For years, oceanic flight planning has been a topic of concern among private aircraft owners. In reality, the process is quite simple when you know the exact steps to follow, and best practices recommended by the FAA and other pilots. When you are planning your first oceanic flight, and have questions about position reporting, this guide will provide you with all the relevant information you need.
Oceanic flying refers to air travel that crosses the ocean in long distances, with starting points and destinations that stretch between continents. Because radar coverage is limited in these areas, with flight times much longer than the typical flight over land, more planning and reporting is necessary.
Understanding Organized Track Systems
Fortunately, there are sets of predetermined routes called Organized Track Systems, or OTS, that make traveling oceanic airspace more accessible. The website Infinite Flight notes that “The North Atlantic (NAT) Tracks, also known as the North Atlantic Organized Track System (NAT-OTS), is an example of these structured flight routes.” Their guide goes on to explain that “The NAT Tracks cover a vast area, laterally it includes multiple Control Areas (CTAs) that stretch from the northeast of North America, all the way to western Europe. And vertically, a band of airspace between FL285 and FL420.”
North Atlantic Tracks Explained
The North Atlantic Organised Track System (NAT-OTS) is a structured assortment of transatlantic flight routes that reach from North America to western Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. They facilitate the separation of aircraft over the ocean in the absence of radar coverage. Specialized oceanic control centers manage access and change along these tracks. Their design helps decrease any headwinds and maximize tailwinds’ force on the aircraft. This detail results in much more efficiency by decreasing fuel burn and improving flight time. The routes are generated twice daily to adjust for the shifting of the winds and traffic flow.
Changing Trends in Oceanic Flight
In the next 10 years, air traffic across the Atlantic is expected to increase by over 50 percent. To date, the North Atlantic is known to be the busiest oceanic airspace by a long shot. However, recently, new surveillance technology has begun testing that will hopefully allow this influx of oceanic flight to be managed safely. Flight Global reports that “The trial involves Nav Canada in the Gander Oceanic Flight Information Region (FIR) and the UK’s NATS in the Shanwick FIR, the contiguous sectors that carry very nearly all the traffic that flies both ways between North America/Central America and Europe/Middle East.
Instead of using radar to conduct traffic surveillance and separation, or continuing with traditional oceanic procedural air traffic control, the air navigation service providers (ANSPs) use satellite-relayed automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) position reports, which are transmitted by each aircraft every 4-8sec.”
The Basics of Position Reporting
Until the new technology is adopted at a global level, manual position reporting is the standard practice.
This allows controllers to learn your location and ensure air traffic remains separated and safe. Positions should be reported at each waypoint you fly over and/or 45 minutes after your last report was made, whichever comes first. If your aircraft changes speed or altitude, this must also be reported. You must also make a position report if the ETA of your inbound waypoint changes by more than 3 minutes during an oceanic flight. Visit the International Virtual Aviation Organisation website for more information.
Position Reporting during oceanic flights is a must for all pilots. Reports must happen over each point listed in the flight plan for the safety of everyone traveling through limited-radar areas. Fortunately, the best practices are well known, easy to follow, and available from many highly authoritative sources.