Friday, 7 August 2009

Flight planning

When I was learning to fly, my preparation for a cross-country flight went roughly along these lines.
  1. Plan the route. That meant lines on maps and plogs with times, speeds, altitudes and headings. It involved protractors, scales and a CRP1 to do difficult sums.
  2. Pop over to the Tower to look at the NOTAM (I learned pre internet). Looking at the NOTAM meant flicking through a few sheets of telex paper pretending that I understood the seemingly random characters that were barely legible. I didn't.
  3. While in the Tower, ask for the latest TAFs and METARs at least for the departure and destination airfields. These too were a mystery at first.
  4. Discuss all of the above with other students, actual skygod PPL holders who were at the school renting, and finally one of the instructors. Should any changes be required, I'd repeat all of the steps.
These days the planning process is much quicker, that's partly due to having a bit more experience but also because it is just so much easier now. For my flight to France tomorrow, the planning went something like this
  1. Take a quick look at the weather to see if it is going to be VFR or IFR. For this (rough) guide I look at one or more of the following Avbrief, BBC, Meteo France. Tomorrow looks like good VFR
  2. Fire up Navbox ProPlan, create a line between departure and destination and 'rubber band' my way around anything I need to.* Depending on distances and time pressures, I may plan a stop somewhere - unless there's a good reason I prefer not to fly legs of more than three hours if possible.
  3. Check NOTAM on the AIS site and re-plan with ProPlan if there's a need (no need for tomorrow, although there are some transiting Red Arrows and a big gliding competition to look out for.
  4. Draw a line on the map, and take a look at airspace, paying particular attention to vertical restrictions like the airway running from SAM to the Channel Islands.
In the morning, I'll use the briefing handbook facility to check for any last minute NOTAM and will use Avbrief to take a more detailed look at the weather. I'll be spared trips to the Tower or anywhere else and will file my flight plan online via AFPEx, and my GAR via email.

Both processes give the same result, but where I probably took half a day to plan a 100nm flight before, now largely thanks to the internet and a laptop, pretty much any European flight can be easily planned in less than 30 minutes.

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