International Flight Planning 101: 5 Things to Know before You Start
This aviation blog post is part of a series on international flight planning for business jet operators.
For business aviation operators flying internationally, airway and route planning is always a key consideration. The reasoning for this consideration is a range of airway restrictions worldwide: one-way airways, timed airways, domestic only or airline-only airways, as well as routings tied to permits. As a result, without adequate planning, the potential for problems may be high. We consider it best practice to coordinate flight planning with a 3rd-party provider and check NOTAMs on a daily basis for closures or airway restrictions.
1. What’s the first thing a captain or aircraft dispatcher should do when planning a flight?
Make sure you have the latest charts, your Flight Management System (FMS) is updated, and check for any new airways or airway alignments. A new Aeronautical Information Regulation and Control (AIRAC) is issued every 28 days and contains updates and changes to such items as airways, intersections, procedures, and SIDS and STARS. Eurocontrol publishes a route availability document outlining airway updates and changes in the European region. Eurocontrol’s CFMU website provides daily updates of weather and volcanic activity for their region, as well as airspace adjacent to Eurocontrol, like parts of the Middle East. Some airway changes are minor, but major airway realignments occur from time to time. Work with your 3rd-partyprovider in checking and monitoring airway NOTAMS. In certain parts of the world, we consider it best practice to monitor NOTAMS on a daily basis. Brazil, for example, is constantly publishing preferred routings throughout the country, and from Brazil to Europe or the U.S. When flying to Russia, monitor Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTTC) NOTAMS as airway and altitude availability can change on a weekly or monthly basis.
2. What are specific considerations with respect to airway planning?
When operating to international locations, it’s best to take a conservative approach and always plan to fly via airways (not using directs, also known as DCT’s). Once in flight, you may be given direct routings in Europe and elsewhere, but this is not something you can plan on. Be aware of airway restrictions that exist throughout the world. For instance, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia have airways that are only available for domestic flights. China has airways that may only be utilized by commercial airlines, while Japan offers examples of timed, one-way airways. When flying from the U.S. East Coast to the Caribbean, some airways are restricted to RNP10 and RNP4 operations.
3. Are there equipment or process requirements to consider when flight planning?
You’ll need 8.33 KHz channel spacing in Europe as well as enhanced mode S for some countries. A list of countries requiring enhanced mode S is available on Eurocontrol’s website. While enhanced mode-S waivers are available, you’ll need a waiver for each country overflown, and this can be time consuming. Within the European Union (E.U.), TCAS II version 7 is required. It’s always best to be RVSM, MNPS, RNP5, and RNP10 qualified, as operations and operational flexibility may be limited otherwise. Only in the U.S. and parts of the Pacific will you be permitted to operate above RVSM airspace without RVSM equipment. Be aware that air traffic control (ATC) will rarely allow transition through RVSM airspace in a non-radar environment. For instance, you’ll run into this problem when operating from non-radar environments in the Aleutian Islands to join airways overhead. Additionally, maritime communication equipment should be onboard for oceanic operations.
4. Are there specific ATC considerations to keep in mind?
Certain regions require flight plans to be filed hours in advance. When filing out of North America to Russia, a TKF message (airway slot reservation) is required prior to filing your flight plan. Check local NOTAMS to confirm when this reservation request is required. TKF messages have become more of an issue in recent years due to increased traffic between Asia and North America.
It’s also important to know with whom you need to file your flight plans. For instance, when operating from the E.U. to the Middle East, even if not operating to Egypt, you’ll need to submit flight plans to Cairo Switch Station via SITA. When operating from Egypt, they’ll want you to file with the local airport authority and not Eurocontrol. If Egyptian airport authorities find out you’ve filed with Eurocontrol, they’ll cancel your flight plan. Per the instructions given in the Egypt Aeronautical Information Publication, an operator may not file a flight plan with an outside agency. In Brazil, you must file flight plans with each airport via Aeronautical Information Services (AIS).
There are many restrictions, depending on the country, in terms of the manner in which you file flight plans, so it’s best to have your 3rd-party provider assist with this to avoid long delays. We recommend any changes to your flight plan be made in the form of revisions, rather than cancelling and re-filing. Otherwise, the long flight plan filing process starts again. In April of this year, all ICAO members went to ICAO 2012, and this will standardize flight plans worldwide. The objective is to make it easier for each ATC to recognize onboard equipment and the approaches an aircraft is capable of making. Testing for ICAO 2012 started in April, and by November of this year it should go ‘live’ for all ICAO members.
5. Are online flight planning services recommended?
For international trips, it’s recommended that a professional aircraft dispatcher with international experience create the route using an online flight planning system, or have your 3rd-party provider build the route for you. Online flight planning systems are continually evolving, but still require human intervention to ensure the information is processed properly. Each point needs to be checked, from beginning to end, to confirm the route is ‘flyable.’ A generic computer flight plan, for example, may attempt to route you through North Korean airspace – or other restricted areas – to save 45 minutes on a flight plan from Eastern China to the U.S. West Coast. Therefore, as best practice, we recommend that such generic routes run online should be avoided for use on the trip.
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Later, we’ll discuss random routes and route restrictions.