Flight plan

Flight plan

Overview
Flight plans are documents filed by pilots
Aviator
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 or a Flight Dispatcher with the local Civil Aviation Authority
Civil Aviation Authority
This is a list of national and supra-national civil aviation authorities.-See also:* Air route authority between the United States and the People's Republic of China* National Transportation Safety Board -External links:****...

 (e.g. FAA
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S...

 in the USA) prior to departure. They generally include basic information such as departure and arrival points, estimated time en route, alternate airport
Airport
An airport is a location where aircraft such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and blimps take off and land. Aircraft may be stored or maintained at an airport...

s in case of bad weather, type of flight (whether instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules ....

 or visual flight rules
Visual flight rules
Visual flight rules are a set of regulations which allow a pilot to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minimums, as specified in the rules of the...

), the pilot's information, number of people on board and information about the aircraft itself.
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Encyclopedia
Flight plans are documents filed by pilots
Aviator
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 or a Flight Dispatcher with the local Civil Aviation Authority
Civil Aviation Authority
This is a list of national and supra-national civil aviation authorities.-See also:* Air route authority between the United States and the People's Republic of China* National Transportation Safety Board -External links:****...

 (e.g. FAA
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S...

 in the USA) prior to departure. They generally include basic information such as departure and arrival points, estimated time en route, alternate airport
Airport
An airport is a location where aircraft such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and blimps take off and land. Aircraft may be stored or maintained at an airport...

s in case of bad weather, type of flight (whether instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules ....

 or visual flight rules
Visual flight rules
Visual flight rules are a set of regulations which allow a pilot to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minimums, as specified in the rules of the...

), the pilot's information, number of people on board and information about the aircraft itself. In most countries, flight plans are required for flights under IFR
Instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules ....

, but may be optional for flying VFR
Visual flight rules
Visual flight rules are a set of regulations which allow a pilot to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minimums, as specified in the rules of the...

 unless crossing international borders. Flight plans are highly recommended, especially when flying over inhospitable areas, such as water, as they provide a way of alerting rescuers if the flight is overdue. In Canada, when an aircraft is crossing the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone
Air Defense Identification Zone
An Air Defense Identification Zone has existed since February 10, 2003, around the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area to restrict air traffic near Washington, D.C....

 (CADIZ), either an IFR or a special type of VFR flight plan called a DVFR flight plan must be filed (the "D" is for Defense).

For IFR flights, flight plans are used by air traffic control to initiate tracking and routing services. For VFR flights, their only purpose is to provide needed information should search and rescue operations be required, or for use by air traffic control when flying in a "Special Flight Rules Area".

Routing Types


Aircraft routing types used in flight planning are: Airway, Navaid and Direct. A route may be composed of segments of different routing types. For example, a route from Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 to Rome may include Airway routing over the U.S. and Europe, but Direct routing over the Atlantic Ocean.

Airway


Airway routing occurs along pre-defined pathways called Airways
Airway (aviation)
In aviation, an airway is a designated route in the air. Airways are laid out between navigational aids such as VORs, NDBs and Intersections ....

. Airways can be thought of as three-dimensional highways for aircraft. In most land areas of the world, aircraft are required to fly airways between the departure and destination airports. The rules governing airway routing cover altitude, airspeed, and requirements for entering and leaving the airway (see SIDs and STARs). Most airways are eight nautical miles (14 kilometers) wide, and the airway flight levels keep aircraft separated by at least 500 vertical feet from aircraft on the flight level above and below. Airways usually intersect at Navaids, which designate the allowed points for changing from one airway to another. Airways have names consisting of one or more letters followed by one or more digits (e.g., V484 or UA419).

The airway structure is divided into high and low altitudes. The low altitude airways in the U.S. which can be navigated using VOR
VHF omnidirectional range
VOR, short for VHF omnidirectional radio range, is a type of radio navigation system for aircraft. A VOR ground station broadcasts a VHF radio composite signal including the station's identifier, voice , and navigation signal. The identifier is typically a two- or three-letter string in Morse code...

 Navaids have names that start with the letter V, and are therefore called Victor Airways. They cover altitudes from approximately 1200 feet above ground level (AGL) to 18000 feet (5,486 m) above mean sea level (MSL). The high altitude airways in the U.S. all have names that start with the letter J, and are called Jet Routes. These run from 18000 feet (5,486 m) to 35000 feet (10,668 m). The altitude separating the low and high airway structures varies from country to country. For example, it is 19500 feet (5,944 m) in Switzerland, and 25500 feet (7,772 m) in Egypt.

Navaid


Navaid routing occurs between Navaids (short for Navigational Aids, see VOR
VHF omnidirectional range
VOR, short for VHF omnidirectional radio range, is a type of radio navigation system for aircraft. A VOR ground station broadcasts a VHF radio composite signal including the station's identifier, voice , and navigation signal. The identifier is typically a two- or three-letter string in Morse code...

) which are not always connected by airways. Navaid routing is typically only allowed in the continental U.S. If a flight plan specifies Navaid routing between two Navaids which are connected via an airway, the rules for that particular airway must be followed as if the aircraft was flying Airway routing between those two Navaids. Allowable altitudes are covered in Flight Levels.

Direct


Direct routing occurs when one or both of the route segment endpoints are at a latitude/longitude which is not located at a Navaid. Some flight planning organizations specify that checkpoints generated for a Direct route be a limited distance apart, or limited by time to fly between the checkpoints (i.e. direct checkpoints could be farther apart for a fast aircraft than for a slow one).

SIDs and STARs


SIDs and STARs are procedures and checkpoints used to enter and leave the airway system by aircraft operating on IFR flight plans. There is a defined transition point at which an airway and a SID or STAR intersect.

A SID, or Standard Instrument Departure
Standard Instrument Departure
Standard instrument departure routes, also known as departure procedures are published flight procedures followed by aircraft on an IFR flight plan immediately after take-off from an airport.- Introduction :...

, defines a pathway out of an airport and onto the airway structure. A SID is sometimes called a Departure Procedure (DP). SIDs are unique to the associated airport.

A STAR, or Standard Terminal Arrival Route
Standard Terminal Arrival Route
In aviation, a standard terminal arrival route or standard terminal arrival is a published procedure followed by aircraft on an IFR flight plan just before reaching a destination airport.-Description:...

, ('Standard Instrument Arrival' in the UK) defines a pathway into an airport from the airway structure. STARs can be associated with more than one arrival airport, which can occur when two or more airports are in close proximity (e.g., San Francisco and San Jose).

Special use airspace


In general, flight planner
Flight planner
A flight planner usually works for an airline or airport and is also known as a flight dispatcher. They must carefully plan all flight paths for a number of flights, taking into account wind speed, storms, aircraft performance and loading, and other conditions. Some dispatchers provide a flight...

s are expected to avoid areas called Special Use Airspace
Special use airspace
Special use airspace , is an area designated for operations of a nature such that limitations may be imposed on aircraft not participating in those operations. Often these operations are of a military nature...

 (SUA) when planning a flight. In the United States, there are several types of SUA, including Restricted
Restricted airspace
Restricted airspace is an area of airspace in which the local controlling authorities have determined that air traffic must be restricted for safety or security concerns...

, Warning, Prohibited, Alert, and Military Operations Area
Military Operations Area
A military operations area is "airspace established outside Class A airspace to separate or segregate certain nonhazardous military activities from IFR Traffic and to identify for VFR traffic where these activities are conducted." Similar structures exist under international flight standards. ...

 (MOA). Examples of Special Use Airspace include a region around the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, and the country of Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. Government and military aircraft may have different requirements for particular SUA areas, or may be able to acquire special clearances to traverse through these areas.

Flight levels


Flight level
Flight level
A Flight Level is a standard nominal altitude of an aircraft, in hundreds of feet. This altitude is calculated from the International standard pressure datum of 1013.25 hPa , the average sea-level pressure, and therefore is not necessarily the same as the aircraft's true altitude either...

s (FL) are used by air traffic controllers to simplify the vertical separation of aircraft and one exists every 1000 feet relative to an agreed pressure level. Above a transitional altitude, which varies from country to country, the worldwide arbitrary pressure datum of 1013.25 millibar or the equivalent setting of 29.92 inches of mercury is entered into the altimeter
Altimeter
An altimeter is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level. The measurement of altitude is called altimetry, which is related to the term bathymetry, the measurement of depth underwater.-Pressure altimeter:...

 and altitude is then referred to as a flight level. The altimeter reading is converted to a flight level by removing the trailing two zeros: for example, 29000 feet becomes FL290. When the pressure at sea level is by chance the international standard then the flight level is also the altitude. To avoid confusion, below the transition altitude, height is referred to as a numeric altitude, for example 'climb flight level 250' or 'descend 5000 feet'.

Airways have a set of associated standardized flight levels (sometimes called the "flight model") which must be used when on the airway. On a bi-directional airway, each direction has its own set of flight levels. A valid flight plan must include a legal flight level at which the aircraft will travel the airway. A change in airway may require a change in flight level.

In the USA and Canada, for eastbound (heading 0–179 degrees) IFR flights, the flight plan must list an "odd" flight level in 2000 foot increments starting at FL190 (i.e., FL190, FL210, FL230, etc.); Westbound (heading 180–359 degrees) IFR flights must list an "even" flight level in 2000 foot increments starting at FL180 (i.e., FL180, FL200, FL220, etc.). However, Air Traffic Control (ATC) may assign any flight level at any time if traffic situations merit a change in altitude.

Aircraft efficiency increases with height. Burning fuel decreases the weight of an aircraft which may then choose to increase its flight level to further improve fuel consumption. For example an aircraft may be able to reach FL290 early in a flight, but step climb
Step climb
A step climb in aviation is a series of altitude gains that improve fuel economy by moving into thinner air as an aircraft becomes lighter and becomes capable of faster, more economical flight.-Description:...

 to FL370 later in the route after weight has decreased due to fuel burn off.
  • RVSM

Alternate airports


Part of flight planning often involves the identification of one or more airports which can be flown to in case of unexpected conditions (such as weather) at the destination airport. The planning process must be careful to include only alternate airports which can be reached with the anticipated fuel load and total aircraft weight and that have capabilities necessary to handle the type of aircraft being flown.

In Canada, unlike the United States, unless specifically exempted by a company Operating Certificate
Air Operator's Certificate
An air operator's certificate is the approval granted from a national aviation authority to an aircraft operator to allow it to use aircraft for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets and system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public...

, IFR flight plans require an alternate airport, regardless of the forecast destination weather. In order to be considered as a legally valid alternate, the airport must be forecast to be at or above certain weather minima at the estimated time of arrival (at the alternate). The minimum weather conditions vary based on the type of approach(es) available at the alternate airport, and may be found in the General section of the Canada Air Pilot (CAP).

Fuel


Aircraft manufacturers are responsible for generating flight performance data which flight planners use to estimate fuel needs for a particular flight. The fuel burn rate is based on specific throttle settings for climbing and cruising. The planner uses the projected weather and aircraft weight as inputs to the flight performance data to estimate the necessary fuel to reach the destination. The fuel burn is usually given as the weight of the fuel (usually pounds or kilograms) instead of the volume (such as gallons or litres) because aircraft weight is critical.

In addition to standard fuel needs, some organizations require that a flight plan include reserve fuel if certain conditions are met. For example, an over-water flight of longer than a specific duration may require the flight plan to include reserve fuel. The reserve fuel may be planned as extra which is left over on the aircraft at the destination, or it may be assumed to be burned during flight (perhaps due to unaccounted for differences between the actual aircraft and the flight performance data).

In case of an in-flight emergency it may be necessary to determine whether it is quicker to divert to the alternate airfield or continue to the destination. This can be calculated according to the formula (known as the Vir Narain formula) as follows:
where C is the distance from the Critical Point (equitime point) to the destination, D the distance between the destination and the alternate airfield, O is the groundspeed, A is the airspeed, θ = Φ +/- d (where Φ is the angle between the track to the destination and the track from the destination to the alternate airfield), and d is the drift (plus when the drift and the alternate airfield are on the opposite sides of the track, and minus when they are on the same side).

Flight plan timeline


Flight plans may be submitted before departure or even after the aircraft is in the air. However flight plans may be submitted up to 24 hours in advance either by voice or by data link; though they are usually filled out or submitted just several hours before departure. The minimum recommended time is 1 hour before departure for domestic flights, and up to three hours before international flights. This time depends on the country the aircraft is flying out of.

Other Flight Planning Considerations


Holding over the destination or alternate airports is a required part of some flight plans. Holding (circling in a pattern designated by the airport control tower) may be necessary if unexpected weather or congestion occurs at the airport. If the flight plan calls for hold planning, the additional fuel and hold time should appear on the flight plan.

Organized Tracks are a series of paths similar to airways which cross ocean areas. Some organized track systems are fixed and appear on navigational charts (e.g., the NOPAC tracks over the Northern Pacific Ocean). Others change on a daily basis depending on weather and other factors and therefore cannot appear on printed charts (e.g., the North Atlantic Tracks
North Atlantic Tracks
North Atlantic Tracks are trans-Atlantic routes that stretch from the northeast of North America to western Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. They ensure aircraft are separated over the ocean, where there is little radar coverage...

 (NAT) over the Atlantic Ocean).

Description of flight plan blocks


  1. Type: Type of flight plan. Flights may be VFR
    Visual flight rules
    Visual flight rules are a set of regulations which allow a pilot to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minimums, as specified in the rules of the...

    , IFR
    Instrument flight rules
    Instrument flight rules are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules ....

    , DVFR
    DVFR
    In the United States, DVFR is an aviation acronym for Defense Visual Flight Rules. It refers to one type of flight plan that must be filed for operation within an Air Defense Identification Zone ....

    , or a combination of types, termed composite.
  2. Aircraft Identification: The registration of the aircraft, usually the flight or tail number.
  3. Aircraft Type/Special Equipment: The type of aircraft and how it's equipped. For example, a Mitsubishi Mu-2 equipped with an altitude reporting transponder
    Transponder
    In telecommunication, the term transponder has the following meanings:...

     and GPS
    Global Positioning System
    The Global Positioning System is a space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites...

     would use MU2/G. Equipment codes
    Equipment codes
    An equipment code describes the communication , navigation , approach aids and surveillance transponder equipment on board an aircraft...

     may be found in the FAA Airman's Information Manual.
  4. True airspeed in knots: The planned cruise true airspeed of the aircraft in knots.
  5. Departure Point: Usually the identifier of the airport from which the aircraft is departing.
  6. Departure Time: Proposed and actual times of departure. Times are Universal Time Coordinated.
  7. Cruising Altitude: The planned cruising altitude or flight level.
  8. Route: Proposed route of flight. The route can be made up of airways, intersections, navaids, or possibly direct.
  9. Destination: Point of intended landing. Typically the identifier of the destination airport.
  10. Estimated Time Enroute: Planned elapsed time between departure and arrival at the destination.
  11. Remarks: Any information the PIC believes is necessary to be provided to ATC. One common remark is "SSNO", which means the PIC is unable or unwilling to accept a SID
    Standard Instrument Departure
    Standard instrument departure routes, also known as departure procedures are published flight procedures followed by aircraft on an IFR flight plan immediately after take-off from an airport.- Introduction :...

     or STAR
    Standard Terminal Arrival Route
    In aviation, a standard terminal arrival route or standard terminal arrival is a published procedure followed by aircraft on an IFR flight plan just before reaching a destination airport.-Description:...

     on an IFR flight.
  12. Fuel on Board: The amount of fuel on board the aircraft, in hours and minutes of flight time.
  13. Alternate Airports: Airports of intended landing as an alternate of the destination airport. May be required for an IFR flight plan if poor weather is forecast at the planned destination.
  14. Pilot's Information: Contact information of the pilot for search and rescue purposes.
  15. Number Onboard: Total number of people on board the aircraft.
  16. Color of Aircraft: The color helps identify the aircraft to search and rescue personnel.
  17. Contact Information at Destination: Having a means of contacting the pilot is useful for tracking down an aircraft that has failed to close its flight plan and is possibly overdue or in distress.

Some terms and acronyms used in flight planning


Above Ground Level
Above ground level
In aviation and atmospheric sciences, an altitude is said to be above ground level when it is measured with respect to the underlying ground surface. This is as opposed to above mean sea level , or in broadcast engineering, height above average terrain...

 (AGL) : A measurement of altitude above a specific land mass (also see MSL).

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) : The ICAO is the specialized agency of the United Nations with a mandate "to ensure the safe, efficient and orderly evolution of international civil aviation." The standards which become accepted by the ICAO member nations "cover all technical and operational aspects of international civil aviation, such as safety, personnel licensing, operation of aircraft, aerodromes, air traffic services, accident investigation and the environment." A simple example of ICAO responsibilities is the unique worldwide names used to identify Navaids, Airways, airports and countries.

Knot (Kt) : A unit of speed used in navigation equal to one nautical mile per hour.

Mean Sea Level (MSL) : The average height of the surface of the sea for all stages of tide; used as a reference for elevations (also see AGL).

Nautical mile (NM) : A unit of distance used in aviation equal to approximately one minute of arc of latitude. It is defined to be 1852 metres exactly, or approximately 1.15 statute mile.

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