Aeronautical charts are the basis for navigation. Using real-world charts provides greatly enhances realism and helps pilots plan more accurate routes. In general, pilots should always have at least the Airport Diagram readily available for airports they plan to visit so they can follow controllers’ taxi instructions.
VFR Pilots need a simple set of charts which provide basic information about arrival and departure airports as well as visual navigation charts for navigating in-flight (in the United States, these are referred to as Sectional Charts).
IFR Pilots use the visual charts described above as well as a separate set of instrument charts. These charts include Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs), Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs), and Instrument Approach Procedures (IAPs). Normally, IFR charts are available from the same sources as VFR charts. There is also a set of navigation charts for navigating in-flight, which are called Lo and Hi Altitude Enroute Charts.
United States Charts
Through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States Government publishes VFR and IFR charts online for free. There are a number of free online sources for charts as well as a number of applications for mobile devices that also provide charts.
Pilots searching for enroute charts (e.g., Sectional Charts, TACs, or IFR enroute charts) can find them at www.skyvector.com.
In order to quickly locate an airport on the sectional chart, type its identifier into the text box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. For example, type in 'KBOS', click the 'Go' button, and SkyVector will re-center the chart on Boston’s Logan International Airport. Surrounding the airport you will see the Boston Class B airspace as well as several nearby Class D airports.
To view additional charts, click one of the tabs located in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. For example, if SkyVector is displaying the Boston area, you can view the Lo-Altitude IFR Enroute Chart (L-33), the Hi-Altitude IFR Enroute Charts (H-10, H-11, and H-12), the Boston Terminal Area Chart, and others.
SkyVector also displays information and charts specific to a designated airport. To do this, click the 'Airports' link at the top of the screen and navigate to the desired airport. Once there, you will see the Airport Diagram near the top left of the page and the STARs, IAPs, and SIDs/DPs near the bottom. VFR pilots will only need to reference the provided Sectional Chart and Airport Diagram, while IFR pilots will need to reference IFR Enroute Charts as well as SIDs/DPs, STARs, and IAPs.
FAA charts are normally quite straightforward to read. Sometimes information is contained on one page; other times, it is spread across multiple pages. Be sure to always download multiple pages where they exist to ensure you receive all the information you need. For more information about how to read and use different types of charts, consider joining the community and working through some of the flights in Wings Over New England.
The following website are good resources for U.S. airport charts (e.g., Airport Diagrams, Instrument Approach Procedures, etc.):
Charts for airports in Canadian airspace are available online for free from FltPlan.com. While there is no Canadian airspace inside of ZBW, the ARTCC does border Canadian airspace.
To access free charts for Canadian airports, create a free account at www.fltplan.com, login, and then look for the 'Digital Charts' link under 'Navigation' in the main menu.
Access to charts for other international destinations varies. In some cases, governments may publish charts for free. For example, European charts can be obtained for free by using the EAD Basic application from EUROCONTROL (a free account is required).
VATSIM members also have access to ChartFox, which searches several government publications and provides charts in one central place. You'll need to login using your VATSIM CID and password.
However, the most comprehensive set of international charts is provided as a paid subscription service by Navigraph. Visit the Navigraph website for more information.