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Magnetic Variation

This section of the AIM describes the reason that you may see differences between charted courses and the course on the PBN (Performance Based Navigation e.g. GPS and WAAS) system. Basically, the system uses true north to determine the course and then makes a correction to display magnetic course. It uses published airport or navaid variation, or magnetic reference bearing data, to display the magnetic course. This can result in a difference between the charted magnetic course to differ from the magnetic course displayed. The actual ground track from following the GPS course will be the same as the ground track from following the charted course.

Variations in distances may also occur since PBN system distance−to−waypoint values while DME values are slant−range distances measured to the station.

AIM Navigation Aids
1−1−17. Global Positioning System (GPS)
5. GPS Instrument Approach Procedures
(k) Impact of Magnetic Variation on PBN Systems

(1) Differences may exist between PBN systems and the charted magnetic courses on ground−based NAVAID instrument flight procedures (IFP), enroute charts, approach charts, and Standard Instrument Departure/Standard Terminal Arrival (SID/STAR) charts. These differences are due to the magnetic variance used to calculate the magnetic course. Every leg of an instrument procedure is first computed along a desired ground track with reference to true north. A magnetic variation correction is then applied to the true course in order to calculate a magnetic course for publication. The type of procedure will determine what magnetic variation value is added to the true course. A ground−based NAVAID IFP applies the facility magnetic variation of record to the true course to get the charted magnetic course.

Magnetic courses on PBN procedures are calculated two different ways. SID/STAR procedures use the airport magnetic variation of record, while IFR enroute charts use magnetic reference bearing. PBN systems make a correction to true north by adding a magnetic variation calculated with an algorithm based on aircraft position, or by adding the magnetic variation coded in their navigational database. This may result in the PBN system and the procedure designer using a different magnetic variation, which causes the magnetic course displayed by the PBN system and the magnetic course charted on the IFP plate to be different.

It is important to understand, however, that PBN systems, (with the exception of VOR/DME RNAV equipment) navigate by reference to true north and display magnetic course only for pilot reference. As such, a properly functioning PBN system, containing a current and accurate navigational database, should fly the correct ground track for any loaded instrument procedure, despite differences in displayed magnetic course that may be attributed to magnetic variation application. Should significant differences between the approach chart and the PBN system avionics’ application of the navigation database arise, the published approach chart, supplemented by NOTAMs, holds precedence.

(2) The course into a waypoint may not always be 180 degrees different from the course leaving the previous waypoint, due to the PBN system avionics’ computation of geodesic paths, distance between waypoints, and differences in magnetic variation application. Variations in distances may also occur since PBN system distance−to−waypoint values are ATDs computed to the next waypoint and the DME values published on underlying procedures are slant−range distances measured to the station. This difference increases with aircraft altitude and proximity to the NAVAID.

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