What is a flight plan? A flight plan is pretty much the product of thorough flight planning that the pilot is responsible to do before every flight. There are certain flight plans though that require you to file them to FSS so that ARTCC can process the information for route sequencing. This precise planning, in other words, provides written intentions to ATC outlining their (the pilots) intended plan of flight.
There are five types of flight plans—VFR flight plan, IFR flight plan, composite flight plan, defense VFR flight plan, and International flight plan. Today, we will be discussing the two flight plans primarily used—VFR and IFR flight plans. If you are interested in learning more about composite flight plans, defense VFR flight plans, and International flight plans, check out AIM 5-1-6 through 5-1-9.
Even though filing VFR is not necessary unless you plan to fly through an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), there are still benefits to it. It’s purpose is to activate search and rescue procedures in the event that your flight plan is not closed 30 minutes after your proposed time of arrival. This is why it is very important to remember to always close your flight plan as soon as it is safe to do so!
Your IFR flight plan works a little bit differently. Before you enter into IMC conditions that lower visibility below VFR (1000 ft ceilings and 3SM) or entering Class A airspace you must file a flight plan to FSS. It is recommended that the pilot file their IFR flight plan at least 30 minutes prior to estimated time of departure to preclude possible delay in clearance received from ATC. If nonscheduled operators are conducting an IFR flight above Flight Level (FL 230) they are asked to voluntarily file their IFR flight plan 4 hours prior to Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) to allow the FAA to provide traffic management and routing strategy. Be sure to pay close attention to the clearance you are given! If you are on the ground at your controlled departure airport contact clearance deliveries frequency to receive your clearance. (REMEMBER the acronym CRAFT)
- Clearance Limit
- Route (Via route, via direct…, via radar vectors)
- Transponder Code
In the event that your airport is uncontrolled, there’s still a way to open it before you get into IFR conditions. Take note that the methods in which you can open your flight plan, are similar to the ways you can close your flight plan.
OPEN FLIGHT PLAN
- Contact Clearance Delivery via frequency on the ground
- Call FSS via 1-800-WX-BRIEF or radio frequency (On the ground or in the air)
- Call your local tower controller (On the ground or in the air)
- Open with Electronic Devices (ForeFlight, FLTPlan Go, etc.)
CLOSE FLIGHT PLAN
- If your at a controlled field, the tower will close it upon your landing
- As long as you can guarantee you are in VFR conditions, can maintain VFR altitudes for involved airspace, and can remain in VFR conditions all the way to landing, you can close your flight plan in the air (Via approach controller or FSS).
- Once we land at a uncontrolled field, you can close your flight plan via FSS or controlled tower of local region.
- Close with Electronic Devices (ForeFlight, FLTPlan Go, etc.)
Which way do you prefer to open and close your flight plans?