Is there a difference between MEA and MOCA within 22 nm of a VOR?

Steve V.
  • Is there a difference between MEA and MOCA within 22 nm of a VOR? Steve V.

    As we all know from our instrument training, the MOCA is:

    MINIMUM OBSTRUCTION CLEARANCE ALTITUDE (MOCA)- The lowest published altitude in effect between radio fixes on VOR airways, off-airway routes, or route segments which meets obstacle clearance requirements for the entire route segment and which assures acceptable navigational signal coverage only within 25 statute (22 nautical) miles of a VOR.

    Whereas the MEA is:

    MINIMUM EN ROUTE IFR ALTITUDE (MEA)- The lowest published altitude between radio fixes which assures acceptable navigational signal coverage and meets obstacle clearance requirements between those fixes. The MEA prescribed for a Federal airway or segment thereof, area navigation low or high route, or other direct route applies to the entire width of the airway, segment, or route between the radio fixes defining the airway, segment, or route.

    (Both quotes taken straight from the Pilot/Controller Glossary)

    The only difference in language is the bit about 22 miles from a VOR.

    Therefore, when you're within those 22 miles, there's no practical difference between a MEA and a MOCA, right?

    MEA/MOCA difference on V84 within 22 NM of PMM

    If that's true, why is there an 1800 foot difference between the MEA and the MOCA within 22 miles of the PMM VOR on V84?

  • You are right. Within 22 nautical miles of the VOR, there is no practical difference between an MEA and a MOCA.

    However, it should be noted that the 22 nmi is only a limitation if navigating via VOR's.

    14 CFR - CHAPTER I § 91.177 Minimum altitudes for IFR operations

    (a) Operation of aircraft at minimum altitudes. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, or unless otherwise authorized by the FAA, no person may operate an aircraft under IFR below—

    (1) The applicable minimum altitudes prescribed in parts 95 and 97 of this chapter. However, if both a MEA and a MOCA are prescribed for a particular route or route segment, a person may operate an aircraft below the MEA down to, but not below, the MOCA, provided the applicable navigation signals are available. For aircraft using VOR for navigation, this applies only when the aircraft is within 22 nautical miles of that VOR (based on the reasonable estimate by the pilot operating the aircraft of that distance)

    The MOCA provides "obstacle clearance requirements for the entire route segment," so if the applicable navigation signal is GPS, and you're receiving it, then you've met the requirements. This is why sometimes you see a MOCA on segments which aren't within 22 nmi of any VOR.

    One other practical difference to keep in mind is that, especially in mountainous areas, you're much more likely to get radar coverage, and have better communcations clarity, at the MEA than the MOCA (I saw this a lot in Idaho). In those cases, ATC is probably going to prefer the MEA.

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