Flight planning

Flight planning is the process of producing a flight plan to describe a proposed aircraft flight. It involves two safety-critical aspects: fuel calculation, to ensure that the aircraft can safely reach the destination, and compliance with air traffic control requirements, to minimise the risk of midair collision. In addition, flight planners normally wish to minimise flight cost through the appropriate choice of route, height, and speed, and by loading the minimum necessary fuel on board. Air Traffic Services (ATS) use the completed flight plan for separation of aircraft in air traffic management services, including tracking and finding lost aircraft, during search and rescue (SAR) missions.

A Tarom Boeing 737-300 and United Airlines Boeing 777-200 taxiing to depart London Heathrow Airport.

Flight planning requires accurate weather forecasts so that fuel consumption calculations can account for the fuel consumption effects of head or tail winds and air temperature. Safety regulations require aircraft to carry fuel beyond the minimum needed to fly from origin to destination, allowing for unforeseen circumstances or for diversion to another airport if the planned destination becomes unavailable. Furthermore, under the supervision of air traffic control, aircraft flying in controlled airspace must follow predetermined routes known as airways (at least where they have been defined), even if such routes are not as economical as a more direct flight. Within these airways, aircraft must maintain flight levels, specified altitudes usually separated vertically by 1,000 or 2,000 ft (300 or 610 m), depending on the route being flown and the direction of travel. When aircraft with only two engines are flying long distances across oceans, deserts, or other areas with no airports, they have to satisfy additional ETOPS safety rules to ensure they can reach an emergency airport if one engine fails.

Producing an accurate optimised flight plan requires millions of calculations, so commercial flight planning systems make extensive use of computers (an approximate unoptimised flight plan can be produced using an E6B and a map in an hour or so, but more allowance must be made for unforeseen circumstances). When computer flight planning replaced manual flight planning for eastbound flights across the North Atlantic, the average fuel consumption was reduced by about 450 kg (1,000 lb) per flight, and the average flight times were reduced by about 5 minutes per flight.[1] Some commercial airlines have their own internal flight planning system, while others employ the services of external planners.

A licensed flight dispatcher or flight operations officer is required by law to carry out flight planning and flight watch tasks in many commercial operating environments (e.g., US FAR ยง121,[2] Canadian regulations). These regulations vary by country but more and more countries require their airline operators to employ such personnel.

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Flight planning, and is written by contributors. Text is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 International License; additional terms may apply. Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.