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7/23/24    Home | Articles | Training | Instructor's Corner | Airplanes | Travelogues | PIREPS | For CFIs | ATPs | Pilot for Hire

Jepp Vs. NACO
By Ryan Ferguson

Jepp Pros: Unquestionably the clearest, most concise chart format
Cons: Expensive; updates are a hassle; bulky to transport
Bottom line: Runner-up to NACO
Rating: ***** Three stars (out of five)

NACO Pros: Cheap; easy to update; very portable; available everywhere
Cons: Off-white paper; markings indistinct; takes longer slice of your scan
Bottom line: Pros outweigh the cons
Rating: ***** Four stars (out of five)

As an active participant on the aviation newsgroups, one of the most common questions posed by new instrument pilots is: "Jeppesen or NACO?" It is asked so often that I decided to write an article about the route this curmudgeon pilot took. Please note: this is a subjective decision. I'm going to share my reasoning with you, and you can draw your own conclusions. If you've already made a choice one way or another you're probably going to stick with it anyway. This is written for new instrument pilots who are about to go down the path of one format or the other.

When I was working on my instrument rating, I loved Jepps. They seemed clear, concise, and much easier to use in the training environment. The NOS (now NACO) plates and charts seemed dull, hard to read, and somewhat confusing by comparison. And that damn paper! Jepp's brilliantly white (though tissue-thin) paper really made the information pop off the chart. I loved Jepp. I would have carved 'R.F.+JEPP 4EVER' on a treetrunk.

"I'm not one of those guys who takes two hours to get from the airport gate entrance to the hold short line. I don't mess with that kind of stuff before I go. I make sure the charts are onboard, then we're off. If you fly for a purpose, time matters."

The Problem With Jepp

After I got the rating, it didn't take long to realize that there were some serious downsides to the Jepps that I wasn't exposed to when I was training for the checkride. I don't stay local; I fly all over the country, and I'm always in need of new charts and plates. Let me tell you, it gets expensive going the Jepp route after awhile. And try to carry plates for half the continent in your plane with those nice leather binders that cost fifty bucks a pop. And one more for ya, how are you going to get to them all in the plane? As silly as it sounds, having 40 pounds of thick binders in the back is a lot of stuff to wade through when you're looking for a plate. If you have a full load of people in the plane, they don't fit anywhere. Doing it single pilot IFR is also more of a challenge than the NACO alternative... lots of digging around, or else you have to get one of those massive Jepp binders that requires removing and pre-organizing all your damn plates before you take off.

Okay, I did that kind of stuff as a student, but I don't do it as a frequent flier. If you think this isn't a big deal now, trust me, it gets old fast when you fly a lot! What a pain in the hindquarters. My method: about halfway to the destination I crack open the IAP book and study the chart for a couple of minutes, then mark the page by folding over the corner, close the book and put it away. Nothing could be simpler or easier. I'm not one of those guys who takes two hours to get from the airport gate entrance to the hold short line. I don't mess with that kind of stuff before I go. I make sure the charts are onboard, then we're off. If you fly for a purpose, time matters. Side note: it's still worth being familiar with the approach before you go. Do it the night before your trip.

If you're more prone to take only occasional long trips, you're still faced with the challenge of organizing those plates. I hate the binders, hate having to clean them out to make way for new plates since you don't have a subscription to areas you visit once per year. In the back of my Honda I must have 5 of them sitting empty now.

I switched to NACO for the sake of convenience, price, and portability.

  • Convenience: when the new gov't charts come out, I buy a new book and throw out the old one. The enroute charts are typically good for awhile but my high-use charts get beat up and replaced on each cycle.

  • Price: no doubt about it, it's a lot cheaper to let Uncle Sam guide you through the murk.

  • Portability: a modest stack of books sits in between the the middle-row seats in my Twin Comanche. They handily cover the southeast U.S. and then some. A small black bag in the baggage compartment contains plates and charts for other areas.

  • They're Getting Better: the format of the NACO plates is much more Jepplike nowadays. Big improvement.

My system is cheap, simple, and borne of the need to find practicality and simplicity in all areas of flying.

More factoids:

  • You'll probably never even look at 0.05% of all the charts you buy. They're mostly sitting there taking up space. Think they're critical? They're nice, yes, especially in an emergency. But if you do have to land somewhere unexpected and you don't have the plate, it's not that big of a deal. The controller reads you the key info and down you go with your homemade plate. You don't need to pay Jepp for thousands of plates you'll never use.

  • The subscription updates... yeah, right! I have better things to do. Ever see one of those poor suckers sitting in the pilot's lounge updating his Jepps, painstakingly, one by one? And you can't get behind schedule or you're really screwed. And what if you lose or destroy one of the plates? Oh, the humanity.

  • When you're used to NACO, you can just print out a plate if you need to make a quick flight. Recently a VFR pilot friend of mine got stranded at 1V5, unable to get his airplane back to APA due to localized low visibility caused by smoke from the recent forest fires in Colorado. I happened to be there. Did we pay Jepp their blood money? No, I walked over to the computer, looked up edj.net/cgi-bin/echoplate.pl, and printed out plates for APA. We filed IFR and off we went, with enough money in our pockets for the actual hamburger you purchase when you go for the, er, $100 hamburger.

Now... before I get flamed by angry Jeppsters, let me restate that choosing one chart vs. the other is purely a subjective choice. I have my reasons for my choice and I certainly respect others who may choose Jepp. If I could merge Jepp's chart quality with the advantages I've listed for the NACO charts, we'd have chart perfection. Until that happens, I go with the simple, cheap, and just-as-safe option.

Questions or comments? Email me at ryan@fergworld.com.