Flight planning is the act of describing a flight to let controllers know you will be flying from an airport to another via a certain route and to calculate the fuel needed for your trip.
Prerequisites: getting charts and checking the weather and NOTAMs
- The first thing you will need to do is to get aeronautical charts for the departure and arrival airports.
- You should then check the weather at your departure and destination airports: this is done by retrieving the latest METAR for the airports. The METAR is a text string summarizing weather conditions of particular interest to pilots (like winds, visibility, cloud layers). Discussing in detail the structure of a METAR is beyond the scope of this page; you can refer to the VATEUD training pages, or just use a METAR decoder.
- Then, check the NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) for the origin and destination airports to get an updated list of potential hazards/procedural changes. Pay particular attention to closed runways/taxiways.
Choosing a route
Aircrafts never fly straight (or "directly") from an airport to another, but follow predetermined flight paths known as airways. (It's just like driving a car - you drive along existing known routes to get to your destination.) Airways intersect at waypoints, and each of them is identified by a five letter code; thus, to determine your route, you just need to know the list of waypoints you will fly over.
- Choose a route to fly. To plan your route, we suggest to use a dedicated site such as SimRoutes or RocketRoute.
- Choose a cruise altitude, keeping in mind the following semicircular level rule:
- if the angle between the North and the line connecting the origin with the destination airport, measured clockwise, is between 0 and 179 degrees, you must fly at an odd thousand feet altitude (or "odd flight level");
- otherwise, you must fly at an even thousand feet altitude (or "even flight level").
- Some regions adopt different policies; for example, Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal use odd flight levels for southbound flights, and vice versa.
- Look for airports along the route you chose. In case any problems arise with your aircraft during your flight or the weather conditions worsen, knowing where the nearest fields are and diverting there could avoid a crash. Normally, pilots design one or two airports as "alternates" (preferred aerodromes should they be unable to land at their destination).
- Calculate the amount of fuel required for the trip - that will vary according to:
- the aircraft type;
- the cruise altitude;
- the load (more load requires more fuel);
- the current winds (flying into the wind requires more fuel);
- the congestion at the departure and arrival airports (more traffic means more taxi time and more time spent in a hold before landing, that is, more fuel consumption).
- The best way to perform this calculation is to use a fuel planner or to use a flight planning site as described above; an alternative is to fly the route a couple of times, noting the fuel usage. Always keep in mind this rule: when in doubt, take more!
Filing a flight plan
Lenny's website is the tool currently used by:
- FlightGear ATCs to announce the times and dates they are going to offer ATC service;
- pilots to file (communicate to controllers) their flightplans.
Go to the site and check if a controller is manning your departure or arrival airport. If that's the case, file your flight plan (tell it to the controllers so that they'll be aware of your route and won't have to ask you about it). To do that:
- click on the aerodrome ICAO code to check the remarks left by each controller and take note of them. They will often state which voice communication method is used (FGCom, Mumble or others);
- at the top of the page, in the My callsign box, put the callsign you will be using when flying;
- fill in the departure and arrival airports/dates and times;
- if you want to give additional information, which is recommended, click on Additional info and fill in the fields that will appear; we suggest you enter at least your cruise altitude and route/waypoints. Use the Comments box to write any information that the ATC might find useful (e.g. if you are able to communicate on FGCom/Mumble or not);
- when you're satisfied, click on File this flightplan.