Tips: What the dates on the sides of approach plates really mean

PlateDates

If you’re checking for valid dates of the plate by looking at the side of the plate, you’re being misled. The FAA prints two dates on the side of each plate. Although they look like expiration dates, they are not. They simply represent the print cycle of when that plate was last printed by the FAA. That is, even if a plate doesn’t change for two years, every 28 days, it will have a new set of dates on the side. FlyQ ignores these dates and uses a database that the FAA publishes to download only the plates that really have changed or been added. Thus, even when all your plates are current, you may see ‘old’ dates on the side. You have to keep in mind that, unlike IFR enroute charts or Sectionals, there is no planned expiration date for a plate — they just update it when necessary. Thus, it’s not possible for them to print an expire date on the plate since they have no idea when it might expire.

Plates do have amendment info on the lower left corner, however. This info remains constant even when the date on the side changes (unless the plate really was changed, of course). And, just to make things even more confusing, they also sometimes have a cryptic date in the upper right corner (not shown above) that may be newer than the amendment info.  This date is hard to decode as it’s what’s called a Julian date (two-digit year + day number within that year — e.g. “19059” means 2019, 59th day). Moreover, unless you know for sure what the “current” revision info is, it doesn’t help you much as there is nothing to compare it to. We all just have to rely on the FAA accurately marking plates when changed. The good news is that we’ve been doing this for 10 years and we’ve NEVER seen them make a mistake about this.

Finally, in the ChartData Manager, you can tell FlyQ EFB to download ALL plates, even the ones that have not changed. We do not recommend this, however, as it dramatically increases the download time.

8 thoughts on “Tips: What the dates on the sides of approach plates really mean

  1. Steve, Thanks for that info about the plate dates !! Clears up a lot of my past confusion.

    I wanted to ask if I could have this info reprinted in our EAA Chapter 613 news letter?

    Thanks, Bill

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  2. Note: I just revised this info a little to mention that the FAA actually has 3 (not 2) dates on each plate. The side is the useless print date, the lower left is the Amendment date (last major change), and (new) the top right is an encoded date that is the last time ANY significant change was made (that is, anything other than changing that print date on the side). Whew!

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  3. In a pilot/co-pilot operation, when briefing the approach, one of the checks is to call out the plate date. While each crew member may indeed have the same approach plate data it can create a confusion to the crew if they see different dates on their personal plate. This occurs, I believe depending on how they update FlyQ. I’ve seen this happen….

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    • Good point. But the fact remains that the data is misleading. Best to read the “date” at the very top right. In an ideal world, the FAA simply wouldn’t put the misleading date on the left and right and just put the actually last changed date (the top right one) on the sides.

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  4. Is the Julian date always in the right corner? On the “Procedure and Airport Diagram Legend” in the Documents tab, every page has a 5 digit code in the top LEFT corner. Is that it? If so, I’ve noticed that most of the pages are different, indicating that they maintain a change date for each page. That’s cool.

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    • They may move the position around and, just to make things confusing, have date info on the bottom like ORIGxxx then the julian date in a corner. Yes, they keep track of each document individually. I have visited the office in MD where they produce them and have seen the process first hand.

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