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In the beginning- a pilot seldom needed much in the way of flight planning. Airplanes rarely flew far before requiring fuel or maintenance. Even the first combat fliers of World War I needed only limited flight planning needs: When weather allows- fly across the enemy’s lines a few miles away- hunt- shoot- turn around- fly back to base.

Dave Higdon   |   1st September 2005
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Flight planning systems deliver power and savings through technology.

In the beginning- a pilot seldom needed much in the way of flight planning. Airplanes rarely flew far before requiring fuel or maintenance. Even the first combat fliers of World War I needed only limited flight planning needs: When weather allows- fly across the enemy’s lines a few miles away- hunt- shoot- turn around- fly back to base. A simple map of the immediate area sufficed since those pioneering combat pilots rarely ranged farther than a day’s carriage ride – and not much further when they did.

After the emergence of the first long-haul airlines following World War I- however- flight planning became essential. The earliest passenger haulers flew no further than the old bombers from which they evolved- but most bombing missions involved non-stop round trips.

An airliner’s mission usually meant flying to the edge of the aircraft’s range – in one direction – and that was only the beginning.

By the start of World War II- airliners flew distances many times that covered by the fastest locomotives of the day. Bombers- meanwhile covered thousands of miles between base and target – then went home. It was the emergence of dedicated business aircraft immediately after World War II- however- that brought to civilians the flight-planning needs as demanding as the pilots faced in the military that trained most of them. Looking at aviation today- some single engine pistons fly more than a thousand miles non-stop- while the smallest jets travel further. Our community flies many business jets as capable of global travel as any international airline. Given the larger number of routing variations employed by business aircraft- the flight-planning demands of covering 6-000- 7-000- even 8-000 miles must work as well as the technology guiding and powering the aircraft. In addition- we should remember today’s airspace complexities: Class A through E layers- MOAs- Restricted and Prohibited Areas- even an ADIZ inside our continental (U.S.) borders.

Thankfully- modern flight-planning systems make short work of what once took hours of plotting and calculating in creating data used by Flight Management Systems to guide aircraft and crew safely along their way.

The goal

Most pilots recall their student days- when they needed two hours to plan a one-hour flight: Time- indicated versus true airspeed- wind corrections- compass corrections to derive true versus magnetic headings- climb rates. It’s enough to send a fledgling aviator screaming from the cockpit at first. Eventually most of us get our tickets stamped and progressively learn to abbreviate the process – particularly on repeat routes… but then we start instrument training.

Time- indicated versus true airspeed- wind corrections- compass corrections to derive true versus magnetic headings- climb rates – these considerations get company in the form of climb and descent gradients- standard-rate and procedure turns- localizer and glideslope considerations and more. Ballpark guestimates go out the window and methodical planning comes back in.

Whether flying under VFR or IFR- flight-planning programs give us a streamlined- repeatable path to anal-retentive flight planning without most of the consternation of calculations.

Even today’s simplest systems provide high capabilities by knowing all the airports- all their locations- all the Victor and Jet Airways- navaid locations - useful even on GPS-guided flights – as well as approach information. Working much like a spreadsheet program- the best flight-planning programs take basic aircraft performance data – climb rate- climb speed- cruise true airspeed- fuel consumption and more – save the data in memory- then apply it to the desired route.

The best programs can generally reach out through an Internet connection for information on conditions along the route- winds aloft- winds at both airports- and forecast conditions. Using what they know about your aircraft- what they’ve learned about winds and conditions and the outlook- and the route identified- these programs calculate the flight time down to minutes.

Some programs support saving the data for downloading into an FMS; some support printing out narrow route maps. All are generally easier and faster than using our own heads as we did as students. The following are a few of those helpful programs.

NBAA Flight Planning Support

NBAA has positioned full time employees to work in partnership with the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC). This partnership has led to the development of a new subscription-based Member service. The service is rooted in the development of new FAA air traffic management tools and procedures introduced under the umbrella of Collaborative Decision Making (CDM).

CDM is an evolving process that continually takes advantage of new technologies and better procedures to improve efficiency for operators in the National Airspace System (NAS). Placing staff at the ATCSCC puts NBAA in position to affect CDM products and develop services for operating Members thus taking advantage of all that CDM has to offer. Members can either be direct subscribers to the NBAA GA Desk or alternatively may benefit from the GA Desk by subscribing to various services offered by NBAA Members that provide Flight Planning and Flight Support activities. A web page has been established to allow those companies that have partnered with NBAA a chance to briefly describe their services with links back to their main company web pages for more detailed offerings.

More information from www.nbaa.org

Air Routing International

Air Routing International- L.P. (ARI) started in Houston- Texas- as a weather and aviation service provider. Now in the aviation support business for more than 27 consecutive years- ARI encompasses a wide variety of services and operational groups – each developed to meet a need or specific requirement that clients have needed. As corporate and general aviation has matured and evolved into a business with professional standards and service expectations- so has the support that the company offers. As the number of corporate aircraft operators has increased- routes traveled have expanded and air travel has become an integral component of the national economy- ARI has built products and services for clients to benefit from. The role of ARI is to compliment the corporate flight operators’ capability- provide quality and safety driven services and empower aviation flight operations to perform to the maximum of their capability.

The company’s service employs the CDM of tactical air traffic issues area with the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center and the NBAA General Aviation Desk. Through this developing partnership with FAA and NBAA- ARI will be able to dynamically watch every aspect of your aircraft's flight. Beginning hours before your flight plan is even computed- ARI will enter your flight into the FAA’s Host computer. This will allow the FAA to take into account your flight in the pre-tactical phase along with all the airlines - this is something that has never been done before with General Aviation aircraft.

Through a set of secure tools- ARI will be able to analyze air traffic demand- anticipate re-routes and ensure your route will be optimized to minimize the risk of delays- thereby saving operators money and their executive travelers valuable time.

More information from www.airrouting.com

ARINC Direct

Business aircraft operators may come straight to the source-ARINC-for data link communications- flight information- and ground assistance needs- regardless of avionics type. ARINC Direct provides end-to-end flight support services- including flight planning- weather services- flight following- and data communications over VHF- HF- and satellite. All flight information applications on ARINC Direct are web-enabled- so flight department personnel can send messages- perform flight planning- check weather- view live air traffic information- and perform a variety of other tasks from any standard Internet connection.

ARINC is another company working in partnership with the NBAA GA Desk and the FAA Command Center to bring the benefits of the FAA's CDM program to Business Aviation. Through this partnership- ARINC is able to view current and possible future air traffic initiatives that may impact your flight- and offer alternatives and advance notice. Flight plans are also considered during the strategic planning sessions conducted by the FAA Command Center throughout the day. Through the NBAA GA Desk- and ARINC’s link with the CDM Systems- the company offers direct access to the FAA Command Center on behalf of client flight departments.


On-line GDC flight planning

Avionics and services vendor Honeywell offers two flavors of flight planning through its Global Data Center (GDC)- its 'Legacy' system which users access via modem- and a new Web Flight Planning service available via an on-line connection to its website www.MyGDC.com. The newer Web Flight Planning offers crew the ability to access the service via any web browser on any personal computer. According to Honeywell- the new flight planning system is both more powerful and more flexible than the Legacy flight plan system.

Behind the scenes- the new system employs the aircraft manufacturer's performance data coupled with a robust routing engine to provide accurate performance calculations and flyable routes. For example- pilots using the WFP enjoy the option of optimizing a plan for minimum time or minimum fuel.

The company also promises other new features in the near future. The GDC premium Flight Sentinel service was an early participant in the FAA CDM program and also teams with the NBAA’s GA Help Desk at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC).

Other benefits of GDC's Web Flight Planning system include simplified flight planning with user-friendly point-and-click menus coupled with professional flight planning features such as oceanic planning- drift-down calculations- historical winds- arrival and departure procedures- step-climbs- ATC preferred routes and the ability to file flight plans worldwide.

Geared to both domestic and international operators- the new WFP product offers several new route choices- including National Route Program (NRP)- Polar and Pacific Tracks and FAA Coded Departure Routes (CDR).

Similar to virtually all software-based flight planning packages- users must first create an aircraft profile for the applicable aircraft before flight planning for the first time on the new system.

Honeywell's MyGDC.com service also provides users with access to real-time weather forecasts- FAA Air Traffic Control information- datalink messaging- and other aircraft management tools.

More information from www.mygdc.com

Meteorlogix FlightBrief

Another Web-based flight-planning tool- FlightBrief offers so many useful tools that two organizations – the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association – endorse. They offer members discounts on the service; AOPA also offers members a free light version of the service.

Useful items in FlightBrief are the incorporation of current weather data into flight plan calculations- route maps- weather print outs and incorporation of Temporary Flight Restriction graphics on the route displays. Priced at about $10 per month- FlightBrief is useable from virtually any PC; an Internet connection provides access to the live data the program uses to calculate the best routes for winds- fuel and weather.

More information from www.flightbrief.com

SITA’s Flight Briefing Services

A true flight-plan management set of tools- the Flight Briefing Services (FBS) from SITA offer a degree of sophistication and capability unmatched by most general aviation-oriented programs.

Thanks to its airline industry orientation- SITA’s services can actually save an operator big bucks in time and fuel. For example- the FBS incorporates a worldwide database of wind and weather conditions and can offer crew an alternate route that takes less time and fuel than a more direct route.

The program can also help a crew decide whether to tanker fuel on a leg based on fuel costs and route considerations. By reviewing multiple route options- SITA’s program can also take into account air traffic flow and recommend a route and destination that may shorten the flight compared to the crew’s original plans.

The application of cost data- winds and air traffic make SITA’s Flight Briefing Service a strong tool for determining both the fastest and lowest-cost route options for any given airport pairing anywhere in the world. More information from www.sita.aero.


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