Flight Plans

Flight Plans

It is mandatory to complete and carry a flight plan for all flights over 30nm from your departure airport. The flight plan is made up of your departure location, destination, and a series of legs. Each time we turn to take a new heading we call this a leg.

We plan the flight in a series of legs. Each leg has its own calculations for time, since the headwind or tailwind will change each time we change direction. This is important since this will affect our flight time for that leg and the amount of fuel we burn on a leg.

How To Complete A Flight Plan

Refer to the included airservices flight plan below.

Step 1 – Identify departure point and destination on a map and the cruising speed of your aircraft.

Step 2 – Identify a preferred route taking into account the needs for:

  • Purpose for  the flight, ie scenic, via a feature or commuting directly
  • Fuel endurance or refuelling availability
  • Altitudes for headwinds or tailwinds and avoiding ice above freezing levels
  • LSALT for clearance above terrain (500ft unpopulated 1000 populated)
  • Clearance from or below cloud layers
  • Compliance with VFR cruising levels
  • Safe landing alternatives in the event of a problem
  • Avoiding flying over tiger country (terrain with no safe landing locations)
  • Can you find reliable position fixes every 30 minutes or less?

You should also consider;

  • Use of railways, roads and rivers (RRR) for ease of navigation. You want to identify easy to spot features on the planned track e.g. crossing a road, river or railway perpendicular, or being abeam a lake, town or mountain.
  • Coastal routes parallel to the coast tend to be easy to navigate, due to an abundance of rivers, towns and coastal shapes.
  • Inland routes over featureless terrain may be difficult and rely on one fence, dry creek bed or dirt road per 30 minutes. In some cases routes may need to move just to allow for position fixes.
  • Over mountainous terrain, Reference to high or highest peaks, escarpments or rock faces, may be needed to obtain accurate position fixes.
  • When operating at or below 2000 ft above the ground or water, the pilot in command must be able to navigate by visual reference to the ground or water
  • Low level navigation can be dangerous. Turbulence may make reading charts and spotting adjacent or abeam landmarks difficult. Reading maps may be dangerous and cause disorientation. Winds can lead to false senses of speed and drift can cause out of balance turns. Low level flight requires a lot of cognitive capacity and so does navigation. The two together are not a safe mix.

Step 3 – Draw the preferred route in pencil on your map. Then fill in the departure point, destination, and all  turning points in the position (PSN) column on your planning form.

Step 4 – Put your true airspeed (TAS) for each leg on the plan, taking into account if you’re climbing or descending, or perhaps slowing for a scenic or high traffic section.

Step 5 – Identify lowest safe altitude (LSALT) for each leg. Do this by looking for the highest terrain or obstacle within 10 nm (a thumb width on the chart) each side of each leg. Or refer to the ERC-L chart for airport to airport LSALT.

Step 6 – Select appropriate flight level for each leg and fill it in in column (FL or ALT), remebering that when heading 0°-179° is at 1500, 3500, 5500, 7500 or 9500 and 180° to 359° is 2500, 4500, 6500 or 8500

Step 7 – Use a charting ruler and protractor and fill in the magnetic track (TR) and distance (DIST) columns for each leg. Remember you must know your magnetic variation for the area (compass error). “Variation east, magnetic heading least; variation west, magnetic heading best”. So if the local variation is 10° east the magnetic heading will be the true course minus 10°

Step 8  – Refer to your graphical area forecasts (GAF) and Gird Point Wind Temp (GPWT) for winds And conditions for your planned altitude of each leg. Write the wind in the column (WIND) eg 270/10

Also refer to TTF’s or TAF’s.

Step 9  – Use your flight computer to calculate ground speed (GS) using the headwind or tailwind for each leg. See Jeppersen Flight Computer Instructions. There are tow videos in the wind section, on how to do this.

Step 10 – Use your flight computer to calculate the estimated time interval (ETI) using the GS from step 9

Step 11 – Fill in the estimated elapsed time (EET) column, by making it a cumulative total of each leg. So if leg 1 is 20 min and leg 2 is 30 min. The EET for the departure point will either be 0, or perhaps 2 minutes if your climbing over head. Then the EET for the end of leg 1 will be 20 or 22 min. The EET for the end of leg 2 is either 50 or 52 minutes.

Step 12 – Once you know your planned departure time you can now fill in the planned estimate time (PLN EST) for the beginning of each leg and the destination.

Step 13 – Lodge your plan with Airservices or give a copy of your plan and a flight note (see below) to a responsible person.

Adjusting The Flight Plan 

Step 1  – Once in flight as you pass each position, you should fili in the actual time arrived/departed (ATA ATD)

Step 2  – Revise your estimate for end of the next leg and for your destination.

Step 3 –  When reviewing your flight so you can continuously improve, make sure you pay attention to where your actual times deviated from your plan and why.

Radio Frequencies And Runway /Elevations

You need a running sheet of radio frequencies and when to change them on route. I like to mark them on my map.

You also need a list of frequencies, runway numbers at your proposed aerodromes and alternatives and the elevation at each aerodrome. I like to write this all on a small card and place in the cockpit near me, or stick it to the dash.

When in CTAF be on CTAF, elsewhere at or below 3000 is 126.7 and above 3000 is area frequency, except in busy scenic flight areas or busy agricultural areas. Check ERSA, your NOTAM’s and your charts.

Anything you can do to keep your eyes looking for traffic is a good step.


Below is the sample Airservices Flight Plan Sheet


Your instructor will show you how to fill in the fuel section. It is too dangerous for us to do so. Fixed reserve is 30 minutes. Variable reserve is nil for most private flights. Allow fuel for diversion to an alternate aerodrome if required. Remember to allow for  30 min extra fuel for INTER or 60 minutes for TEMPO weather, if on the GAF for your destination.

For normal flights with one climb and one descent, when RAA planning we generally assume climb and descent fuel burn will even out to average cruise fuel consumption.

airservices flight plan