How an aircraft’s navigation system works

An aircraft’s navigation system is the electronic system responsible for providing the pilot with all flight information so that he/she can focus on piloting.

The navigation system is a key element in the course of a flight. It is one of the tools that a professional pilot must know and master in order to ensure that the aircraft reaches its destination, whatever the environmental conditions.

Aircraft navigation system

A navigation system is defined as those devices in the cockpit that assist the pilot in determining the position of the aircraft. Navigation systems comprise both on-board aircraft systems and radio aids.

There are several on-board navigation systems which can be divided into:

  • Global Navigation Satellite System – GNSS
  • Inertial Reference System – IRS
  • Flight Management System – FMS

Before the flight, the pilot must load the route to be flown into the system. Once the route has been programmed, the pilot will be able to monitor it during the flight.  The navigation system will detect elements that may affect the flight, such as airports, other aircraft, bad weather, mountains, …

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)

GNSS is the set of navigation systems that help the pilot to know the coordinates, speed, altitude and other parameters of the aircraft. The three most established systems worldwide are:

  • GPS (Global Positioning System)
  • GLONASS (Global’naya Navigatsionnaa Sputnikovaya Sistema)
  • Galileo (European Satellite Positioning and Radio Navigation System)

Inertial Reference System (IRS)

The inertial reference system is a navigation system that does not require data external to the flight. The IRS, through the accelerometer and gyroscope, detects the displacement on any axis and calculates the position of the aircraft.

Its operation is completely autonomous and all it requires is that, at the beginning of the flight, before take-off, pilots must tell the system the position of the aircraft in terms of latitude and longitude.

Flight Management System (FMS)

This navigation system can be considered the brain of the aircraft. Its function, as its name suggests, is flight management. By means of the determined route data, the FMS will provide the pilots with the flight parameter calculations.

Some functions of the flight management system are:

  • Configuration of the autopilot.
  • Configuration of take-off and approach routes and the information transmitted by air traffic controllers.
  • Recommendations to reduce fuel consumption.

Origins of the air navigation system

Originally, the magnetic compass and a map were the only air navigation instruments used. Through air speed and measured time they could estimate their position and reach their destination.

Dead-reckoning, as this navigation technique is called, was an inaccurate technique in which it was very easy to accumulate errors from unreliable information. The improvement of this technique was introduced with radio waves, which allowed for more precise navigation.

Learn how the aircraft navigation system works.

Aircraft navigation systems are an indispensable tool for pilots in order to make a safe flight. Mastering this tool is essential to become a professional pilot. In our classes, both theoretical and practical, you will learn to master all aspects of effective and efficient aircraft piloting.

EAS Barcelona’s training courses end with you obtaining the necessary qualification to become a flight crew member in commercial aircraft. In order to provide this qualification, EAS Barcelona has the ATO authorisation required by the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (AESA), a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).