Flight Planning

E-Pilot's response to my puzzling over people who thought that I take forever to plan a flight.

94/10/23 14:02

From: E-Pilot To: DIPLOCAT Judith Bradt

Attitudes? Why would someone have an attitude about *your* style and method of flight planning?

Keep in mind that no matter what kind of peer pressure is exerted on you, professionals do thorough pre-flight planning. And we're continually doing a "howgoesit?" check to ascertain that our performance, the winds and weather are what we expect. No surprises.

Even the guys at United are continually checking their flight plans. FAR 121 requires lisenced dispatchers -- using the latest in computer-generated flight plans (with fuel loads; weather- or situation-dictated alternates; and actual wind data) -- to prepare flight plans for their crews. I can't think of a single pilot who doesn't check the accuracy of the flight plan, to include all the pertinent airport, NOTAM, and weather information at destination, alternate, and along the route.

United uses ACARS, which is a satellite system, to monitor everything from actual fuel usage, fuel remaining, aircraft position, temperature and winds aloft: this information is sent back to the company's computers so that any dispatcher can immediately determine the flight's location, fuel remaining, altitude, etc, etc. The wind and temperature information is relayed to all stations so that crews about to depart can determine what crews in the air are experiencing.

Despite the automatic feedback to the company, crews STILL check their progress every hour, to determine their fuel state; current weather, winds, and NOTAMS at destination and alternate.

AND, I might add, despite the automated -- and hyperaccurate -- flight plan system, all crewmembers check the accuracy of the information on the flight plan: there's always the chance of error, and the computer can only report the current experience -- it does not forecast wind and weather changes. The captain adds fuel or changes alternates as necessary.

This process usually takes about 30-40 minutes. And the flight plan is already formulated for the crew, too.

Your instructor is right: you should be able to lay out a 300 mile flight plan, complete with distances, courses, a fuel log and time estimates, with a weather briefing. (DUATS would be a nice short-cut, wouldn't it? Especially if one had a laptop computer with which to get the weather, and had a script file for all the SAs, FTs, and FDs throughout the area.)

This does NOT constitute adequate flight planning. It is only the barest compliance with the legal minimum. What you are doing is consistent with the professional approach to flying. Count on people snickering when you're being conscientious. Let them get the violations, or have the accidents.

Also, remember that conscientiousness is a useful tool, but like the knife and fork, the smart individual knows which appropriate tool is called for at the moment.

You don't start this process 20 minutes before you have to be in the air. The folks at United don't wait until 20 minutes before pushback to start thinking about fuel, weather and flight plans. And if you have the commitment to move the airplane from point A to arrive at point B at time X, you have to be thinking about this process in advance, and formulate a plan as to how you're going to get it all done. Remember, there really aren't any viable shortcuts -- only ways of using your time more efficiently.

If you haven't gotten the message yet, I'll provide a hint: the price of being conscientious is that you have to start earlier than everyone else. If you are expected to make a 20-minute turn-around, as might have been the case at CVG, could you have gotten the weather for the return flight while you were yet inbound to CVG? Your flight plan was probably already laid out; all you needed was the latest winds and weather, and check the fuel.

Well, it's a thought, anyway.

My checkride was okay. I got a little slow on one approach, and also on the circle to land after the ILS. Not my best performance. I have been fighting off a bug, my allergies have been in full form, and I really was fatigued from not enough rest (in retrospect, studying too late into the morning after working the PM shift). But the approaches worked out and I didn't swap ends with the V1 cuts or simulated engine failure on initial.

It was, however, a good review and I learned a lot about the current thinking of the company on procedures, etc, etc.

Keep the chin up. Don't let others make your decisions for you.

Next: Complex & High Performance

Judy & JJ
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