Many VFR GPS receivers and all hand-held units have no RAIM alerting capability. Loss of the required number of satellites in view, or the detection of a position error, cannot be displayed to the pilot by such receivers. In receivers with no RAIM capability, no alert would be provided to the pilot that the navigation solution had deteriorated, and an undetected navigation error could occur. A systematic cross-check with other navigation techniques would identify this failure, and prevent a serious deviation.
In many receivers, an up-datable database is used for navigation fixes, airports, and instrument procedures. These databases must be maintained to the current update for IFR operation, but no such requirement exists for VFR use. However, in many cases, the database drives a moving map display which indicates Special Use Airspace and the various classes of airspace, in addition to other operational information. Without a current database the moving map display may be outdated and offer erroneous information to VFR pilots wishing to fly around critical airspace areas, such as a Restricted Area or a Class B airspace segment. Numerous pilots have ventured into airspace they were trying to avoid by using an outdated database. If there is not a current data base in the receiver, disregard the moving map display when making critical navigation decisions.
In addition, waypoints are added, removed, relocated, or re-named as required to meet operational needs. When using GPS to navigate relative to a named fix, a current database must be used to properly locate a named waypoint. Without the update, it is the pilot’s responsibility to verify the waypoint location referencing to an official current source, such as the A/FD, sectional chart, or en route chart.
In many VFR installations of GPS receivers, antenna location is more a matter of convenience than performance. In IFR installations, care is exercised to ensure that an adequate clear view is provided for the antenna to see satellites. If an alternate location is used, some portion of the aircraft may block the view of the antenna, causing a greater opportunity to lose navigation signal.
This is especially true in the case of hand-helds. The use of hand-held receivers for VFR operations is a growing trend, especially among rental pilots. Typically, suction cups are used to place the GPS antennas on the inside of aircraft windows. While this method has great utility, the antenna location is limited by aircraft structure for optimal reception of available satellites. Consequently, signal losses may occur in certain situations of aircraft-satellite geometry, causing a loss of navigation signal. These losses, coupled with a lack of RAIM capability, could present erroneous position and navigation information with no warning to the pilot.
While the use of a hand-held GPS for VFR operations is not limited by regulation, modification of the aircraft, such as installing a panel- or yoke-mounted holder, is governed by 14 CFR part 43. Pilots should consult with a mechanic to ensure compliance with the regulation and a safe installation.
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