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How Instrument Procedures Are Creatively Named

The FAA has come up with some pretty creative instrument procedures. How about the PIGLET arrival into Orlando, the Jimmy Falon victor airway, or the LEBRN (James) fix into Cleveland?

We spoke to Denver Center to learn a little bit about the backstory behind the naming process...

Each ATC Facility Has An Airspace Department

Major ARTCCs and other ATC facilities have specific airspace departments. When the FAA is designing instrument procedures, each facility plays an integral role in designing the procedure, naming the fixes, etc. National departments at FAA HQ participate in the design process, perform flight checks, etc.

When Denver was going through the metroplex redesign process a few years ago, local controllers had the opportunity to play a direct role in designing airspace and naming. Because of that, you'll find approaches, arrivals, and departures referencing anything from the local ski culture to local sports teams. While there's no formal naming process established by the FAA, we did learn a few things from Denver Center's experience...

NATCA

Fix 'Horse-Trading'

Each ATC facility maintains its own reserved list of named fixes for quickly creating new procedures, or changing existing ones. The facility's reserve of fix names exists instead of a national database that any facility can pull from at a moment's notice. It's much faster to pull a previously FAA-approved fix name from this reserved list, rather than go through the national approval process for a new name. Each fix name is still unique, and cannot be duplicated elsewhere. When the Denver area went through metroplexing, the airspace department added a long list of new fix names relevant to the local area.

If there's a specific name for a fix a facility wants on a procedure, and another facility already has it in their "list," a bit of "horse-trading" might happen. It's not unheard of for facilities to go back and forth with trades for various fix names they want access to.

When some Denver controllers were creating a Star Wars themed arrival, they ran into a roadblock. Atlanta Center had already used many of the names they wanted, or stored the rest in their approved database. A few calls and bartering later, they got access to a few of the names they wanted.

Renaming Process

Sometimes, an existing fix will be incorporated into an instrument procedure as changes are made. This might throw off the "flow" of the creative naming. That's why you may see an oddball, unrelated fix here and there along an otherwise consistent string of names.

Plus, safety reports sometimes necessitate fix name changes. At one point in Denver airspace, there was both a "HIPPE" and "HIPEE" fix in different corners of adjacent airspace. Similar pronunciation and spelling led many pilots to make data entry errors and fly off-track. Once the facility realized the consistent mistakes, the names were changed in procedural updates.

Controversy In The Sky

Following the popular TV show "The Apprentice," three fixes near Palm Beach, Florida were named after Donald Trump in 2010. DONLD, TRMMP, UFIRD, plus an arrival procedure called the IVNKA ONE all existed at one point. With controversy surrounding the 2016 election, the FAA opted to rename all of the Trump-related navigation names.

Disney, Star Wars, Sports, And More...

You'll find some pretty creative procedure and fix names out there. Here are some of our favorite fixes and procedure names:

  • JIMEE FALON (V312, New York City to Atlantic City)
  • LEBRN (CHARDON Arrival, Cleveland)
  • HKUNA, MTATA (PIGLT Arrival, Orlando)
  • MINEE, GRNCH, DAFIE, TINKR (Orlando)
  • LUKKE-IAMUR-FADDR (RWY 19 Departure, Louisville)
  • JEDI Arrival (STAR, Atlanta)

Find Your Fix

There are tens of thousands of fixes all over the world. Here's where you'll find ours:

  • SWAYN: Northwest of Denver
  • COLIN: South of Washington DC
  • ALEKS: New York City
  • COREE: West of Boston

Boldmethod

What's the coolest fix name or procedure you've seen? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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