The flight plan is an essential part of the preparation for any flight. All commercial and private flights need thorough planning – both to satisfy ATC requirements and for internal use. Plans, of course, need to be completed in any location and there are some key differences to stay aware of.
The importance of good flight planning – in any location
A proper flight plan is very important for all flights – whether it is private or commercial, or a passenger or cargo service. It is a requirement globally that parts of the flight plan are submitted to Air Traffic Control before flight departure, informing on the type of flight, occupants, and full route plan.
The flight plan is also vital for operational planning and for safety. It ensures that checks are carried out on the route, airspace restrictions, weather, and planned arrival and destination airports. Details for this can change frequently and the flight crew needs to be up to date. This information also feeds an up to date planned route, time, and fuel requirements.
Many parts of the flight planning process are the same in any location – aviation is, of course, a global industry. NOTAMs are a worldwide standard method for important notifications and airspace alterations, for example. There is no single global regulator, though, and many areas have different rules and standards.
Airport and routing costs and permissions
One of the critical parts of any flight plan is obtaining permission to operate. Countries have different rules for authorisations, permits and notifications required and operators must ensure they are aware of this in advance. These can change frequently. France, as just one example, has recently introduced new notification requirements for internal EU commercial operators.
There can be differences too in requirements – and certainly in cost – between airports within the country. Advance clarification of this may affect the chosen flight plan and route.
Overflight permits are required for any country the aircraft will pass over on its route. Every country has different rules, and costs, for permits. Application procedures (and success) differ globally – as do prices. Some countries charge a fixed fee; others base it on distance. In the US, for example, there are just two rates – one per 100 nautical miles flown over land, and one for flights over water. In Europe, rates vary based on the aircraft weight, flight distance, and country overflown. Calculation and payment is centralised for European airspace, though.
Airspace restrictions around the world
Global planning and flight operations require up to date consideration of closed airspace. Permanent airspace restrictions are easier to plan around. These generally apply to specific sensitive locations, and are clearly marked on aeronautical maps.
Temporary restrictions are regularly put in place as well, however, and these are harder to plan for. These can be introduced for many different reasons, and could restrict entry for all aircraft, or just certain aircraft types. They could be in place for any length of time.
The standard method globally to notify of such restrictions is through NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) or TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) notices. These should be thoroughly checked as part of any flight planning. The main official site in the US is the FAA FNS NOTAM search. The UK has a similar service run by NATS.
Ground operations in different locations
While the key parts of a flight plan focus on the route and flight requirements, ground operations and services at potential departure and arrival airports are vital too. Operators need, at a minimum, to ensure that airports can handle the planned aircraft type. It is also important that the right services are available for both passengers and crew, or for the type of cargo.
Again, airport facilities and contracting services can vary a great deal around the world. Outsourcing some parts of ground services is a popular option to facilitate operations at different airports. This can help with fast and reliable access to services in locations where operators have less experience.
Fuel price differences
Total fuel required (and the sourcing of it) is an important final part of the flight plan. Aviation fuel makes up a significant part of any airline or aircraft operator’s costs. In 2022, it is expected to account for over 19% of total airline expenditure worldwide. Rates are well known to vary considerably – both over time and between locations and countries.
Different locations offer different suppliers as well. Major suppliers, such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, may offer widespread service, but there are many other suppliers to consider in specific locations. It is not just the price of fuel that is important – operators should consider the time taken and the total cost of fuelling.
Fuel provision and supply is another area that can benefit from third-party support. Partnering with a company with the right networks in place can help with fast access to the best prices in any location.
Flight plans, quite rightly, continue to be a vital part of flight preparations. There are many areas to consider, and this becomes more complicated when operating internationally. Especially so when operators are less familiar with the country or airports they need to use, some operators will seek out specialist aviation support companies to help with flight planning..