How should you manage Business Aviation flight planning? When’s best to keep it in-house and when should you outsource? Aviation Director Andre Fodor discusses domestic flight planning challenges...
How should you manage Business Aviation flight planning? When’s best to keep it in-house and when should you outsource? Aviation Director Andre Fodor discusses some of the tips and challenges in this two-part series beginning this month with domestic flight planning…
Cleared as Filed. That’s what we expected from a well-filed flight plan back in the day. The plan needed to give due consideration to the departure procedures and preferred routings out of airports, but we were rewarded by not having to copy a long re-route or scour through open charts to identify the airways and intersections of the new amended clearance.
Nowadays, domestic Business Aviation flight planning has become easier and automated, while simultaneously being a sophisticated and complex operation with a whole new set of challenges that need to be overcome…
Domestic Flight Planning
As a Flight Department, we choose to do all of our domestic flight planning in-house. Our flight operation is based in the US where we have a flexible Air Traffic Control structure that rarely requires slotting for airports or airspace.
Operators are able to file flight plans ‘on the spot’ and have clearances available in a matter of seconds, so managing our own ATC flight planning creates little additional workload and offers the ability to make last minute changes quite efficiently.
Domestic flight planning has become mostly an automated process thanks to the reliability and fast connectivity of our tablets and iPhones allowing seamless access to preferential routings, weather briefings, graphical products and NOTAMS.
Today, domestic flight planning has evolved to the point where all that’s really required is an iPad and a subscription to one of the many powerful flight planning software packages available. And therein lays one of the newly-generated challenges of modern-day domestic flight planning…
Tip #1: Selecting the Right Flight Planning App
With a great variety available, which software is best? Given that there are basic services available on the web that exclude datalink and performance calculations, a flight department undertaking its own domestic flight planning will need to assess which capabilities are necessary and which it can really afford to do without?
Once the necessary app with all of the right capabilities is identified, it will need to be incorporated into the budget.
Assessing our own needs, we selected an app that integrates flight planning, weather and NOTAM briefings as well as offering calculations of weight, balance and aircraft performance.
Generating a release containing all the data we require for our operations, those data can be downloaded via datalink to our Flight Management System, an iPad or printed should a hard copy be required.
The cost is affordable (in our case, it’s an annual subscription cost of $14k that includes unlimited datalink for the aircraft).
Tip #2: Learning New Flight Planning Technology
The next challenge of modern-day flight planning is interfacing new technology with the aircraft. The learning curve stretches from the flight crew to the datalink providers, and also the ATC staff.
As an example, just after Pre-Departure Clearance (PDC) became mainstream at most of the busiest corporate airports, we were quick to embrace Controller-Pilot DataLink Communications (CPDLC) clearances that were being phased in as part of NextGen.
This brought an entirely new set of learning experiences, and it needed plenty of trial and error for us to learn that an extra identifier was needed in the long list of characters in field 18 of the ICAO flight plan, thus enabling ATC to know that we could accept a clearance via CPDLC.
We then struggled with CPDLC digital clearances, believing that our on-board avionics were malfunctioning only to discover that ATC was erroneously adding free text to an amended clearance, causing the FMS to reject its insertion.
Once all of the learning curves were surmounted and all systems working in harmony, greater efficiency could be enjoyed together with reduced data-entry, reduced gross navigational errors and increased airspace access. The net effects were savings made through routing efficiency, and ability to concentrate on new opportunities to optimize costs.
Tip #3: Flight Planning with FBO Costs in Mind
Choosing the right airport and FBO based on ability to negotiate fees and fuel costs will reap rewards. In our experience, single-FBO locations can often be the costliest.
Our preference is also for smaller airports with less traffic, maximizing the likelihood of receiving bespoke customer service and quick access to and from the aircraft. Choosing a multi-FBO location also allows us to select the best service (versus price).
Operators should keep in mind, however, that not all FBOs are managed equally and that there are times when paying more may be well worthwhile.
As an example, we selected an FBO solely for its cost for one quick-turn trip flown just to collect a passenger. This proved to be a big mistake. The ground crew was undertrained, non-standardized and unqualified. Our aircraft was improperly parked and placed in a hazardous situation, resulting in our quick-turn becoming an hour-long ordeal.
Today, we are far more careful to vet facilities before using them. When we select an airport, we identify the FBOs and discuss operational fees. (Often we can waive most costs through minimum fuel purchases.) On multiple leg trips on the same day, we try to use the same FBO chain which will often offer reduced fees for inter facility usage.
We also calculate the advantage of tankering fuel over buying locally, and whether it’s more advantageous to pay full ramp fees or to waive them with fuel purchase.
To extract maximum advantage on fuel pricing, we hold memberships with several fuel providers and will then select which one offers the best cost benefit. If all are equal, we use our preferred fuel provider in an effort to build our relationship, which gives us more leverage toward negotiating future fuel discounts.
With fuel representing 51% of our budget, this is the most effective impact we can make in managing our costs.
In-house flight planning may not be for everyone, however. Because our domestic operation is in the US, we enjoy increased flexibility in managing our flight planning. With an extensive network of public airports, we may have more than one choice near to any given destination, which gives us the ability to seek out best value.
Those travelling internationally may benefit from using a dedicated flight planning service, however, and that is the discussion for next month’s article.
We leave you with one final tip: Whenever possible, include the flight crew in your domestic Business Aviation flight planning process. It empowers and sensitizes them on how significant their contribution is towards managing and lowering the costs of corporate aircraft operations. And that’s as good as a direct routing.