the flight plan

Commercial airline companies employ flight planners who perform all the necessary data gathering and analyses necessary to complete a flight plan. These flight plans are then given to the pilots during a flight briefing before the pilot begins the aircraft pre-flight check. These flight plans contain information similar to what is required for a small aircraft pilot's flight plan.

Small aircraft pilots and charter pilots perform their own flight planning and submit their flight plans to the Flight Service Station (FSS) that services their departure airport. The FSS enters the flight plan information into their system. Among the many services offered by the FSS, it is responsible for processing flight plans. After a pilot files a flight plan with an FSS facility, a record of the flight plan is made that includes the aircraft description and tail numbers, departure and destination airports, route of flight, estimated time of departure (ETD), estimated time of arrival (ETA) and number of people on board. About an hour before takeoff or once airborne, the pilot "opens" the VFR flight plan.

This ensures that the FSS will keep track of the airplane's ETA. Along the route the pilot radios the FSS with occasional position reports. This helps the FSS to track the route. If the pilot gets disoriented along the way, an FSS specialist could locate the aircraft with a VHF direction finder or use radar. Within thirty minutes of completing a flight, the pilot needs to close the VFR flight plan. If the pilot changes the final destination or will be at least 15 minutes later than estimated, the pilot needs to inform the FSS facility accordingly. If the pilot does not close the flight plan or indicate changes to the FSS, the FSS will initiate search and rescue procedures believing the aircraft has been "lost".

Below is one example of a standard flight plan that would be completed by the pilot and filed with an FSS facility prior to departure.

Click image for a closer view of a flight plan form (opens in new window)

In Europe, it is unnecessary for aircraft to file a flight plan unless they cross national boundaries. Flight plans are also filed for those aircraft flying into class A airspace.

download an example of a British flight plan (opens in new window)