The FAA uses data from flight plans in its Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) to gauge demand and make decisions about ground delay programs, airspace flow programs and other traffic management initiatives (TMIs). The more complete and accurate your flight plan data is, the more effective the FAA can be in reducing delays.
Eliminate the Guesswork in Your Flight Plans
Choose a Realistic Departure Time
Submitting flight plans with guesses about your departure time adds inaccurate information to TFMS and can create an incorrect picture of actual demand in the system. This leads to inefficiency in the system and increases overall delay.
One common practice is for operators to file their flight plans 30 minutes prior to departure as a matter of habit – without taking into account whether that time is really accurate. Here is a common scenario outlining the riskiness of this practice:
- The pilot files the flight plan for a time 30 minutes before the actual planned departure.
- A ground delay program is issued for their destination airport and they are assigned a Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT), giving them a 15-minute delay.
- The passengers show up for the flight at the actual planned departure time, 15 minutes after the EDCT.
- Since the flight was still waiting for the passengers and unable to depart at the EDCT (which must be honored plus or minus five minutes), they will likely lose their slot and, quite literally, be moved to the back of the line, increasing their delay.
Even if the crew successfully works with ATC tactically to negotiate a new departure time, they have increased their workload and increased the likelihood for delays. Filing an accurate flight plan means less time spent unnecessarily on the phone, at the computer or on the radio making adjustments.
File an Appropriate Route
While operators can often file direct from one location to another in more sparsely populated areas of the U.S., this is just not practical in more congested areas of the country. However, many operators simply file direct, with the mentality that ATC will just reroute them when necessary.
It is true that ATC will tactically move flights as needed, but filing a thoughtfully considered route from the start reduces the workload for both ATC and the crew.
What is an Appropriate Route?
Operators should plan to utilize appropriate standard instrument departures (SID) and standard terminal arrival route (STAR) procedures, where available, and also be aware of what routes ATC has indicated should be used, rather than just “filing blind.”
There are several types of routes that operators should be aware of and be prepared to file, depending on the circumstances:
Preferred routes are just what they sound like – these are the routes that ATC would like you to file if there are no constraints on the system.
- The National Playbook routes are a set of pre-planned routes that can be quickly implemented by ATC in order to help move traffic out of a constrained area, whether its an en route or terminal constraint. These can be issued as required or recommended routes.
- Coded departure routes (CDRs) are another type of route, identified by an eight-character code, to quickly and concisely issue a full route clearance that may be different than the originally requested route. These can also be issued as required or recommended routes.
There aren’t structured routes between every city pair in the NAS – in those cases, normal historical routes should be used. However, when there is a recommended or required route in place, operators should be aware of it and and file accordingly.
The following is a good rule of thumb:
- Be aware of what is going on in the NAS. See Check the NAS.
- Check the FAA Current Reroutes page.
- Adhere to REQUIRED routes. They are, as the name implies, required.
- Strongly consider RECOMMENDED routes. These are where ATC would LIKE you to be.
- Be aware of FYI routes. These may be good alternatives to your preferred route.
- If none of these are in use, file your preferred route.
Learn more about reroutes on the FileSmart Traffic Management Initiatives page.
The key is for operators to understand what is going on in the airspace through which they will be flying. Read more about this in the Check the NAS section of this website.
File Using the Proper ICAO Flight Plan Format
As most operators know, there have been recent changes to requirements for both domestic and international flight plans. Both are now based on the ICAO format that places significant emphasis on fields 10 (Equipment and Capabilities) and 18 (Other Information). This information provides ATC with a complete picture of the equipment and capabilities of an aircraft and crew for a particular flight.
When Should I File in ICAO Flight Plan Format?
The FAA prefers all users to file ICAO flight plans for all flights. An ICAO format flight plan must be used when:
- The flight will enter international airspace, including Oceanic airspace controlled by FAA facilities.
- The flight expects routing or separation based on Performance Based Navigation, (e.g. RNAV 1).
- The flight will enter RVSM airspace.
- The flight expects services based on ADS-B.
Operators can get more information by reviewing FAA’s ICAO Flight Planning Guidance.
Flights that remain wholly within domestic United States airspace, and do not meet any of the above criteria, may use a traditional flight plan format.
How Does the ICAO Flight Plan Format Benefit My Flights?
Proper use of fields 10 and 18 will allow air traffic controllers to know which departures or arrivals could be issued for a flight, as well as the en route capabilities of the aircraft and crew. This means that a flight could be issued a route or procedure that would reduce their flight time or ground delay.
Airports in complex metro areas that have overlapping arrival and departure corridors are beginning to use RNP approaches and departures to safely de-conflict traffic. Operators with properly trained crews and equipped aircraft can minimize their delays when using these procedures. Detailed entries in fields 10 and 18 by the operator allow ATC to assign the best procedure available, minimizing delays for their flights.