If you've tried to do much proper navigation while flying in X-Plane you'll soon discover that the navdata that comes with X-Plane sucks, especially in Asia. In some countries (particularly Indonesia) the ICAO codes for most of the airports have changed over the last few years. There are also misplaced beacons, VORs that have their range set too short so you lose signal before you can find the next navaid. And most importantly, if you try to use current airport charts, you'll find that most of the time the RNAV waypoints specified don't exist.
X-Plane's NAVData is separate from "scenery" packages, so even if you download a new or updated scenery, it won't affect your NAVData. X-Plane has a number of NAVData databases:
- There's the one used by X-Plane itself, which appears when you look at "Local Map" and tune the nav radios to the navaids
- The GNS430/530 "GPS" plugin, has its own NAVData which consist of waypoints, and SIDs and STARs.
- Some plugins and aircraft, particularly those with FMCs, have their own data format for NAVData.
These databases can be updated with the latest real-world data from Navigraph ((http://www.navigraph.com) through a packaged knows as "Navigraph FMS Data". The navigation data is sourced from Jeppesen, who compile this information and supply them to major airlines (making it "as real is it gets"). Navigraph formats the data into the native formats expected by the different X-Plane modules and add-ons (it also provides the data for other Flight Simulators).
The data is sold on a subscription basis by Navigraph. Updates are made to coincide with AIRAC cycles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeronautical_Information_Publication) which are 28-day cycles throughout the year. You can choose to subscribe for a single cycle, a month, or a year.
Once you've subscribed, you can download the data files. There is an option to download and install the data files "Manually" from the Navigraph website, in which case you get a .zip file, and just need to extract these into your X-Plane folder, as the paths are usually set up correctly. Another way, which is what I went with, was to install the Navigraph Data Manager, which is an application (32-bit and 64-bit Ubuntu and Fedora are supported). The app checks for new versions of the data files and lets you update your local setup with a single click.
I fired up X-Plane on my laptop to compare the data. This is the default X-Plane navdata around WMKM (no landmass is displayed as I didn't install the global scenery packages:
And this is the data after the update. Non-existant and decommissioned NDBs have been removed, newer airways are incorporated and there are now GPS fixes for an RNAV approach into WMKM:
So now my navdata is up to date ...
... but they still don't match some of my charts. It appears my charts too are out of date. For the Malaysian ones published at the DCA website, it seems the policy is not to update the main documents, but to issue supplements that describe the differences, which makes tracking the current situation messy. For the other charts I've found over the internet, they vary between a year to ten years old, and so don't always match the current navdata.
Solution? Navigraph also sells a subscription service that provides global en-route charts and also aerodrome charts for major airports (see coverage here: https://www.navigraph.com/ChartsCoverage.aspx). The charts are sourced from the LIDO navigation charts from Lufthansa Systems.
The charts are available via a number of means:
- Charts Cloud -- is a web based interface, where charts are downloaded from the cloud on demand. It works fine on chrome on my desktop pc and also on my tablet (it's quite sluggish in the tablet however). The application is about as flexible as a web application can get, allowing easy recall of any airport's approach charts by ICAO ID. En-route and approach charts to be zoomed and panned easily. There's no local caching so each page needs to be downloaded every time they are viewed -- which takes a few seconds. I found it useful to open up multiple tabs in chrome so that i could have the departure, en-route and arrival charts readily available.
- Charts Desktop -- this is a Windows application (I ran it under a VM on my Ubuntu PC), providing similar access to Charts Cloud, however allows local caching of charts, making their recall instantaneous. Charts Desktop also has the ability to print out charts, and for large en-route charts, can also tile them, so that you can combine multiple sheets of paper to make a larger chart. For printing aerodrome charts, you can print all the sheets but one in one go -- I believe this was put in just to make life harder to make an offline set of data. I found a workaround was to print the charts to PDF in two halves, and then use a pdf editor to combine it back into a single PDF. With this you can build a library of offline aerodrome charts -- which while still being useful once your subscription expires, will eventually become obsolete. The printed charts are watermarked with your Navigraph ID.
- Charts iPad - This is a version of the Navigraph charts written as a native iPad app. I tested it on an iPad 3. Charts are downloaded from the cloud into the iPad's local storage and viewed locally (you still need to be online when launching the Charts app to verify your subscription). it also supports a tabbed interfaces so that you can keep multiple charts open. Finally there are a set of "marker pens" that you can use to annotate your charts with. Of all the versions I tested, this was the snappiest and smoothest. If you have an iPad, this is probably the best way to access the charts.
You can find the subscription packages offered by Navigraph here: https://www.navigraph.com/Subscription.aspx. If you just want to check this stuff out or do a one time update, I suggest subscribing to Navigraph Ultimate Monthly, which gives you access to both FMS Data and Charts for a single cycle. During this time, you can make PDF copies of whichever airports and areas you frequently fly to. If you can't be bothered with all the effort it takes to build PDF copies, and have the budget for it, then go for Navigraph Ultimate Yearly.
- Aerosoft also produce a package selling NavData, see "Aerosoft NavData Pro". I don't think Aerosoft sells a similar charts package.
- The "basic" navdata in X-Plane doesn't include SIDs and STARs. If you want to explore this using the Garmin GNS-430 or FMS, you will definitely need to get at least one cycle of FMS Data installed.
- Once your subscription is over, you will no longer be able to download updates for FMS Data, however the cycle you last installed will still work. Charts need an active subscription to be accessed.
- A subscription to Charts also provides you access to Navigraph's Tutorial Videos. These guide you through how to perform approaches and departures using the Charts on most popular Flight Sims.