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Mountain pass elevations being added to Alaska charts

The elevations of about 50 mountain passes have been added to Alaska visual navigation charts as a working group led by AOPA moves forward on a project to enhance information critical to the safety of flight through mountainous regions.

The Brooks Range in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve features tall peaks as pictured here. Passes are important for traversing the area for numerous reasons, including low ceilings. The FAA is in the process of depicting more passes on sectional charts. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

The elevations appear on Alaska sectional chart editions that took effect October 7. The update is the product of a mountain passes working group created in connection with the FAA’s Aeronautical Charting Meeting, a twice-a-year public session dedicated to promoting safety and the usefulness of flight information.

“The working group is looking at adding additional passes to the flight charts and ways to improve situational awareness when navigating along heavily used routes through mountainous terrain,” said AOPA Alaska Regional Manager Tom George. “In one case, we have identified a previously unnamed mountain pass for inclusion because it provides a lower, safer route through the Brooks Range,” he said.

“Local pilots know about and use this pass, but other pilots don’t—and this has resulted in several fatal accidents over the years,” he added, noting that some passes may remain uncharted because the FAA has not received data about them from the official source—the U.S. Geological Survey.

Other industry participants in the working group include the Alaska Airmen's Association, the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, and the Alaska Air Carriers Association.

George urged pilots who fly in Alaska to be sure they are planning their flights with up-to-date charts to ensure they have the most complete information possible about terrain along their mountainous routes.

He also encouraged pilots in the state who are familiar with passes still in need of adding elevation data to email AOPA the locations for consideration in future updates. He also noted a recently accomplished revision with the renaming and repositioned charting of the former Ptarmigan Pass as Houston Pass.

Although the reason for pass-elevation figures not appearing until recently on Alaska’s VFR charts is uncertain, George ventured that it may have been because of a lack of accurate topographic data—a detail that has now been corrected.

“In any case, the FAA didn’t start adding that data until this working group got underway,” he said.

Jim McClay, AOPA director of airspace, air traffic, and security, added that as the project continues, the process of enhancing information about major mountain passes is expected to expand to mountainous parts of other states.

AOPA ePublishing staff

AOPA ePublishing Staff editors are experienced pilots, flight instructors, and aircraft owners who have a passion for bringing you the latest news and AOPA announcements.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight Planning, FAA Information and Services

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