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Starting with aeronautical charts printed after May 31, new FAA charts are supposed to be brighter, tougher, tear-proof, and water-resistant. With the arrival of new Los Angeles VFR terminal area and sectional charts (91st edition, effective 28 June 2012), I wanted to test these claims. Indeed, my sectional charts are often tattered after six months’ worth of drawing flight paths and creasing the charts en route.

It is true; when compared side-by-side with the previous editions, the paper on the new version is a brighter white and a heavier stock. The hues appear quite similar, although my eye detects that a slightly richer purple now being used on Class C borders, the Mode C veil around LAX, non-towered airports, and text. This color change makes these important symbols appear crisper and more obvious in the crowded map.

Although the new chart has a lot of life left in it, I had to verify the rip and water advertisements. To test its ability to resist tearing, I applied heavy force to a discrete edge. The old chart shred wide open, but the new one stayed intact with only slight pleats. Amazingly, I could not tear the new chart by either twisting it or pulling it apart between my fingers. This is a nice change and should eliminate the holes that commonly occur at the folds and those accidental rips caused by pulling out the chart from the bottom of a stuffed flight bag.

For the water test, I held a corner of each chart under a stream in the sink for 10 seconds so I could simulate a drink spill aloft…or maybe attempting to plan a route on the airplane tail in the rain. While the water did not bead up or run off, it certainly did not soak through (as much) and dried quicker without wrinkling. However, I am not a coffee drinker, so I can’t answer to its stain resistance qualities.

One unfortunate consequence of these new materials is the feeling that the charts need to be slapped with a California Proposition 65 warning for known carcinogens. I can smell the chart plastics across the room and think they might be giving me a headache. It is mildly disconcerting that I will be trapped in a cockpit with these things. They will need to live unfolded in the garage for now, which I hope will air out the chemicals.

Check back again when the charts expire in December to find out how they held up, although I’m sure they will be in pristine condition. The question is whether that is because of the new manufacturing processes or because I abandoned them for their scentless digital counterparts.