Section 2. Altimeter Setting Procedures

7-2-1. General

a. The accuracy of aircraft altimeters is subject to the following factors:

1. Nonstandard temperatures of the atmosphere.

2. Nonstandard atmospheric pressure.

3. Aircraft static pressure systems (position error); and

4. Instrument error.

b. EXTREME CAUTION SHOULD BE EXERCISED WHEN FLYING IN PROXIMITY TO OBSTRUCTIONS OR TERRAIN IN LOW TEMPERATURES AND PRESSURES. This is especially true in extremely cold temperatures that cause a large differential between the Standard Day temperature and actual temperature. This circumstance can cause serious errors that result in the aircraft being significantly lower than the indicated altitude.

NOTE- Standard temperature at sea level is 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature gradient from sea level is minus 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) per 1,000 feet. Pilots should apply corrections for static pressure systems and/or instruments, if appreciable errors exist.

c. The adoption of a standard altimeter setting at the higher altitudes eliminates station barometer errors, some altimeter instrument errors, and errors caused by altimeter settings derived from different geographical sources.

7-2-2. Procedures

The cruising altitude or flight level of aircraft shall be maintained by reference to an altimeter which shall be set, when operating:

1. When the barometric pressure is 31.00 inches Hg. or less. To the current reported altimeter setting of a station along the route and within 100 NM of the aircraft, or if there is no station within this area, the current reported altimeter setting of an appropriate available station. When an aircraft is en route on an instrument flight plan, air traffic controllers will furnish this information to the pilot at least once while the aircraft is in the controllers area of jurisdiction. In the case of an aircraft not equipped with a radio, set to the elevation of the departure airport or use an appropriate altimeter setting available prior to departure.

2. When the barometric pressure exceeds 31.00 inches Hg. The following procedures will be placed in effect by NOTAM defining the geographic area affected:

(a) For all aircraft. Set 31.00 inches for en route operations below 18,000 feet MSL. Maintain this setting until beyond the affected area or until reaching final approach segment. At the beginning of the final approach segment, the current altimeter setting will be set, if possible. If not possible, 31.00 inches will remain set throughout the approach. Aircraft on departure or missed approach will set 31.00 inches prior to reaching any mandatory/crossing altitude or 1,500 feet AGL, whichever is lower. (Air traffic control will issue actual altimeter settings and advise pilots to set 31.00 inches in their altimeters for en route operations below 18,000 feet MSL in affected areas.)

(b) During preflight, barometric altimeters shall be checked for normal operation to the extent possible.

(c) For aircraft with the capability of setting the current altimeter setting and operating into airports with the capability of measuring the current altimeter setting, no additional restrictions apply.

(d) For aircraft operating VFR, there are no additional restrictions, however, extra diligence in flight planning and in operating in these conditions is essential.

(e) Airports unable to accurately measure barometric pressures above 31.00 inches of Hg. will report the barometric pressure as "missing" or "in excess of 31.00 inches of Hg." Flight operations to and from those airports are restricted to VFR weather conditions.

(f) For aircraft operating IFR and unable to set the current altimeter setting, the following restrictions apply:

(1) To determine the suitability of departure alternate airports, destination airports, and destination alternate airports, increase ceiling requirements by 100 feet and visibility requirements by 1/ 4 statute mile for each 1/ 10 of an inch of Hg., or any portion thereof, over 31.00 inches. These adjusted values are then applied in accordance with the requirements of the applicable operating regulations and operations specifications.

EXAMPLE- Destination altimeter is 31.28 inches, ILS DH 250 feet (200- 1/ 2). When flight planning, add 300- 3/ 4 to the weather requirements which would become 500-1 1/ 4.

(2) On approach, 31.00 inches will remain set. Decision height (DH) or minimum descent altitude shall be deemed to have been reached when the published altitude is displayed on the altimeter.

NOTE- Although visibility is normally the limiting factor on an approach, pilots should be aware that when reaching DH the aircraft will be higher than indicated. Using the example above the aircraft would be approximately 300 feet higher.

(3) These restrictions do not apply to authorized Category II and III ILS operations nor do they apply to certificate holders using approved QFE altimetry systems.

(g) The FAA Regional Flight Standards Division Manager of the affected area is authorized to approve temporary waivers to permit emergency resupply or emergency medical service operation.

b. At or above 18,000 feet MSL. To 29.92 inches of mercury (standard setting). The lowest usable flight level is determined by the atmospheric pressure in the area of operation as shown in TBL 7-2-1.

TBL 7-2-1 Lowest Usable Flight Level
Altimeter Setting (Current Reported) Lowest Usable Flight Level
29.92 or higher 180
29.91 to 29.42 185
29.41 to 28.92 190
28.91 to 28.42 195
28.41 to 27.92 200

c. Where the minimum altitude, as prescribed in 14 CFR Section 91.159 and 14 CFR Section 91.177, is above 18,000 feet MSL, the lowest usable flight level shall be the flight level equivalent of the minimum altitude plus the number of feet specified in TBL 7-2-2.

TBL 7-2-2 Lowest Flight Level Correction Factor
Altimeter Setting Correction Factor
29.92 or higher none
29.91 to 29.42 500 feet
29.41 to 28.92 1000 feet
28.91 to 28.42 1500 feet
28.41 to 27.92 2000 feet
27.91 to 27.42 2500 feet
EXAMPLE- The minimum safe altitude of a route is 19,000 feet MSL and the altimeter setting is reported between 29.92 and 29.42 inches of mercury, the lowest usable flight level will be 195, which is the flight level equivalent of 19,500 feet MSL (minimum altitude plus 500 feet).
7-2-3. Altimeter Errors

a. Most pressure altimeters are subject to mechanical, elastic, temperature, and installation errors. (Detailed information regarding the use of pressure altimeters is found in the Instrument Flying Handbook, Chapter IV.) Although manufacturing and installation specifications, as well as the periodic test and inspections required by regulations (14 CFR Part 43, Appendix E), act to reduce these errors, any scale error may be observed in the following manner:

1. Set the current reported altimeter setting on the altimeter setting scale.

2. Altimeter should now read field elevation if you are located on the same reference level used to establish the altimeter setting.

3. Note the variation between the known field elevation and the altimeter indication. If this variation is in the order of plus or minus 75 feet, the accuracy of the altimeter is questionable and the problem should be referred to an appropriately rated repair station for evaluation and possible correction.

b. Once in flight, it is very important to obtain frequently current altimeter settings en route. If you do not reset your altimeter when flying from an area of high pressure into an area of low pressure, your aircraft will be closer to the surface than your altimeter indicates. An inch error in the altimeter setting equals 1,000 feet of altitude. To quote an old saying: " GOING FROM A HIGH TO A LOW, LOOK OUT BELOW."

c. Temperature also has an effect on the accuracy of altimeters and your altitude. The crucial values to consider are standard temperature versus the ambient (at altitude) temperature. It is this "difference" that causes the error in indicated altitude. When the air is warmer than standard, you are higher than your altimeter indicates. Subsequently, when the air is colder than standard you are lower than indicated. It is the magnitude of this "difference" that determines the magnitude of the error. When flying into a cooler air mass while maintaining a constant indicated altitude, you are losing true altitude. However, flying into a cooler air mass does not necessarily mean you will be lower than indicated if the difference is still on the plus side. For example, while flying at 10,000 feet (where STANDARD temperature is -5 degrees Celsius (C)), the outside air temperature cools from +5 degrees C to 0 degrees C, the temperature error will nevertheless cause the aircraft to be HIGHER than indicated. It is the extreme "cold" difference that normally would be of concern to the pilot. Also, when flying in cold conditions over mountainous country, the pilot should exercise caution in flight planning both in regard to route and altitude to ensure adequate en route and terminal area terrain clearance.

d. TBL 7-2-3, derived from ICAO formulas, indicates how much error can exist when the temperature is extremely cold. To use the table, find the reported temperature in the left column, then read across the top row to locate the height above the airport/reporting station (i.e., subtract the airport/ reporting elevation from the intended flight altitude). The intersection of the column and row is how much lower the aircraft may actually be as a result of the possible cold temperature induced error.

e. The possible result of the above example should be obvious, particularly if operating at the minimum altitude or when conducting an instrument approach. When operating in extreme cold temperatures, pilots may wish to compensate for the reduction in terrain clearance by adding a cold temperature correction.

TBL 7-2-3 ICAO Cold Temperature Error Table
Height Above Airport in Feet
200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 1500 2000 3000 4000 5000
+10 10 10 10 10 20 20 20 20 20 30 40 60 80 90
0 20 20 30 30 40 40 50 50 60 90 120 170 230 280
-10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 150 200 290 390 490
-20 30 50 60 70 90 100 120 130 140 210 280 420 570 710
-30 40 60 80 100 120 140 150 170 190 280 380 570 760 950
-40 50 80 100 120 150 170 190 220 240 360 480 720 970 1210
-50 60 90 120 150 180 210 240 270 300 450 590 890 1190 1500
EXAMPLE- Temperature-10 degrees Celsius, and the aircraft altitude is 1,000 feet above the airport elevation. The chart shows that the reported current altimeter setting may place the aircraft as much as 100 feet below the altitude indicated by the altimeter.
7-2-4. High Barometric Pressure

a. Cold, dry air masses may produce barometric pressures in excess of 31.00 inches of Mercury, and many altimeters do not have an accurate means of being adjusted for settings of these levels. When the altimeter cannot be set to the higher pressure setting, the aircraft actual altitude will be higher than the altimeter indicates.

REFERENCE- AIM, Paragraph 7-2-3, Altimeter Errors.

b. When the barometric pressure exceeds 31.00 inches, air traffic controllers will issue the actual altimeter setting, and:

1. En Route/Arrivals. Advise pilots to remain set on 31.00 inches until reaching the final approach segment.

2. Departures. Advise pilots to set 31.00 inches prior to reaching any mandatory/crossing altitude or 1,500 feet, whichever is lower.

c. The altimeter error caused by the high pressure will be in the opposite direction to the error caused by the cold temperature.

7-2-5. Low Barometric Pressure

When abnormally low barometric pressure conditions occur (below 28.00), flight operations by aircraft unable to set the actual altimeter setting are not recommended.

NOTE- The true altitude of the aircraft is lower than the indicated altitude if the pilot is unable to set the actual altimeter setting.