Flight Planning


  • Flight planning is the process in which a pilot prepares for an upcoming flight
    • While often associated with completing a navigation log for a cross-country, flight planning is a process that must be conducted even for local flights in the traffic pattern
  • It is a descriptive process therefore involving more than one type of navigation
  • If no wind information is available, plan using statistical winds, make them headwinds to be conservative in your fuel planning
  • Pilots will chose a route of flight and select cruise altitude based on a variety of factors
  • Course: is pre-flight
  • Track: is flown
  • Charts are all "true" as in true north and must be compensated to find magnetic north
  • Include the following:
    • Diverts (direction and channels/frequencies)
  • Checkpoints:
    • Check points should be set approximately 10 NM apart
    • Your first checkpoint should be Top of Climb (TOC) and the last should be Top of Descent (TOD)

Flight Planning:

  • The purpose of flight planning is to become familiar with information pertaining to an intended flight
  • The work put in is also necessary to accurately complete FAA Form 7233-1, better known as a flight plan, if one is required
  • Initial Planning Considerations:

    • According to FAR 91.103, pilots in command are required to familiarize themselves with information pertaining to the flight
    • The "how" is a product of flight planning but the "who, what, when, and where" provides a useful starting point
    • These required actions can be remembered using the acronym "NW KRAFT" or "WX-KRAFTN"
    • Fuel Requirements:
      • Visual Flight Rules:

        • There are no requirements within the Federal Aviation Regulations to select and plan for an alternate
        • This does not preclude you from being prepared
      • Instrument Flight Rules:

        • FAR 91.169 can generally be summed up using the 1-2-3 rule:
          • If the weather is forecast between 1 hour before to 1 hour after ETA to be below 2000' ceiling or less than 3 miles visibility, an alternate is required
        • In addition to the 1-2-3 rule, if your destination does not have an instrument approach procedure published, an alternate must be chosen in case the field were to fall into instrument meteorologic conditions
        • If an alternate is required, the alternate airport must have an instrument approach while meeting certain criteria:
          • 800' ceiling, 2 miles visibility, if non-precision approach
          • 600' ceiling, 2 miles visibility, if precision approach
          • If no approach exists for the alternate runway, descent from cruising altitude must be possible under Visual Flight Rules
          • Note that minimums published for approaches may differ
    • Performance Required:

      • First, determine how much you intend to carry between passengers, cargo, and then fuel, all necessary to complete the weight and balance
      • With the aircraft weight known, atmospheric information lends to takeoff performance and route selection

Types of Navigation:

  • Navigation can be accomplished in several ways
  • Two examples include pilotage and dead reckoning which, although different, are not mutually exclusive
  • Pilotage:

    • Navigation with visual landmarks
  • Dead Reckoning:

    • Dead recokoning is navigation by planning
    • Position: A geographic point defined by coordinates
    • Direction: An angular distance from a reference
      • Course: the aircrafts intended path
      • Heading: the direction the aircraft is pointed
        • Drift Angle: difference between the course and heading
      • Track: the aircrafts actual flight path over the ground (ground track marker)
        • When track = course you are flying exactly where you intend
    • Time: Can be expressed in two ways, as the time of day or elapsed time
    • Speed: The magnitude of the velocity of an aircraft

Flight Planning & Navigation Tools:

Mission Considerations:

  • Flight planning begins with determining the mission, that is:
    • What are you carrying?
    • Where are you going?
  • Carrying people or baggage impacts fuel and time considerations, which informs route planning and potential intermediate stops to reach the destination
  • Consider weight and balance limitations (people, baggage, and fuel with reserves) - can it be done in one trip?
  • Provided the aircraft meets weight and balance mission requirements, determine if it has the necessary takeoff and climb performance, as well as the necessary approach and landing performance
    • Consider personal minimums with any calculation, including margins of safety relative to chart calculated performance numbers

Route Planning:

  • Determining a Route:

    • While the most direct route is often preferred, deviations may be required due to airspace, terrain, availability of navaids/checkpoints, and weather, both winds and obscurations
  • Airspace to be Crossed:

  • Choosing Checkpoints and/or Landmarks:

    • Checkpoints allow you to follow the progress of your flight against your planning calculations
    • Landmarks can be checkpoints but may also inform a pilot where they are in relation to checkpoints
    • Considerations for selection of either are:
      • Are they unique enough to be identified?
      • Are they large enough to be found?
      • Are they small enough to be considered a "point?"
    • Checkpoints should be appropriately 10 NM apart
    • They may be points off the route which you can identify when abeam
    • Use of tools such as satellite maps (Google, Bing, etc.) allow for you to preview checkpoints
    • Types of Landmarks:

      • Positive Landmarks:
        • Hydrography (water features)
          Hydrography (water features)
        • Can be positively identified and plotted as a point on a chart (i.e., mountains, large bodies of water, etc.)
        • You need not pass directly over a positive landmark for it to be useful to you
        • Be cautious of man-made landmarks as they may have changed, moved, or no longer exist
        • Hydrography (water features): [Figure 1]
          • Water features are depicted using two tones of blue, and are considered either "Open Water" or "Inland Water"
          • "Open Water," a lighter blue tone, shows the shoreline limitations of all coastal water features at the average (mean) high water levels for oceans and seas
          • Light blue also represents the connecting waters like bays, gulfs, sounds, fjords, and large estuaries
          • Exceptionally large lakes like the Great Lakes, Great Salt Lake, and Lake Okeechobee, etc., are considered Open Water features
          • The Open Water tone extends inland as far as necessary to adjoin the darker blue "Inland Water" tones
          • All other bodies of water are marked as "Inland Water" in the darker blue tone
        • Hydrography (water features)
          Hydrography (water features)
      • Linear Landmarks:
        • Power Line Linear Landmark
          Power lines as linear landmarks
        • Bridges and Viaducts
          Bridges and Viaducts
        • Causeways
        • Overpasses and Underpasses
          Overpasses and Underpasses
        • Pipelines
        • Power Line Linear Landmark
          Power lines as linear landmarks
        • Can be positively identified but not specifically plotted because they extend for some distance
        • Features such as roads, railroads, coastlines, power lines and rivers may make good timing checkpoints if they are perpendicular to the course line and have other specific environmental particulars that identify your position
        • Rivers and power lines must be easy to find, either isolated or large so they are unmistakable with confirming landmarks so they can be confirmed
        • Railroads and major highways are almost always depicted on aeronautical charts
        • Power Line Linear Landmark
          Power lines as linear landmarks
        • Bridges and Viaducts
          Bridges and Viaducts
        • Causeways
        • Overpasses and Underpasses
          Overpasses and Underpasses
        • Pipelines
        • Power Line Linear Landmark
          Power lines as linear landmarks
      • Uncertain Landmarks:
        • Features that a pilot suspects he can correlate with the chart, but they may not be fully reliable
        • Landmarks such as oil wells, and windmills may be repetitious
        • Objects may look much alike
  • Spotting Landmarks:

    • Landmarks may be hard to spot, but there are some tricks you can use:
      • Offset to the landmark slightly to have better visibility out the side of the aircraft looking straight down
      • Use Google Earn to spot nearby landmarks to reference when near
      • Program the point into a GPS

Weather Planning:

Selecting Cruise Altitudes:

  • Altitude selection depends on a variety of factors which include:
  • Terrain and Obstacles:

    • Although seemingly obvious, controlled flight into terrain is still a leading caues of aviation accidents
    • Terrain and obstacles along the route of flight must be avoided either laterally or vertically
    • Additionally, a brief study of the map should highlight hazards should the pilot chose to alter the route, in flight
    • Antenna Towers:

      • Communication Antennas
        Communication Antennas
      • Numerous skeletal structures such as radio and television antenna towers exceed 1,000' or 2,000' AGL
      • Most skeletal structures are supported by guy wires which are very difficult to see in good weather and can be invisible at dusk or during periods of reduced visibility
      • These wires can extend about 1,500 feet horizontally from a structure; therefore, all skeletal structures should be avoided horizontally by at least 2,000 feet
      • Additionally, new towers may not be on your current chart because the information was not received prior to the printing of the chart
    • Overhead Wires:

      • Transmission and utility lines often span approaches to runways, natural flyways, such as lakes, rivers, gorges, and canyons, and cross other landmarks pilots frequently follow, such as highway, railroad tracks, etc.
      • Supporting structures such as guy wires exist here as well
      • Some locations identify these obstructions with unique sequencing flashing white strobe light systems
        • However, many power lines do not require notice to the FAA and, therefore, are not marked and/or lighted
        • Many of those that do require notice do not exceed 200 feet AGL or meet the Obstruction Standard of 14 CFR Part 77 and, therefore, are not marked and/or lighted
      • Pilots are cautioned to remain extremely vigilant, especially in the case of seaplane and/or float-equipped aircraft
    • Unmanned Balloons:

      • Sectional Chart Key West Surveillance Balloon
        Key West Balloon Hazard
      • The majority of unmanned free balloons currently being operated have, extending below them, either a suspension device to which the payload or instrument package is attached or a trailing wire antenna, or both
      • Good judgment on the part of the pilot dictates that aircraft should remain well clear of all unmanned free balloons and flight below them should be avoided at all times
      • Pilots are urged to report any unmanned free balloons sighted to the nearest FAA ground facility with which communication is established to assist FAA ATC facilities in identifying and flight following unmanned free balloons operating in the airspace
      • Sectional Chart Key West Surveillance Balloon
        Key West Balloon Hazard
    • There are other objects or structures that could adversely affect your flight, such as construction cranes near an airport, newly constructed buildings, new towers, etc.
      • This is especially true when operating below 500' AGL and morseo below 200' AGL
    • Also, many of these structures do not meet charting requirements or may not yet be charted because of the charting cycle
    • Some structures do not require obstruction marking and/or lighting and some may not be marked and lighted even though the FAA recommended it
    • Notice to Air Missions (NOTAMs) will typically be published for any known unlit structures, but pilot vigilance is imperative in case the FAA has not yet been notified of outages
  • Glide Distance:

    • The glide distance of the airplane is based on the glide ratio, a performance number to provide an idea of the options available in an engine out
    • More than airports, suitable roads and fields options for emergency landings increases with increased altitude
    • Additionally, regulatory requirements, such as those found in FAR 91.205, specify supplemental survival equipment depending on glide-distance from shore if the flight is conducted for hire
      • Even further, FAR 91.509 further specifies supplemental survival equipment based on distance from shore
  • Effects of Winds:

    • Winds are an important planning consideration both during terminal (surface winds) and cruise (winds aloft) environment
    • Effects of Surface Winds:

      • Surface winds are most commonly used for determining an optimal runway in the terminal area
      • Similarly, surface winds provide insight into optimal landing surfaces in an emergency along a route of flight
    • Effects of Winds at Cruise:

      • Wind direction and intensity at various cruise altitudes are an important consideration to determine cruise performance
      • Winds aloft are the most direct means to plan for winds at cruise altitudes along the route of flight
      • Headwinds increase flight time and therefore fuel burn, reducing range, while tailwinds do just the opposite
      • Further, headwinds require for power (increased fuel burn) and tailwinds decrease power requirements (decreased fuel burn)
  • VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels:

    • VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
      VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
    • VFR Cruising Altitudes [Figure 1] are established to reduce mid-air collisions by establishing cruise altitudes governed by FAR 91.159 which states:
      • Except while holding in a holding pattern of 2 minutes or less (see VFR Holding), or while turning, each person operating an aircraft under VFR in level cruising flight more than 3,000 feet above the surface shall maintain the appropriate altitude or flight level prescribed below, unless otherwise authorized by ATC:
        • When operating below 18,000 feet MSL and:
          • On a magnetic course of zero degrees through 179 degrees, any odd thousand foot MSL altitude + 500 feet (such as 3,500, 5,500, or 7,500); or
          • On a magnetic course of 180 degrees through 359 degrees, any even thousand foot MSL altitude + 500 feet (such as 4,500, 6,500, or 8,500)
        • When operating above 18,000 feet MSL, maintain the altitude or flight level assigned by ATC
      • Account for changes in direction of flight along a flight plan and corresponding altitude changes to meet the standard
    • VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
      VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
    • ATC may give other restrictions if you are under their control, say with flight following or when within controlled airspace
    • IFR Cruising Altitudes can be found by referencing FAR 91.179
    • Memory Aids:

      • The 13 Colonies (an odd number) were on the east coast of the U.S.
      • Eastern states have odd shapes
      • NEODD SWEVEN: North East Odd, South West Even

Determining Headings/Courses:

  • Once a route has been chosen, you need to calculate headings/courses to be flown
  • The two terms, often used interchangeably, in fact mean different things:
    • Courses are the direction which the aircraft is actually traveling (impacted by winds)
    • Headings are the directions which the aircraft faces (where it is pointed)
  • Wind Correction Angle:

    • Find your winds aloft through an official weather source
    • Plot the winds on your E6B Flight Computer:
      • Place the wind direction under the "True Index" arrow
      • Using a reference line on the E6B scale, measure up and plot the velocity
    • Rotate the compass rose until your True Course is under the True Index pointer
    • Move the entire compass until the plot is over your True Airspeed
    • Note which side of the True Index the plot falls, and by how much based on the scale provided
      • This is your wind correction angle
      • If it is located on the left of the line, it must be subtracted from the True Course
      • If it is located on the right of the line, it must be added to the True Course
  • Heading/courses can be expressed as either true or magnetic
  • True Courses and Headings:

    • True north is the basis by which true courses are measured and true headings are calculated against
    • True North Defined:

      • True north is the direction along the earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole
      • It is the northerly point furthest from the equator (90°N)
      • True headings can therefore be measured on most aeronautical maps, including sectionals, by reference to true north
    • Measuring True Course:

      1. Draw a straight line between two points (airports, checkpoints, etc.) on a sectional chart
      2. Next find the lines of longitude on a map
      3. Grab your plotter and place the reference hole over the intersection of the line of longitude
      4. Rotate the plotter so that it is parallel to the line you drew
      5. Where the line of longitude intersects the compass rose on the plotter, determine your true course
        • If there is more than one number, chose the number most appropriate for your direction of flight
    • Calculating True Heading:

      • First, determine your wind correction angle
      • Finally, apply the formula:
        • True Heading = True Course (-left/+right) WCA
  • Magnetic Courses and Headings:

    • As with true north, magnetic north is the basis by which magnetic courses and magnetic headings are calculated against
    • Magnetic North Defined:

      • Magnetic north is the direction along the earth's surface which points toward the magnetic north pole
      • Magnetic compasses point to this location and therefore it is magnetic headings that are flown
      • The magnetic north pole is a shifting point which is not coincident with the "top" of the earth as defined by latitude and longitude
    • Calculating Magnetic Course:

      • Magnetic heading will usually require a correction based on the variation or:
        • The angular difference between true north and magnetic north from any given position on the earth's surface (represented by isogonic lines)
        • Isogonic lines are points of equal variation, represented in degrees east or west
      • Deviations is usually pulled off a sectional chart however, other sources such as NOAA can provide this information
      • The memory aide "east is least (minus), west is best (plus)" is often used to remember how to apply east and west variations
      • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) - East Variation
      • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) + West Variation
    • Calculating Magnetic Heading:

      • All aircraft will have a deviation factor that must be applied
      • Deviation is read off the compass card in the aircraft, and must be added or subtracted to the magnetic course as appropriate

Determining True Winds:

  • Determining winds at altitude help guide your true heading
  • Since winds aloft are expressed in "true," you will calculate the wind correction angle off true course

Determining Deviation:

  • Deviation is found on a placard with your magnetic compass

Determining Variation:

  • Variation is necessary for converting true headings to magnetic
  • Magnetic variation depends on your location on the earth, as labeled by isogonic lines

Determining Compass Heading:

  • Compass heading is determined by applying the deviation correction to the magnetic heading

Top of Climb:

  • Given:
    • Departure Airport: 900 ft
    • Cruise Altitude: 5,500 ft
  • From Sea Level to 5,500' we calculate 9 minutes, 2.0 Gal, 13 NM
  • Assuming 1,000' for the departure altitude we calculate: 1 minute, 0.4 Gal, 2 NM
  • Subtract the difference: (9-1)=8 Min, (2.0-0.4)=1.6 Gal, (13-2)=11 NM
  • Pay attention to the notes at the bottom of the chart, especially to add 1.1 Gal for taxi and takeoff
  • To add wind

Time, Distance, and Speed Calculations:

  • Utilizing a simple formula (Distance = Time x Ground Speed may be utilized
  • Therefore, if you have any two, you can calculate the other
  • Time Calculations:

    • If you need to travel 10 NM, and you have a ground speed of 100 knots, how long will it take?
      • 10 NM = Time (hours) x 100
      • 10/100 = Time
      • Time = 0.1
      • Multiply 0.1 by 60 (minutes in an hour) and you'll get 6, for 6 minutes to travel that distance at that ground speed
    • As wind gets factored in, even if a round trip with consistent winds, the time to fly becomes longer - headwinds/tailwinds will not cancel out (see: Is time lost fighting a headwind gained back when riding a tailwind?)
      • Suppose D = distance, TT = total time, AS = air speed, WS = wind speed
      • Then the equation for a direct headwind and tail wind is TT = D/(AS - WS) + D/(AS + WS) = 150/(100 - 50) + 150/(100 + 50) = 150/50 + 150/150 = 450/150 + 150/150 = 600/150 = 4
      • With WS = 0 the equation becomes TT = 150/100 + 150/100 = 300/100 = 3
    • In total, adding each leg, accounting for climb/descent, produces the time enroute
    • Zulu Time Converstions:

      • Zulu time, also referred to a Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the standard time for all of aviation
      • Many website and applications will help pilots calculate these times, which become important when trying to normalize timezones and input departure and arrival times when filing a flight plan
      • To calculate, determine timezone correction and add (western hemisphere) or subtract (eastern hemisphere) to/from zulu time
  • Distance Calculations:

    • Distance is rate time time
    • You will travel 10% of speed in 6 minutes
    • If you are traveling at 100 knots ground speed for 6 minutes, how far will you travel?
      • Distance = 0.1 (see above) x 100
      • Distance = 10 NM
    • Using an E6B:
      • Point to ground speed with the arrow
      • Find time and read above
      • For times under 3 minutes, the small arrow may need to be utilized
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1 (click to enlarge)
U.S. Declination Map
U.S. Declination Map
U.S. Declination Map
U.S. Declination Map
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels

Completing a NAVLOG:

  • Navigation logs, or NAVLOGs, is the printed, either physically or digitally, plan
  • This plan accounts for the environment's effects on the aircraft, as well as aircraft anomolies like deviation
  • NAVLOGs come in many forms and there is no perfect form; its about personal preference
  • An example of a generic NAVLOG is provided below:
    •  ORANGE Section 
      • Fill out the departure and arrival airport information including frequencies, traffic altitudes, and heights above ground
      • Fill in information concerning flight service or any item you will want to reference in regards to that airport
      • If you want, draw an airport diagram in the box but still carry a larger printed diagram for easier use and more detail
    •  YELLOW Section 
      • Determine a MSL cruise altitude based on weather and direction of flight
      • Reference above diagram
      • Calculate pressure altitude for your airport (important for performance calculations)
      • Determine the temperature (important for performance calculations)
      • Calculate density altitude (important for performance calculations)
      • Determine a horsepower setting and the accompanying RPM settings, KTAS and Gallons per Hour
    •  GREEN Section 
      • Write in the aircraft type
      • Used to plot any changes to a heading for the entire route to estimate times, distances and fuel used
      • True Course (TC): found on sectional using plotter
      • True Wind: found on winds aloft forecasts
      • True Heading (TH): calculated with flight computer (back of flight calculator)
      • Variation (Var): simply the difference between true north and magnetic north, found on sectional for your route
      • Deviation (Dev): found on the compass card in your aircraft
      • Magnetic Heading (MH): TH corrected for variation
      • Course Heading (CH): MH corrected for deviation
      • Ground Speed (EST GS): found under the grommet when calculating wind correction angle
      • Distance (DST): calculated with POH and Plotter on the sectional
      • Estimated Time En-route (ETE): calculated with flight computer (arrow on GS, time read under distance)
      • Fuel Management:
        • Fuel Planning calculated with flight computer (arrow on GPH, read under time)
      • SETTO: Startup, Taxi and Takeoff lost fuel, usually 1.4 Gal
      • Total: Add everything up, this is a rough estimate for the flight, you will only use this section for planning on the ground
    •  BLUE Section 
      • Write aircraft tail number
      • List all checkpoints and associated distances
      • Write in any frequencies or IDs for route navigation
      • CH can be copied from the preflight log
      • Distance is measured off the sectional
      • GS (first or second line only): copy from preflight log
      • ETE: calculate same as preflight log
      • Fuel: calculate same as preflight log
      • In flight you will be filling in the other boxes as the flight progresses
    •  ORANGE Section 
      • Weight and balance as calculated normally
    •  YELLOW Section 
      • Fill out any weather information or notes you may have
      • Check NOTAMs for the route of flight
    •  GREEN Section 
      • Fill out the flight plan for flight service
      • All information is from the front of the navigation log
      • Filed before flight with the FSS so they can keep a track of you. If you do not close the flight plan 30 minutes after the proposed arrival time, SAR (search and rescue) procedures begin
    •  BLUE Section 
      • Fill out airspeeds, runway lengths, and altitudes
    •  RED Section 
      • VFR Cross-Country Checklist
      • Make sure all items are complete
Magnetic Versus True North
Variation, Magnetic Versus True North
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 2
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 2 (click to enlarge)
AIM, Pre-Flight Pilot Checklist
AIM, Pre-Flight Pilot Checklist
AIM, Pre-Flight Pilot Checklist
AIM, Pre-Flight Pilot Checklist

Inflight Guide:

  • After you've completed your flight log, consider the creation of an inflight guide to keep on your kneeboard during flight
  • This inflight guide is not intended to create an extra step in flight planning but instead to make your life easier when you're flying
  • Contents might include:
    • Print outs of the local airport information from the Chart Supplement U.S.
    • NOTAMS
    • etc.

Flight Planning Case Studies:

Private Pilot - Pilotage and Dead Reckoning Airman Certification Standards:

  • To determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with pilotage and dead reckoning
  • References: 14 CFR part 61; FAA-H-8083-2, FAA-H-8083-25; Navigation Charts
  • Pilotage and dead reckoning lesson plan

Pilotage and Dead Reckoning Knowledge:

The applicant demonstrates understanding of:
  • PA.VI.A.K1:

    Pilotage and dead reckoning
  • PA.VI.A.K2:

    Magnetic compass errors
  • PA.VI.A.K3:

  • PA.VI.A.K4:

    Selection of appropriate:
    • PA.VI.A.K4a:
    • PA.VI.A.K4b:
    • PA.VI.A.K4c:
  • PA.VI.A.K5:

    Plotting a course, to include:
  • PA.VI.A.K6:

    Power setting selection
  • PA.VI.A.K7:

    Planned versus actual flight plan calculations and required corrections

Pilotage and Dead Reckoning Risk Management:

The applicant is able to identify, assess, and mitigate risk associated with:

Pilot and Dead Reckoning Skills:

The applicant exhibits the skill to:
  • PA.VI.A.S1:

    Prepare and use a flight log
  • PA.VI.A.S2:

    Navigate by pilotage
  • PA.VI.A.S3:

    Navigate by means of pre-computed headings, groundspeeds, and elapsed time
  • PA.VI.A.S4:

    Use the magnetic direction indicator in navigation, to include turns to headings
  • PA.VI.A.S5:

    Verify position within three nautical miles of the flight-planned route
  • PA.VI.A.S6:

    Arrive at the en route checkpoints within five minutes of the initial or revised estimated time of arrival (ETA) and provide a destination estimate
  • PA.VI.A.S7:

    Maintain the appropriate altitude ±200 feet and heading ±15°

Private Pilot - Cross-Country Flight Planning Airman Certification Standards:

  • Objective: To determine the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with ross-country flights and VFR flight planning
  • References: 14 CFR part 91; AIM; Chart Supplements; FAA-H-8083-2, FAA-H-8083-3, FAA-H-8083-25; NOTAMs; VFR Navigation Charts
  • Note: Preparation, presentation, and explanation of a computer-generated flight plan is an acceptable option
  • Private Pilot Cross-Country Flight Planning Lesson Plan

Cross-Country Flight Planning Knowledge:

The applicant demonstrates understanding of:

Cross-Country Flight Planning Risk Management:

The applicant is able to identify, assess, and mitigate risk associated with:

Cross-Country Flight Planning Skills:

The applicant exhibits the skill to:
  • PA.I.D.S1:

    Prepare, present, and explain a cross-country flight plan assigned by the evaluator, including a risk analysis based on real-time weather, to the first fuel stop
  • PA.I.D.S2:

    Apply pertinent information from appropriate and current aeronautical charts, Chart Supplements; Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) relative to airport, runway and taxiway closures; and other flight publications
  • PA.I.D.S3:

    Create a navigation plan and simulate filing a VFR flight plan
  • PA.I.D.S4:

    Recalculate fuel reserves based on a scenario provided by the evaluator
  • PA.I.D.S5:

    Use of an electronic flight bag (EFB), if used

Instrument Rating - Cross-Country Flight Planning Airman Certification Standards:

  • To determine the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with planning an IFR cross-country and filing an IFR flight plan
  • References: 14 CFR part 91; FAA-H-8083-2, FAA-H-8083-15, FAA-H-8083-16, FAA-H-8083-25; Navigation Charts, Chart Supplements; AIM; NOTAMs

Cross-Country Flight Planning Knowledge:

The applicant demonstrates understanding of:
  • IR.I.C.K1:

    Route planning, including consideration of the available navigational facilities, special use airspace, preferred routes, and alternate airports
  • IR.I.C.K2:

    Altitude selection accounting for terrain and obstacles, glide distance of airplane, IFR cruising altitudes, effect of wind, and oxygen requirements
  • IR.I.C.K3:

    • IR.I.C.K3a:
      Time, climb and descent rates, course, distance, heading, true airspeed, and groundspeed
    • IR.I.C.K3b:
      Estimated time of arrival to include conversion to universal coordinated time (UTC)
    • IR.I.C.K3c:
      Fuel requirements, to include reserve
  • IR.I.C.K4:

    Elements of an IFR flight plan
  • IR.I.C.K5:

    Procedures for activating and closing an IFR flight plan in controlled and uncontrolled airspace

Cross-Country Flight Planning Skills:

The applicant exhibits the skill to:
  • IR.I.C.S1:

    Prepare, present, and explain a cross-country flight plan assigned by the evaluator including a risk analysis based on real time weather which includes calculating time en route and fuel considering factors such as power settings, operating altitude, wind, fuel reserve requirements, and weight and balance requirements
  • IR.I.C.S2:

    Recalculate fuel reserves based on a scenario provided by the evaluator
  • IR.I.C.S3:

    Create a navigation plan and simulate filing an IFR flight plan
  • IR.I.C.S4:

    Interpret departure, arrival, en route, and approach procedures with reference to appropriate and current charts
  • IR.I.C.S5:

    Recognize simulated wing contamination due to airframe icing and demonstrate knowledge of the adverse effects of airframe icing during pre-takeoff, takeoff, cruise, and landing phases of flight as well as the corrective actions
  • IR.I.C.S6:

    Apply pertinent information from appropriate and current aeronautical charts, Charts Supplement; NOTAMs relative to airport, runway and taxiway closures; and other flight publications

Flight Planning Case Studies:


  • En-Route Airport Legend
    Amazon, Toiletry Bags
  • Planning is based on what we believe will occur
    • It may be incorrect and calculations/adjustments may need to be made in flight, but having a point from which to depart leads to educated decisions
    • The military calls this mission cross-check
  • When dead reckoning, you've done the math to determine timing, and so if you arrive at a checkpoint according to timing and direction but you don't see it, turn to your next heading and orient yourself
  • Information to aircraft performance at various altitudes can be found in Chapter 5 of the Pilot Information Manual
  • Navigation should always be done from the chart to the landmarks
    • This means look at your chart first and then at the ground for your landmark
    • If done the other way around you could find yourself staring at your map looking for a landmark that may not be charted
  • There is no correct cruise altitude, its a balance of terrain and obstacles, glide distances, winds, required VFR cruising altitudes and flight levels, and smoothness of air
  • Remember that documents may not reflect reality and when it comes to services available at an airport, they may not be available due to supplies or even destructive weather
    • It is advised that you call FBOs ahead of departures to ensure required services are available
  • Don't forget about what you want to do after you reach your destination
    • Chose an Fixed-Based Operator (FBO) ahead of landing and give them a call before you depart to ensure the desired services will be available, where you must go to receive them (i.e., fuel farms may not be at the FBO ramp), and any special parking instructions
  • When traveling cross-country, it is recommended to carry extra closes/toiletries (bingo bag) to mitigate comfort-based delays when making diversion decisions
  • Pilots should consider the implications of planning or filing/requesting direct legs
    • This includes terrain, navaid coverage, emergency options, etc.
  • Weather products like windy.com offer additional insight into aviation weather forecasts and observations
  • Don't forget to check SAFOs
  • Remember mountain flying considerations
  • A member of the AOPA? Try their flight planner
  • See also:
  • Review your flight planning safety knowledge by taking the Air Safety Institute's "A Visit to the Grey Lady" quiz
  • Still looking for something? Continue searching: