Flight Plans: Don't Leave Home Without One
In this brief article, we'll review the essentials about VFR and IFR flight plans and bring you up to date about recent changes in IFR flight planning procedures.
VFR Flight Plans
Have you ever wondered who would search for you if weather or mechanical problems forced you to land off-site? What would you do if you were injured and needed medical attention? The FAA provides a free insurance blanket when you file a VFR flight plan. Filing a flight plan won't necessarily prevent an accident, but it can save your life if an accident happens. Believe it or not, you'll still encounter impatient pilots who fail to file a VFR flight plan because it's easier to take off to their destination without taking the time or energy to file a plan with their Flight Service Station (FSS).
Let's review the three steps in the flight-planning process: filing, activating and closing.
You can file a VFR flight plan several ways: by telephone with the nearest FSS; in person if your airport has a flight service station; with the dispatcher at your flight school or FBO; by radio with the nearest FSS after you depart; or by using one Jeppesen’s flight planning offerings. Jeppesen’s FliteStar (PC-based) or Jeppesen’s recently launched MyFlitePlan Online (web-based) both provide the ability to file electronically. For existing charting customers (paper or electronic), access to MyFlitePlan online is free and provides a wide range of flight planning and weather capabilities as well as the ability to upload flight plans to our mobile application (Jeppesen MobileFD). MyFlitePlan.com just launched this week and is the most recent offering implemented by Jeppesen to serve the General Aviation market and provide increased value to our existing customers. Jeppesen offers a free 30-day trial of MyFlitePlan online if you are not already a customer.
After you have filed your flight plan, remember that you have a limited amount of time before you must activate it. The FSS will hold plans for one hour. Personnel at Automated Flight Service Stations (AFSS), who do the actual data entry, will hold them for two hours. If you do not activate the flight plan within this time period, it will be dropped from the system and you'll need to re-file it. For the flight plan to take effect, you must activate or open it. You normally do this through the FSS that serves your departure airport, but if communication difficulties prevent this, call another FSS. After you establish communication, request that the plan be opened, provide them with your departure time, and that's it.
After you're airborne, you should make periodic position reports to increase the accuracy of your last known position in the event a search and rescue (SAR) is required. AIM 5-1-4(g) states:
"Although position reports are not required for VFR flight plans, periodic reports to FAA FSSs along the route are good practice. Such contacts permit significant information to be passed to the transition aircraft and also serve to check the progress of the flight should it be necessary for any reason to locate the aircraft."
Don't forget to close your flight plan. You can close flight plans at any time. Some pilots close their flight plan when they have their destination in sight. Others wait until they are on the ground and use the telephone.
If you do not close or cancel your flight plan within 30 minutes after your scheduled arrival time, you will receive a phone call from the FSS. If they cannot contact you, be assured that a search and rescue operation will begin.
All the information about completing a VFR flight plan and FAA Form 7233-1 is provided in AIM 5-1-4.
Why not take advantage of this free insurance? Remember, as with any insurance, the value only becomes apparent when you're at your most vulnerable. Don't wait until it's too late.
IFR Flight Plans
We all know that when you fly an IFR flight you must have a flight plan in the system, and you must have been issued a clearance before you enter controlled airspace. Currently you can use two types of flight plans to file for your IFR flight: IFR flight plan form 7233-1 (domestic) and 7233-4 (international). The FAA domestic IFR flight plan form 7233-1 is the same form as the FAA domestic VFR flight plan shown earlier. However, to simplify matters, the FAA is moving towards the exclusive use of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) form 7233-4 for all domestic and international IFR flight plans. In fact, the FAA prefers that you use this form. If you use flight plan form 7233-1 for domestic IFR navigation, be aware that you may be limited with regard to using RNAV SIDs or STARs, or both.
The AIM in section 5-1-9, states:
"Use of FAA Form 7233-4 is recommended for domestic IFR flights and is mandatory for all IFR flights that will depart U.S. domestic airspace."
Although you can use either flight plan format, only if you file ICAO flight plans will you be eligible for Area Navigation (RNAV) arrival and departure procedures within U.S. domestic airspace, including:
- RNAV Standard Instrument Departures (SID)
- RNAV Standard Terminal Arrivals (STAR)
- RNAV Point-to-Point (PTP)
- Equipment-Restricted Preferential Departure/Arrival Routes (for example, PDR, PAR, PDAR)
This means that when you file a domestic flight plan, you won't be eligible for RNAV departure or arrival procedures, but you can still be assigned conventional (non-RNAV) procedures.
When you file an IFR flight plan using FAA Form 7233-4, you are encouraged to include the appropriate equipment suffix based on your desired ATC services or routing, or both. For example, if your route or an associated procedure requires GPS, you should file /G even if your aircraft also qualifies for other suffixes.
Be aware that as of November 15, 2012, the appropriate equipment suffixes for FAA Form 7233-4 have changed. You can learn about all of the changes at the following sites: