Once Upon a Time: Filing a Flight Plan

Captain Judy Rice found the ICAO International Flight Plan form beneficial during her world flight.

Captain Judy’s Corner: Once Upon a Time… Filing a Flight Plan

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. You let your relative know the overall anticipated travel arrangements, and you include approximate time of arrival. An overdue arrival would likely cause concern, and your relative will likely call you to make sure you’re alright. A flight plan is much like having your relative on the other end of your 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 they handed this directly to a Flight Service Station briefer. This cumbersome process evolved into calling a briefer over the phone. The evolution of this tale 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. Software discrepancies and implementation issues delayed their initial roll-out.

Why has filing a flight plan changed over the years?

This fairy tale had a purpose. In support of 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 use in the United States. This standardization in the aviation world has practical application for pilots, and it impacts flight training as well. Flight students learn this for their careers in aviation regardless of their home country.

I found it beneficial to understand how to complete a single flight plan form during the intense learning process of my world flight. Standardization also added to the safety of the flight, because it assured the form was completed and filed correctly. I teach this flight plan format to students who are training in the United States. This adds to students’ 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. This is similar to informing a relative when embarking on a long drive. Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) pilots are required to file a flight plan. Crossing the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a security boundary surrounding the United States, also requires filing a flight plan. A pilot can choose to file the ICAO International Flight plan or a special type of VFR flight plan called a Defense flight plan (DVFR) when crossing the ADIZ. This was not your typical cross-country flight.

Pilots must file the ICAO International Flight Plan when crossing a country’s Federal Information Region (FIR) boundary. This serves the same security purpose as the United States ADIZ. 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). These occur at least 15 minutes before crossing the ADIZ, and they include the aircraft’s estimated time, position, and altitude. ATC provides a discreet transponder code 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.

By Captain Judy Rice

Captain Judy Rice
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6 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time: Filing a Flight Plan”

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