How to read VNC VFR Navigation Charts & The Legend
March 14, 2022
VFR Navigation Charts, or VNCs, are packed with information about airports, heliports, airspace, and airways, and this guide will help you to decipher them!

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Publications – Canadian VFR Navigation Charts (VNCs)

Paper charts might seem outdated in the digital age, but there’s a lot of useful information on our yellow and blue pastel friends, and with digital chart options now freely available, knowing how to read a VNC is more useful than ever.

The Basics – What is a VNC and a VTA?

Nav Canada, our ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider) is a private company responsible for production, maintenance, and upkeep of our aeronautical charts for Canadian Domestic Airspace.  These charts are provided at two levels of scale, 1:500,000 (VNC) and 1:250,000 (VTA).  The VNC (the VFR Navigation Chart) is intended for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation by dead reckoning (visual tracking of a target against a position, time, and speed over ground), and the VTA is similar but intended for use in busier terminal areas such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Winnipeg.

Some quick facts about the VNC:

  • There are 52 VNC charts published at 1:500,000 scale covering the entirety of Canada.
  • The VNC Charts are intended for visual navigation for operations at or below 12,500′ above sea level.

Some quick facts about the VTA:

  • There are 7 VTA charts published at 1:250,000 scale covering high traffic areas – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
  • The backside of the VTA chart has specific route procedures for helicopters and airplanes moving in and out of common airports and call points.
  • Some airports may not allow you clearance into their area as a helicopter or airplane if you do not have the VTA handy!

 

First, a word of caution. 

If your resource charts look dark, like this: rather than pastel like this:

you’re using a US-based chart. No bueno. Find a new resource.

The VNC Legend – AERODROMES

There are 10 types of symbols used on charts to depict aerodromes – a location where an aircraft can takeoff or land – on the Canadian VNC.  They are broken down into 2 Main Categories – aerodromes with services (fuel, customs, cookies) and other aerodromes (basic strips and heliports), and are further broken down by the type of surface the aerodrome has (hard paved surfaces, or grass &gravel, or water).

Aerodrome data on the VNC and VTA can be found within the vicinity of the aerodrome symbol, usually within the controlled airspace boundary, or by following a callout line to the nearest box.  For larger airports inside controlled airspace, you may not find radio frequencies in the aerodrome data box, but instead they will be identified in the controlled airspace stack.  Let’s decipher a few here:

 

Valemount, British Columbia (Class G - Registered Aerodrome BASIC)

 

Valemount, BC is a registered aerodrome (not a certified airport) with a hard surface that runs Northwest-Southeast that lies in Class G airspace at the intersection of three VFR low level airways, just to the west of Mount Terry Fox Provincial Park near Mt. Robson, and just north of the town of Valemount.

There are a total of 4 aerodromes in the immediate vicinity of the town of Valemount, with a Helipad at Yellowhead Helicopters directly to the east (and an abandoned strip), and a helipad south along Highway 5 at CMH Helicopters Heli-Ski base.

Despite the number of aerodromes in the area, a basic rpas pilot can fly a drone here as none of the facilities at this time are certified.

If we look closely at the aerodrome data field for Valemount, we see that the aerodrome field elevation is 2616 feet above sea level, the runway is 39×100 (3900) feet long, and there is a Aerodrome Traffic Frequency of 123.2.

The helipad at Yellowhead Helicopters directly east of the aerodrome, and the pad at CMH share the same Aerodrome Traffic Frequency of 123.2 to aid in aircraft traffic awareness.

 

Golden, British Columbia (Class G - Registered Aerodrome ADVANCED)

 

Golden, BC is a registered aerodrome (not a certified airport) with a hard surface that runs Northwest-Southeast that lies in Class G airspace at the intersection of three VFR low level airways, just to the west of Yoho National Park.

Despite being “only” a registered aerodrome in Class G, to fly near the town of Golden you must still be an Advanced Pilot Certificate holder, why is this?

That’s right, the Golden General Hospital directly southeast of the aerodrome is a certified heliport which means there is a 1NM radius limitation for Basic Pilot Certificate holders.

If we look closely at the aerodrome data field, we see that the Golden aerodrome field elevation is 2576 feet above sea level, the runway is 45×100 (4500) feet long, and there is a Mandatory Frequency of 122.8.

When reporting your position, the airport is referred to as “Golden” on the radio.

There is an aerodrome data field for the hospital heliport directly below, which shows the pad elevation is at 2575 feet above sea level, and has the same frequency of 122.8.

 

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (Class E Regional)

 

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan is a single-strip airport with hard surfaces oriented in the East-West direction, inside of a Class E Control Zone with a Mandatory Frequency of 122.3.  To the west of the airstrip is the PA Fire Center Heliport, and to the southwest is the Victoria Memorial Hospital Helipad.

If we look closely at the aerodrome data field, we see that the Prince Albert field elevation is 1405 feet above sea level, the runway is 50x100 feet long, and there is a Mandatory Frequency of 122.3.

When reporting your position, the airport is referred to as “Glass Field” on the radio.

VDF – The VDF means the airport is equipped with a VHF Direction Finding system, meaning the FSS operator can see the direction of a VHF transmission relative to the station, allowing them to “guide” an inbound aircraft on “vdf steers”.

 

Regina, Saskatchewan (Class D International)

 

Regina, Saskatchewan is an International Airport with two major runways (hard surfaces) oriented North West – South East and East – West in the center of a Class D control zone extending from the surface to 5000′ above sea level (3100′ above aerodrome elevation.)  The control zone extends for 5 miles radius around the center of Regina International Airport.

Within that control zone, directly east of the airport, is also Regina General Hospital Heliport.

All Aircraft entering the Class D zone must contact Regina Tower on VHF 118.6.

If we look closely at the aerodrome data field, we see that the Regina International (customs are available) field elevation is 1895 feet above sea level, the longest runway is 79×100 (7900) feet long, and there is a Control Tower Frequency of 118.6.

The tower has limited hours, and the O/T (overtime) service is a M for Mandatory Frequency.  You would find the operating hours hours in the Canada Flight Supplement.

ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service) is available – you would see the COMM section of the Canada Flight Supplement to find the frequency.

 

Winnipeg, Manitoba (Class C International)

 

Winnipeg / James Armstrong Richardson International, in Winnipeg, Manitoba is an International Airport with two major runways (hard surfaces) oriented North West – South East and North East – South West in the center of a Class C control zone extending from the surface to 3000′ above sea level (2200′ above aerodrome elevation.)  The control zone extends for 7 miles radius around the center of Winnipeg International Airport.

Above that control zone, is another Class C Control Zone from 3000′ ASL to 12,500′ ASL that is a terminal area extension that extends for 16 miles radius from the center of Winnipeg International Airport.

Within that control zone, directly east of the airport, is also Winnipeg Health Sciences Center Hospital Heliport, and the City of Winnipeg Heliport.

All Aircraft entering the Class C lower control zone must contact Winnipeg Tower on VHF 118.3.  Aircraft transiting the upper terminal control zone must contact Winnipeg Terminal on 119.9.

If we look closely at the aerodrome data field, we see that the Winnipeg International (customs are available) field elevation is 784 feet above sea level, the longest runway is 110×100 (11000) feet long, and there is a Control Tower Frequency of 118.3.

ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service) is available – you would see the COMM section of the Canada Flight Supplement to find the frequency.

Directly north of the airport is a VORTAC (VHF Omnidirectional Range / Tactical Air Navigation System beacon), can you find the symbol for it?

 

The VNC Legend – AIRSPACE INFORMATION

Sections of airspace are depicted through multiple types of borders and boundaries.  Looking at the above legend from a clockwise manner, let’s start with control zones.

B, C, D and E control zones will be depicted with hard blue boundary lines when they extend from the surface upwards.  You can see examples of C, D, and E control zones in the aerodrome info section above for Prince Albert, Regina, & Winnipeg airports.  At the moment, there aren’t any Class B control zones in Canada that extend to the surface (but there is controlled airspace starting at 12,500′ ASL and above!)

Class F special use airspace (Advisory, Danger, or Restricted) will have the inward facing perpendicular lines, and are used to denote blasting areas, airspace over prisons, military training areas, aerobatic training areas, and other special areas (see the activity codes for examples). 

The CYA 118(A) in the example above is Advisory Airspace #118 (you can look it up in the Designated Airspace Handbook) which is currently listed as CYA118(A)(T)(H) in Duncan, BC. 

 Here’s an outline of CYA118 annotated visually.  What other airspace overlaps with the Class F CYA outlined in this airspace block?  

Class F Special Use Airspace

 

Class F special use airspace (Advisory, Danger, or Restricted) will have the inward facing perpendicular lines, and are used to denote blasting areas, airspace over prisons, military training areas, aerobatic training areas, and other special areas (see the activity codes for examples). 

The CYA 118(A) in the example above is Advisory Airspace #118 (you can look it up in the Designated Airspace Handbook) which is currently listed as CYA118(A)(T)(H) in Duncan, BC. 

 Here’s an outline of CYA118 annotated visually.  What other airspace overlaps with the Class F CYA outlined in this airspace block?  

If you look at the airspace stack within the CYA118 above, you will see the following – above 700 feet above ground, the airspace is Class E (but no contact is required) up to 5500′ ASL.  From 5500′ ASL up to 12,500′ ASL, the airspace is a terminal area extension control zone, class C, and you must contact Victoria Terminal at 127.8 on VHF prior to entry.


The CYA 118 Class F airspace overlaps with the Class E airspace from surface to 3000′ ASL.

Class E Airspace, VHF Airways, Radio Aids to Navigation

Class E airspace is used to provide increased weather minima (controlled airspace has a lower tolerance for bad weather) and to provide separation between Instrument Flight Rules aircraft that are transiting an airway or transitioning from higher Class B airspace down towards an airport control zone.  (See more about airspace here)

Because Class E airspace can often exist over top of Class G airspace (in that it doesn’t extend all the way to the surface), there are stepped boundaries to show that the airspace doesn’t end, it just gets higher or lower depending on what side of the boundary you fly into.

Here’s an example: let’s look at Bella Bella, British Columbia.  It’s a Class G airport (certified aerodrome) that is at the intersection of 4 VHF Low-Altitude Airways centered at the YJQ Non Directional Beacon.  If you look in the TCAIM AT RAC 2.7.1 – you see that VHF Airways are controlled airspace, that can extend from 2200′ AGL up to 18,000 ASL within 4 nautical miles of each side of the centerline of the airway.  Because part of the basis of these 3 airways is a NDB, the width is extended to 4.34NM to allow for less precise navigation.

In the Designated Airspace Handbook, there is the following airspace surrounding Bella Bella:

  • A Class E Transition Area for 12,500′ and below in a 15 mile radius circle centered on the Bella Bella Aerodrome
  • A Class E Control Area Extension for 12,500′ and below in a 25 mile radius circle centered on the Bella Bella NDB
  • Low Level Airway A10 from Bella Bella NDB to Prince Rupert NDB (Class E 2200 AGL to 18,000 ASL)
  • Low Level Airway B25 from Bella Bella NDB to Kitimat NDB to Terrace NDB (Class E 2200 AGL to 18,000 ASL)
  • Low Level Airway V317 from Bella Bella NDB to Port Hardy BC VOR (Class E 2200 AGL to 18,000 ASL)
  • Low Level Airway V440 from Bella Bella NDB to Port Hardy VOR and to Sandspit VOR (Class E 2200 AGL to 18,000 ASL)

Why does the Class E airspace not extend right to the surface in Bella Bella?  

My understanding is, in order to allow for low-weather operations, the airspace is left as class G up to 700′ AGL so that floatplanes and helicopters can operate in low-visibility (less than 3NM, clear of cloud) Marginal or Special VFR conditions.

Air/Ground Communication Boxes

Flight Service Stations (FSS) are radio stations either positioned at airports, aerodromes, or remotely towered in central facilities.  If the box has a heavy line, there are standard frequencies that the FSS would be available on.   Flight Service Stations are to provide enroute weather, traffic, or nav services and aren’t really relevant to RPAS pilots.

You will likely see a question on the Advanced Pilot Certificate exam regarding magnetic variation, and so it’s a good idea to know what the lines look like, which can be found in the miscellaneous section of the VNC legend.

Here are the resources we referenced for the airpace images!

FLTplan.com (VTAs and VNCs)

Drone Site Selection Tool

Nav Drone

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