Customizing Flight Plans – What Your Flight Department Needs to Know

> | October 24, 2012 | 2 Comments
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Customizing Flight Plans – What Your Flight Department Needs to Know

For business aviation flight departments – particularly those with large groups of pilots with various skills, techniques and knowledge – standard or generic flight plan formats help maximize consistency and safety. There are many options for customizing flight plans to meet an operation’s requirements in a way that can prove to be effective in keeping everyone aware of the company’s standards.

1. Should a flight plan be customized?

Flight plans can be customized depending on operator preference in considering operational specifications and what a civil aviation authority might require to be on a flight plan log. While many operators use “standard” or “canned” flight plan formats, some take advantage of customized flight plans based on a combination of pilot input, a flight department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs), technical specifications and compliance with a government aviation authority.

2. What are some advantages of customizing flight plans?

A customized flight plan format can provide for cohesion within a flight department, because the format can act as a reminder to what the requirements are to a specific operation. Fields can be added to ensure pilots check the necessary functions specific to an operation’s requirements or what pilots feel are necessary items that are important to remember in relation to the flight planning or the actual flying aspect of the mission.

3. What options do operators have regarding customization?

There are many options in terms of customizing and fine-tuning your flight plan format, with a large variety of items that can be included. Some want different information for each waypoint, some want to see fuel flows either total or per engine, some want latitude and longitude next to waypoints, and others want waypoints listed at the bottom of the flight plan. Some want the VHF omnidirectional radio ranges (VORs) and non-directional beacons (NDBs) identified by name, as well as the identifier of the navaid identified in order to avoid having to cross-reference and to better understand the controller’s instructions. Some want check fields – such as special flap settings, reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) tables and fields for entering flight times and fuel – included that are consistent with company policy and operational aspects. Some want the required fuel calculated to be specific to the regulation they fly under or to a special policy agreement with their local authority. For oceanic operations, there are latitude and longitude waypoints for direct routes that some prefer in ARINC 424 formatting to help load the appropriate waypoints into a flight management system (FMS).

4. What are the cons of customized flight plans?

To a degree, a customized flight plan format can increase consistency within a flight department, as everyone is looking at the same flight plan log, which can help reinforce the flight planning mission of that organization. There are problems associated with customizing a format, in that an agreement cannot be made within a department on what should be included on a format, so there is an attempt to add everything to please everyone. This creates a very busy format with too much information and can actually cause confusion rather than be a helpful flight planning document. Carefully consider all flight plan format options and work with your 3rd-party provider in developing what design is best for your operation. Also, some 3rd-party providers charge for such a customization, so it’s best to confirm if there are any costs associated with it.

5. Are there any documents that may restrict information on a flight plan?

Restrictions related to company operations specifications may limit where you fly and impact your flight plan format such as oceanic flying – ETOPS and reclear flight planning. Range and routing are dependent on ETOPS and reclear flight planning, so work carefully with your 3rd-party provider in getting these requirements right on the format for proper calculations. Onboard equipment can also impact your flight plan. It’s important to provide correct equipment codes. Operators will be held accountable if ramp-checked, or audited, and it’s determined that the equipment does not match what is filed and on the flight plan log.

6. Will ICAO 2012 affect flight planning options and requirements?

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 2012 provides much more detailed information about an aircraft. The air traffic controller knows more about your onboard equipment for performance-based navigation (PBN) and surveillance, which will help you fly more efficiently, resulting in savings of time and jetfuel. All of these codes will be on your flight plan in the flight plan filing (FPL) section (many providers identify this section as the “Coded ICAO Flight Plan”). This is what is transmitted to the air traffic control system when filing the flight plan, so make sure it’s correct.

7. How do operators begin the process of customizing flight plans?

Work with your 3rd-party provider, ask for sample flight plan formats and consider best options. Work with your colleagues and get a consensus on what you want and how it will work with the regions you most frequently fly in. Think about the regulatory rules you are under and how those should be reflected in the flight plan format.

8. What happens if more than one provider is used for flight-planning needs?

If you are currently using two different providers (for example, one for international and one for domestic), consider having one of the providers modify your flight plan format to emulate the other so that the layout and flight plan data fields are consistent. Keep in mind that providers often use different flight-planning engines, so duplicating all calculations and parameters may not be possible.

Conclusion

Customizing flight plan formats is something of an art form in that you have many options available for tweaking and maximizing effectiveness for your particular requirements. A carefully customized flight plan will give your flight department both operational and safety benefits and assist you in running an efficient operation. Take the time to incorporate pilot and aircraft scheduler/dispatcher input and feedback in developing a customized flight plan format and work carefully with your 3rd-party provider to obtain the desired results. The customized format will be of great value and assistance to the unique requirements of your organization and, over the long run, should benefit your operation’s flight-planning missions.

Questions?

If you have any questions about this article, contact me at markmiller@univ-wea.com.

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About

A former Air Traffic Controller with more than 35 years’ experience in aviation, Universal Supervisor of Technical Planning Mark Miller has facilitated thousands of flight plans since joining Universal in 1990. Prior to joining, he served as air traffic control facility chief and battalion training manager for Korea Aviation Development and Research Command. Mark, who is fluent in Korean, is a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Collaborative Decision Making group, the International Civil Aviation Organization 2012 Flight Plan Filers group, as well as the New York and New Jersey Port Authority / Tracon group. Recognized within the industry for his expertise, he has shared his knowledge of aviation and flight planning with several industry trade publications. Mark can be reached at markmiller@univ-wea.com.

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