ASRS Directline

 Issue Number 7 : September 1995

Also read these two sidebar articles...
Where Do They Find These Names
AB's and FYI's

How Do You Spell...? How Do You Pronounce...? Problems with Waypoint Identifiers

by Allen Amsbaugh

Over the years, the ASRS has received many reports regarding navigational identifiers that sound similar to other fixes, or are not spelled in a logical fashion. Two caught my eye recently and were the impetus for this article. The first incident was reported by two crew members. One of these reporters stated:

SEA is about 50 miles farther from BOI than PDX, and about 17 degrees farther to the north. The ARTCC Controller rectified the situation by a gentle, "Where are you going?"

The ASRS has issued a For Your Information Notice (see the sidebar about AB's and FYI'S at the end of this article) to the appropriate agencies and FAA offices in an attempt to rectify this problem. It was recommended that the name be changed on one of the intersections. We all hope that one of the spellings will not be changed to DOOFR!

More Waypoint Problems

Another air carrier crew had a problem entering the Charlotte, NC, area:

The ASRS issued an Alert Bulletin to the appropriate FAA offices with a recommendation that the name of one of the intersections be changed. This is exactly what has been done--LYNNO is now PLUMM on the MAJIC SEVEN arrival to Charlotte (MAJIC.MAJIC7). The system works!

International Events

The system also works in international airspace, as seen in the following report:

ASRS issued a For Your Information Notice to the FAA with the recommendation that NOGAL intersection be renamed to minimize confusion. The latest charts show that NOGAL has been renamed NYTIM. But, how does one pronounce NYTIM? Is it as "nighttime," or possibly "nit tim," or even "nee tim"? Even native English speakers will have to guess about this one.

The Perils of English Pronunciation

English is a wonderful tongue, and is the official language of the air. Every time that I flew abroad, I thanked my lucky stars that the Wright brothers were American! But the English language has several deficiencies--the biggest one being that there are no iron-clad rules for the pronunciation of vowels and combinations of vowels. Several consonants, in combination or singly, also can be pronounced more than one way.

The English language has come a long way from its Latin roots wherein pronunciation has very strong rules, but aviation makes tough demands on English. One member of the ASRS staff suggested using the Klingon language, which has no vowels; another suggested creating more vowels just for naming navigational fixes!

The United States airspace fixes also include many names of Native American, Spanish, and French origin. Very near the ASRS office is the compass locator for the ILS Runway 30L approach to the San José International Airport--JORGE, the Spanish name equivalent to the English "George." I have heard it pronounced "George," and more properly, "Hor-Hay," as it would be pronounced in Spanish. Many others come to mind, including DOWNE on the ILS Runway 25L at Los Angeles. Is it pronounced "Down," or "Downey" as is the city beneath it? You will hear this both ways too.

When expert help is proffered, it is a good idea to accept it--as the following example shows:

This error resulted in a traffic conflict because of the wrong heading. The Controller wanted the reporter to go to PERRI, a fix east of Charleston, WV, while the Captain entered PERRY, a fix southeast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean! The FMS would not take J8 from PERRY because PERRY is not on J8, but PERRI is. Both man (the Controller) and machine (the FMS) tried to help this crew--to no avail.

5, 4, 3

These problems are not restricted to five letter fixes. They also crop up in three letter VORs, as evidenced in this report:

The reporter is right. There are many fixes with the same name, but no five-letter airspace fixes have the same name, only VORs and NDBs. For example, VORs with the same name but different letter designators include Springfield (SGF), MO, and Springfield (SPI), IL; Las Vegas (LAS), NV, and Las Vegas (LVS), NM; Bradford (BDF), IL, and Bradford (BFD), PA; and Danville (DNV), IL, and Danville (DAN), VA. All these examples are in United States airspace, and there are many more throughout the world.

Common Problems

As you might surmise, all of the above incidents happened in modern aircraft with Omega Navigation Systems or Inertial Navigation Systems. The same problems will be encountered by those pilots flying with Global Positioning Systems or LORAN. This is not to imply that the flight crew with the more modern navigation systems are more careless, it just means that they have new problems to solve. They must be more careful with their long distance leg requests to ensure that ARTCC understands that they want to go to Farmington, NM, (FMN) not Farmington, MO, (FAM) or Farmington, MN, (FGT). Flight crews must be very careful when they type a fix into their FMCs so that they go to CLEAT, MD, not CLETE, OH.

There are many examples similar to CLEAT/CLETE--such as AANTS/ANNTS, BRIJJ/BRIDG, etc. If you'd like to play a little game, go to FAA Publication 7350.6, "Location Identifiers," and turn to the Airspace fixes section. See how many pairs you can find in one minute. You'll find many are listed consecutively, such as DUMPE/DUMPI.

Entering the Fix

If there are any questions in your mind, whether you are a pilot or a controller, you must ask immediately to clarify the situation, of course. We also have a few suggestions to help you avoid Waypoint Identifier Woes:

  1. Pilots flying the aircraft with the new navigation systems should have their charts on hand at all times to ensure that spelling mistakes are not made.

  2. Charts and flight plans should be consulted often to ensure that direct routings seem reasonable, and that the map presentation has no strange "spikes" or turns.

  3. Common sense precautions and special care will prevent any of the navigation errors we've discussed.

Where Do They Find These Names?

About twenty years ago, the FAA decided to use only five letter names for airspace fixes so that all fixes would fit into a nice, clean computer format. Gone are romantic sounding names such as CEDAR RIDGE, now CEDES, variously pronounced "Seeds" or "See-Dees"), and ROSE FLAT, now FLAKK. By the way, CEDES is in California, SEEDS is in Texas. Two more examples:

  1. DOWNEY is now DOWNE. Downey, by the way, is also a Southern California town named by John G. Downey, governor of California from 1860 to 1862. Governor Downey subdivided the Santa Gertrudis Rancho and modestly named the town after himself.

  2. PAJARO is now PAJAR, and is named after the Pájaro river. The Pájaro river was named by Gaspar de Portolá's soldiers in 1769 when they found an enormous bird which Native Americans had stuffed with straw. The "j" in Pajaro is pronounced as an "h," with the first "a" accented. Pájaro is the Spanish word for "bird."

The FAA's National Flight Data Center is in charge of naming airspace fixes. When a new fix is needed by an FAA region or facility, a request is made with a choice of names. The center will then check to see that the proposed name: a) is pronounceable, b) does not duplicate another spelling, c) is not profane in several of the major languages, and d) is unique to the entire world. Then the new fix is put into use.

Would you like a little bit of immortality? Captain Cortlandt L. Dickinson, retired American Airlines Captain, was at a meeting when the route system from the West Coast of the United States to Hawaii was being revised. He claims that he said, "Why don't you name one of the fixes after me?" They did, as CORTT.

Captain D.E. Ehmann, retired Vice President of Flight Operations with American Airlines, is also immortalized in a missed approach holding fix named EHMAN, at Buffalo, NY.

A study of the fixes, airport names, and VORs will provide names of celebrities and interesting geographical points to all who take the time to look. Compare your aeronautical chart with the atlas that you all carry and learn some of the local points of interest while you are looking out the window.

AB's and FYI's

When ASRS receives a report describing a hazardous or safety-related situation--for example, a defective navigation aid, mis-charting, a confusing procedure, or any other circumstance which might compromise safe flight--it issues an alerting message in the form of an AB (Alert Bulletin) or FYI (For Your Information) notice. Alerting messages have a single purpose: to relay safety information to individuals in a position of authority so that they can investigate the allegation and take needed corrective actions as appropriate. ASRS has no direct operational authority of its own. It acts through, and with the cooperation of, others.

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