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Amateur in aviation, so please explain the purpose of navigational fix and its characteristics. How is a navigational fix being placed around the runway, or how it is determined this would be the right spot? How does it help a aircraft to make it land?

And where would I get the details of navigational fixes for a airport near me? Is there a API, does ICAO provide any info?

Any links/charts could be of great help.

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    $\begingroup$ We may not be able to get this answer to you before you run out of fuel. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Jun 23 '15 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ In general terminology a fix is the result of a process you perform to find out your own current position. The position of an airport (it's location) or some other place (e.g. a navigational waypoint along a planned route) is it's coordinates not it's fix. $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Jun 23 '15 at 13:35
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A navigational fix is a waypoint that can be used to navigate to, from or between airports or other navigational fixes. Navigational fixes can be GPS-based coordinates, radio-based navigational aids like VORs or NDBs or airport themselves, which have a defined airport reference point with set coordinates.

Navigational fixes or aids are usually not placed around runways, but those that are used for approaches or departures (mostly VOR or NDBs) are placed at or in the vicinity of the airport. See below for the placement of the Barmen (BAM) VOR, which is one of the approaches fixes used for the ILS approach to runway 23L and 23R and the, nowadays no longer used, NDBs DX and LI as the outer markers for the instrument approach.

EDDL Barmen
(Image Source: www.skyvector.com)

Navigational fixes required for approaches or departures to a specific airport will be available in the countries' AIP, in the publications for the specific approach or departure routing, e.g. navigational fixes along a STAR or Transition from the Initial Approach Fix (which is a navigational fix as well) to the Final Approach Fix.

Transitions VATUSA
(Image Source: VATUSA)

The above displays the navigational fixes for the transitions/arrivals into Memphis International Airport.

For a list of available radio navigational aids around an airport, you can try sources like SkyVector.

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This is a very broad question, but I'll give it a shot:

Why do Airplanes need navigation?

Navigating an airplane is like driving a car with sole reliance on maps. Except you don't have any signs hanging in the air that might give you hints where to go, and in bad weather it is hard to determine your position by looking down to the ground. Thus a pilot needs other means of position determination. Flying goes back over 100 years now; way before people even thought about GPS being possible, flights were already made by reference to navigation aids. A (by now) kind of old fashioned navigation aid is the NDB(Non-Directional Beacon) which in its day's was very helpful and was even used for approaches! This is now replaced by VORs (Very high frequency Omnidirectional Beacons). Building a VOR is quite a task, in the US there are many compared to other countries, yet not enough for the amount of traffic.

Why are there Navigational Fixes?

Cars use streets to get from A to B. Imagine all air traffic going straight from their departure to their destination airport, this would end in a huge chaos. Therefore there were "streets", so called airways, established from one VOR to the other. Traffic flies along these routes, just like cars drive along streets. But the VORs only are still not enough points on the map to navigate traffic. A simple curve would need multiple VORs to be described (Yes, there are arcs around VORs but that's something different). Thus waypoints were created. Before the time of GPS they could usually be identified by two radials from two different VORs. By now there are more waypoints out there that are described by coordinates only and can only be used with a GPS.

Where are navigational fixes placed?

Usually they are placed in a way so that they help out in coordinating traffic. You will most likely find more fixes around airports, as they offer possibilities to controllers to spread the traffic and, whats even more important, guide planes to the runway. There are so called STARs (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) which bundle traffic approaching the airport from different directions towards the same runways, followed by transitions which guide them via the IAF(Initial Approach Fix) to the final approach. All those procedures are described using the waypoints, VORs and other navigational aids.

Where would you get details about fixes?

To be honest, I don't know of any source that can be used for real world flying. I know of databases used for simulator flying, which are still up to date and probably contain almost exactly the same information. Those are called "AIRAC" (not to confuse with the real world AIRAC cycle though!) and can be downloaded or come with certain programs. From there you should be able to get the information you need (if you want to write a program using this information). Again, these are not for real world flying! If you are just curious about the waypoints around you, this website is one example of a source for these kind of things (clicking "World Lo"/"World Hi" will display these waypoints).

I hope this answers your questions, if not try to ask a bit more precise!

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  • $\begingroup$ Hehe... beat you by 30min! :D Nice answer, though! $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Jun 23 '15 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ For real flying you get appropriate navigational charts and they have the points marked on them with appropriate definitions. And if you have a flight management system, there will be database for it that again has all the points and airways. For real flying, nothing tends to be free or course. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 23 '15 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed! But of course those charts can not be used as an API or similar. $\endgroup$ – Maverick283 Jun 23 '15 at 14:35

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