After delays, the FAA transitioned from the domestic IFR flight plan form (7233-1) to the 7233-4 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) form this past January.
It’s your ticket to flying in RVSM airspace and utilizing ADS-B services. Plus, you can use it for operating under VFR within the Washington, D.C., special flight rules area.
But sourcing the correct equipage codes required for the form can be a head-scratcher, especially after avionics upgrades. Worse, there’s little standardization across the fleet when it comes to capabilities. That means the coding for a vintage LSA will be much different than it is for a Pilatus. What about a pilot renting a Piper Arrow or a G1000 C172? Flight schools need to keep the aircraft paperwork current.
The 7233-4 form is similar to the superseded domestic flight plan one, but it more heavily integrates PBN (performance based navigation) capabilities, and uses different terms for previously used data.
Two major differences are Item 10, Equipment, and Item 18, Other Information. Gone are the familiar equipment codes like /G for GPS with Mode C altitude reporting, as an example.
The revised equipment coding can be complicated because some codes represent the capability of installed equipment (B for LPV capability with a WAAS GPS) and authorizations (W for approval to operate in RVSM airspace), for instance. There’s some overlap; flying in RVSM airspace requires installed equipment with appropriate capabilities and N-number specific FAA authorization. There are also various combinations for ADS-B equipment and communications radios.
Peeling The Onion
Let’s explore the most common codes that would be applicable to light general aviation aircraft. We’ll skip the coding for large transport aircraft, like I for inertial navigation or H for high frequency communications. Some abbreviations are logical, others not so much. Hit the charts on the next page for the most commonly used codes.
For basic equipage, like VHF navcomms, S includes a communications transceiver, VOR receiver and ILS receiver. But say you have a version of the King KX155 that doesn’t have an ILS receiver. You report OV, for having a VHF comm receiver, along with VOR nav receiver.
WAAS navigator installations approved for LPV approaches are coded as B. Non-WAAS GPS gets a G. And yes, the FAA still wants to know if you have ADF (that’s an F) and D for DME. KR85 and KNS80, anyone?
VHF comm radios with 8.33 kHz channel spacing (most new radios are so equipped) are only relevant in European airspace, but are still coded with a Y on the form.
A simple tidbit to remember is the codes are written alphabetically, except for S—which always leads the abbreviation. Think in terms of an individual radio’s capability.
In other words, SFG means you have a comm, VOR, ILS, ADF and GPS. SBFZ means you have comm, ILS, a WAAS GPS that’s certified for LPV precision approaches, an ADF receiver and “other” equipment, which is the Z you would reference in Item 18 on the form. Here’s where your research can go off the rails, especially if your aircraft is light on paperwork.
If the GPS is WAAS-capable, it’s documented in Item 18 as NAV/SBAS, which stands for navigation via satellite based augmentation system. U.S. pilots know it as WAAS, but in other countries, it’s a variety of names. In Europe, it’s known as EGNOS, in Japan it’s MSAS and in India it’s GAGAN.
However, if additionally, the aircraft has PBN capability, then PBN codes are placed in Item 18 without putting information on SBAS. It’s assumed that if the aircraft has WAAS GPS navigation capability, it also has PBN capability.
A common question is whether you can file PBN codes, since they require approval. For Part 91 subchapter K (fractional owners), Part 121 and Part 135, the approval for each individual aircraft must be in FAA approved Management Specifications (MSPECS) or Operations Specifications (OPSPECS) as appropriate. Additionally, flight crews might also need to be approved. For Part 91 operations, the approval needs to be in the POH—specifically in the Airplane Flight Manual Supplement (AFMS)provided by the avionics OEM with a specific configuration. The exact language in a 2016 AFMS revision for a Garmin GTN Navigator is this:
“The Garmin GNSS navigation system complies with the equipment requirements of AC 90-100A for RNAV 2 and RNAV 1 operations. In accordance with AC 90-100A, Part 91 operators (except subpart K) following the aircraft and training guidance in AC 90-100A are authorized to fly RNAV 2 and RNAV 1 procedures. Part 91 subpart K, 121, 125, 129, and 135 operators require operational approval from the FAA.”
ADS-B Thrown In The Mix
If equipment codes for familiar systems aren’t daunting enough, documenting ADS-B capability is another one to keep straight. For instance, E represents a 1090ES extended squitter ADS-B transponder. But the E coding doesn’t stand alone. You’ve got to elaborate.
The EB1 code reflects that the extended squitter transponder only has ADS-B Out. But if you have an L-3 Lynx 9000 or Garmin GTX 345, for example, you have both 1090ES extended squitter output, plus ADS-B receive capability. That’s coded as EB2. Still with us? It gets worse.
Don’t confuse panel GPS with the one used for ADS-B. If the aircraft is ADS-B Out compliant, it must also have a WAAS GPS source, but not necessarily a WAAS navigation source. It could be the WAAS GPS that’s integral to the transponder or even a remote 978 UAT (universal access transceiver) system. These behind-the-scenes GPS engines provide the accuracy to the ADS-B transmission. Codes for UAT ADS-B gear are included with the transponder.
For UAT systems installed along with Mode C or Mode S transponders, the codes are CU1 (Mode C transponder with UAT ADS-B Out), CU2 (Mode C with UAT ADS-B Out and In), SU1 (Mode S transponder with ADS-B Out) and SU2 (Mode S transponder with UAT ADS-B Out and In). Some combinations aren’t possible—CB1, SB1 and EU1, for example.
Putting It All Together
While you’re gathering your data, you’ll want to source the aircraft’s hex code, aka the Mode S address, ICAO code, or 24-bit address by searching the tail number in the FAA’s aircraft registry. In addition to figuring out the proper flight plan codes, it could be worth your while (and a timesaver) to learn how to use the flight plan filing utility in your navigation app of choice, if you don’t already. ForeFlight has a section on its website on how to file ICAO flight plans in the app.
The FAA offers guidance at http://tinyurl.com/znvbo84, section 5-1-9 of the AIM is worth a read and AOPA’s flight planner is a help.
The bottom line is it’s time for aircraft operators, aircraft and avionics OEMs and avionics shops to familiarize themselves with ICAO equipment codes and document them in the aircraft’s POH or permanent records.
Who Knows The Codes?
It’s logical to assume that avionics manufacturers do. Not exactly. While these companies know what they build and ship, they don’t know how they ultimately get interfaced and configured once in the field. For instance, a transponder with ADS-B extended squitter output doesn’t mean that the aircraft in which it’s installed is ADS-B compliant. You could always call tech support, tell them what you have and see if they can link together the proper combination codes. In the end, we don’t think it should all be on the manufacturer.
We asked Garmin if it offers guidance and indeed it does, to some degree. It sent us a chart listing Garmin equipment (dating back to first-gen GPS) with RNAV and RNP capabilities, with specific categories for compatible approach ops, including LPVs, RNP approaches with LNAV/VNAV capabilities and others. While this might be helpful for figuring out what capabilities your equipment has, it doesn’t consider any specific interface. It made the caveat clear.
“We stress that our data is to be used as a guide for the qualifications that our equipment can support and is not a blanket statement of capabilities for all installations. Actual capabilities are subject to individual installation approval and operational approvals. Operators should refer to the equipment’s AFMS (aircraft flight manual supplement) and if applicable, LOA, OpSpec/MSpec data,” it said. That’s logical. If you aren’t familiar with the flight manual supplement that chases your installation (you do know where it is, right? It must stay onboard the aircraft), now is the time to read it.
What about the installing avionics shops? After all, they engineer the interfaces, based on existing and newly installed equipment, and they complete the flight manual supplement before signing off the installation. We asked a couple of shops if they brief the customer on equipment coding. We heard crickets.
Aircraft manufacturers may or may not be much help. After all, how in the world would they know how their fleet of aging aircraft are equipped? Moving forward, we hope that manufacturers of new aircraft document the equipment codes (as delivered, of course) in the POH much like weight and balance data is documented.
If you’re venturing on an ADS-B upgrade, ask the shop to help identify the new/amended codes for your particular interface and be sure it gets logged.
Luca Bencini-Tibo is a lead FAASTeam rep, CFII and Mooney owner. For a code reference spreadsheet, contact him at email@example.com and mention ICAO Spreadsheet in the subject line.