There has been an increase in visibility on the near misses and runway incursions at airports in the first half of 2023, due in large part to social media and national news coverage of these events. Serious incidents (category A runway incursions) have trended downward in the last decade, but the overall number of incidents has risen. These have resulted from both sides of the radio in the terminal environment, attributed to both pilot error (a pilot deviation) and ATC error (an operational incident).
While it’s the commercial airline incidents that attract national attention, pilots of all airplane sizes are to blame. As pilots, it’s our natural reaction to analyze each of the cases and think how we could have avoided that circumstance if we were flying that airplane. The first thing that comes to mind for GA pilots is that when used properly, ForeFlight and Sentry can be a real help, thanks to the real-time display of ADS-B traffic in the air and on the ground. The challenge, however, is that scanning the app while flying single-pilot during takeoff or landing just isn’t practical.
The latest ForeFlight update attempts to solve this problem, by adding new “Aircraft on Runway Alerts” to better get your attention if an airplane is on the runway while you’re on final approach, or if an airplane is on short final to a runway you’re occupying. The update also adds ADS-traffic breadcrumbs, day/night overlay on maps and baro-corrected pressure altitude (finally!).
Aircraft on Runway Alerts
ForeFlight offers the most comprehensive set of safety alerts of any EFB app, and these latest runway alerts take that capability to a new level. First, you’ll need an ADS-B receiver like Sentry to take advantage of this feature, which provides a real-time ADS-B traffic feed to the app.
The first threat the system will detect is when you enter a runway (either on your own at a non-towered airport or following an ATC clearance at an airport with a tower) and there is an airplane on short final about to land. Specifically, the alert is triggered when ForeFlight detects that the airplane on final approach is within 2 NM or 1 minute from the end of the runway. You’ll receive both a visual and aural alert and the traffic will be highlighted in red. In this staged scenario, you’ll see that we taxied onto Runway 22 (we are represented by the blue dot on the ground) while N377ES was on short final:
The second threat occurs when you are on final approach, again within 2 NM or 1 minute from the end of the runway, and ForeFlight detects a traffic target occupying the runway. The traffic will be depicted in red and the aural alert will state the number of the occupied runway. In this staged scenario, you’ll see N377ES taxied out onto the active runway in front of us while we were on short final:
Both alerts are enabled by default, but you can turn either off individually in the settings section of the app. Our main takeaway after testing these alerts is that it’s critical that you pair your headset to your iPad via Bluetooth so that you can hear the accompanying aural alert. Your eyes will be and should be out the window when taxiing onto the runway or on final approach and you’ll likely miss the visual alert during these critical phases of flight if you can’t hear them.
ADS-B Traffic Breadcrumbs
The next new feature to check out in ForeFlight when flying with your ADS-B receiver is ADS-B breadcrumbs. This simple, yet powerful feature, allows you to tap on an ADS-B traffic target to view its recent flight path in green:
You can learn a lot in flight by looking up the recent flight path of ADS-B traffic, to assist with both collision avoidance and decision-making:
- determine the runway in use at the destination airport while still 100 NM away
- see where an airplane has been recently flying in a busy practice area
- determine what path a nearby airplane took through an active weather system
- see the taxi route of other airplanes on the surface of a busy airport
It’s worth noting that if you have breadcrumbs enabled for your flight path, which is also shown in green, this will temporarily turn gray when viewing other aircraft breadcrumbs. This feature requires a Pro Plus subscription.
Baro-Corrected Pressure Altitude
Prior to this update, the altimeter in ForeFlight’s attitude and synthetic vision display used GPS altitude as a source. While this is useful for general situational awareness, it can be off by several hundred feet from your actual altitude for a variety of reasons. ForeFlight solved this problem for those flying with Sentry or Stratus ADS-B receivers by using the integrated pressure altitude sensor to drive the altimeter readout in the app. It automatically corrects the raw pressure data from Sentry by taking the nearest airport’s altimeter setting from a METAR or AWOS received over ADS-B and applies the baro-correction. You’ll see the label “BARO ALT” and the current altimeter setting value displayed under the altitude tape when ForeFlight is using this source.
The end result is that you’ll now see the exact same altitude displayed in ForeFlight as on your instrument panel, provided your airplane’s altimeter is set to the same local altimeter setting. This significantly increases the utility of ForeFlight’s backup instruments and synthetic vision display, making it even more useful for instrument pilots who need to get down on the ground after a primary instrument failure in IFR conditions.
If ForeFlight does not have access to a local altimeter setting, it will automatically fall back to using GPS-sourced altitude, and display the label “GPS ALT”. You can also view the Baro Altitude in the digital map instruments, which appears on the bottom of the map when enabled.
What else is new
There’s a new option to display a day/night overlay on the maps, which allows you to quickly visualize where night has fallen around the world. This can be enabled from the Day/Night Overlay option in the Map settings:
ForeFlight currently allows Dropbox, Box and Amazon S3 accounts to connect to the app, allowing power users and organizations to better keep cloud documents organized and up to date. The latest update adds OneDrive support for Pro Plus users, which can be set up on the Documents page on ForeFlight web.