only note the category for each approach with its designated letter, but also displays it in knots. It is recommended that if you increase your approach speed (based on flaps or gusty winds or perhaps a faster speed for a circle to land approach) that you should use the higher category minimums. The reference guide makes that easy to look up. The other benefit of the Jeppesen charts is right the table that contains the time from the final approach fix to the missed approach point for a localizer approach, it also shows the rate of descent with the associated ground speed to maintain a 3 degree glideslope. Now there is no excuse not to set pitch and power! The minimums posted in parenthesis are for the military, but RVR in statute miles is also included.
- Airport diagram: Only on the FAA charts, this particular feature is particularly useful for situational awareness. The arrow pointing to the runway shows the direction the approach is arriving from so planning a circle to land is a cinch. There is also a lot of other information that can be gathered from the airport diagram for quick reference or to help a disoriented pilot: lighting, displaced thresholds, closed taxiways, and runway placement and lengths. This is easily one of the best perks of an FAA chart.
Arrival/ Departure Charts: Sewzy 5 Arrival KAUS
The Jeppesen lay out is very attractive and draws the pilots eye in a clear way to all the important information. The colors pop out, so the required altitudes and speeds are easy to read and remember. The chart, which is the proper scale, shows MORAs , easy to find airports (and runway layouts) and is over all easy to follow. However, the texts, while very clearly laid out, are small and difficult to read and pushed to the very edges of the chart. FAA charts are simple and fairly easy to read, but the airports are not as obvious and the flow to the airport requires a good look. The table on the Jeppesen chart is a really nice format, but the text and Notes for arrivals on the FAA chart are easy to find and much easier to read quickly.
- Frequency: FAA charts include the approach frequency on the arrival, which is helpful for having radios tuned. During a busy time when the controller changes your frequency, all you have to do is verify the frequency you already set, rather then totally stop what you’re doing to switch it. The Jeppesen charts add the airport elevation next to the ATIS, which really aids situational awareness.
- Notes: Jeppesen notes are clearly numbered and tucked away nicely in a box, but the FAA chart notes pop out in the middle of the page and are easy to skim for pertinent information.
- Planview: I think Jeppesen is the clear winner here- it is so easy to read, it only takes one glance to know where the primary airport is and how the arrival flows. The chart being at the proper scale offers the pilot important geographical information and over all is a clean look. Notice the small series of arrows after SMRFF on the the Jeppesen chart; those indicate the pilot should expect radar vectors. The FAA charts include those instructions in the text, but I find the visual reference on the chart helpful. The FAA charts are equally clean, with altitude and speed restrictions easy to read even if they don’t jump out. When there are multiple airports that the arrival serves, the airports are clearly marked, though, I think it would be nice to have a little more information surrounding the primary airport for better situational awareness.
- MSA: only on the Jeppesen chart
- Primary airport: The runway alignment and grey highlight on the Jeppesen chart stands out very clearly, while the FAA airports are a little more obscure.
- Arrival route description: The table on the Jeppesen chart is easy to follow but the text is very small and pushed to the bottom. The route description is much easier to find and read on the FAA chart.
The Jeppesen Airport Diagram page has it all: frequencies, airport diagram, runway info, take-off minimums, departure procedures and alternate minimums. It’s a one-stop shop. It makes preflight planning easy when its all at your fingertips.
The FAA charts usually require a little more searching for different pieces of airport information. The Airport Diagram itself is just the airport layout. Above, you will see a simple FAA Airport diagram. It’s clean and simple, perfect for a knee board print out.
In the flight planning process, as you look at what approaches you will be using for the airport, you might see an A or T inside a triangle. Those indicate that you will need to look in the Alternate Minimum or Take off minimum documents for more information. The Takeoff Minimums document (see below) is also where you will find any obstacle departure procedures for that airport. Apps like Foreflight help you out by posting the take off minimums under the departure tab. Even though it’s a little more difficult to read, I didn’t crop out the airport information so you can see what it looks like in context.