Once Upon a Time: Filing a Flight Plan


Captain Judy Rice

The ICAO International Flight Plan form was beneficial during Captain Judy’s world flight.


This fairy tale began long before the FAA announcement for change to the form used by United States pilots when filing a flight plan.


The purpose of a flight plan might be compared to going on a long drive to visit a relative. The relative would know the overall anticipated travel arrangements of the visitor that included approximate time of arrival. An overdue arrival would likely cause concern and a call to the visitor from the awaiting relative. The relative only had the information provided by the visitor with no method for tracking progress. A flight plan is much like have that relative on the other end of the destination.


What is the history of filing a flight plan?

Long ago, at the beginning of this fairy tale, United States pilots learned how to fill out a paper copy of a domestic flight plan form and then handed directly to a Flight Service Station briefer. This cumbersome process evolved into calling a briefer over the phone. The evolution of this fable continues today with advanced technology permitting pilots to complete and submit directly from an iPad app.

In 2015, the FAA announced that on August 27, 2019 all United States pilots are required to use the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) flight plan form. The delays from their first announcement were due to software discrepancies and implementation issues.


Why has filing a flight plan changed over the years?

This fairy tale had a purpose. In support toward the global harmonization efforts, the FAA worked closely with ICAO to create a uniform flight plan form used worldwide. The result was an adoption of the ICAO’s Flight Plan form for domestic use in the United States. This standardization in the aviation world has practical application for pilots as well as training students for their careers in aviation regardless of the country.

Understanding how to complete one flight plan form during my world flight was beneficial during the intense learning process. Standardization also added to the safety of the flight, assuring the form was completed and filed correctly. Teaching a different flight plan format to students who are training in the United States adds to their learning processes from the classroom to their career transitioning experiences.


What are the requirements for filing different flight plans?

Visual Flight Rule (VFR) pilots are not required to file a flight plan, but it is highly recommended, just as informing a relative when embarking on a long drive. Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) pilots are required to file a flight plan. Another requirement for filing a flight plan would be crossing the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a security boundary surrounding the United States. A pilot has a choice when crossing the ADIZ for either filing the ICAO International Flight plan or a special type of VFR flight plan called a Defense flight plan (DVFR).

Crossing a country’s Federal Information Region (FIR) boundary, which serves the same security purpose as the United States ADIZ, requires filing the ICAO International Flight Plan. Crossing the FIR boundaries during my world flight was a smooth process using the ICAO International Flight plan. The IFR procedures were much like flying IFR in the United States, only with additional reporting points.


Is filing a flight plan beneficial?

It was on a flight to Cuba that I had decided to experience a DVFR flight plan. The DVFR form and flight was not as smooth a process as the IFR ICAO International Flight. On a DVFR flight plan, there are required reports to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at least 15 minutes before crossing the ADIZ with the aircraft’s estimated time, position, and altitude. A discreet transponder code will then be provided followed by numerous required reporting points. Aircraft on an ICAO International Flight Plan are already in contact with ATC, so there are no special reporting requirements.

Although starting my initial training at the beginning of this fairy tale with paper flight plan filing, then moving on with technology, and finally during my world flight with the ICAO International Flight Plan form, I found the benefits of using this process for filing far outweighing any negatives.

There are many resources on how to complete the ICAO Flight Plan form, such as the FAA, online videos, and the Schoology Resource section for Epic instructors and students. Once pilots learn the benefits of this evolving fairy tale, they will appreciate what the rest of the aviation world has enjoyed for many years.


-Article by Captain Judy Rice, Epic Flight Academy Ground School Instructor